Putting Pot Over The Counter

By Jul 2, 2010, 3:15 AM Author's Blog  

I don’t often use the words “rationality” and “California” in the same sentence, but American drug laws could take another step toward rationality this fall if California voters legalize personal possession of marijuana.

The “war on drugs” has gone on for 41 unproductive years since President Nixon first used that term. In this country, thousands of people have been killed in turf wars and many more have been incarcerated, often for decades, in the name of keeping our streets free of narcotics. Yet drugs remain readily available, drug money is one of the chief sources of corruption in law enforcement, and prosecution remains capriciously selective.

Abroad, the situation is even worse – far worse. Drug cartels are ripping Mexico apart. Drug profits and the corruption they engender undermine important U.S. objectives from South America to Afghanistan.

If the war on drugs were winnable, we would have won it a long time ago. Instead, the only ones benefiting are the drug merchants. Anti-drug laws guarantee high profits, which in turn provide the cash to recruit an unlimited army of growers, mules and street-level pushers.

So Californians will be deciding whether to simply face reality when they weigh in on a November ballot measure that would allow anyone over the age of 21 to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. Possession of an ounce or less has been a misdemeanor in the state since 1975 and currently carries a fine of $100. In addition to eliminating the state misdemeanor, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act would allow municipalities to write their own ordinances regulating the sale and taxation of marijuana.

Californians already are permitted to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, with the recommendation of a physician. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia currently allow medical marijuana, but the California initiative would be the first to allow recreational use of the drug. One ounce, the proposed limit, is enough to roll dozens of marijuana cigarettes, according to CBS News. Californians would also be able to plant marijuana in home gardens, limited in size to 25 square feet.

The California initiative is a start, but it does not go far enough. Apartment dwellers and homeowners who lack green thumbs still would have no legal place to purchase recreational pot. Their friendly neighborhood dealers will be only too happy to serve them, which will keep people happy south of the border as well. A 2009 memorandum from Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden notes that “marijuana distribution in the United States remains the single largest source of revenue for the Mexican cartels.” As I have written here before, I think it is senseless to leave these profits freely available to organized crime.

The halfway solution of allowing medical marijuana but prohibiting recreational use is better than nothing, but not much better. Vague laws often leave states and municipalities unable to adequately regulate marijuana growth and sales. Los Angeles recently ordered 439 marijuana dispensaries to close their doors after the proliferation of shops overwhelmed the city. The city now hopes to reduce the number of dispensaries to fewer than 100. “We’re trying to achieve some order out of what has essentially been a very chaotic situation,” Assistant City Attorney Asha Greenberg said in an interview with Reuters.

In response to similar problems, Colorado recently passed a law requiring dispensaries to obtain state and local licenses.

Montana, which legalized medical marijuana in 2004, has seen its dispensaries enmeshed in violence, including two recent firebombings. Sheriff Chris Hoffman, of Montana’s Ravalli County, commented, “Anyone growing medical marijuana is going to be a target because it is a desirable commodity for illicit purposes.”

Limiting marijuana to medical use also promotes corruption and carelessness. Doctors who believe marijuana poses few health risks may write prescriptions for patients who do not need the drug. Colorado is trying to address this problem with new regulations that require a doctor to have a “bona fide” relationship with a patient before signing off on marijuana treatment.

All of these problems can be eliminated if we decide to treat marijuana the way we handle tobacco or alcohol.

Richard Lee, of Oakland, Calif., who has become the face of California’s pot movement, stresses the economic benefits of legalization. “Amsterdam is our model city. When I go there, I see tourists and jobs and taxes being created from the cannabis industry, and I think we can do that here,” he said. According to some estimates, legalizing and taxing marijuana could bring in up to a billion dollars in revenue for California. If the experiment works, other budget-strapped states will be eager to get into the business as well.

California’s move could also prompt national change by forcing the federal government to reevaluate its stance on marijuana. Possession of marijuana continues to be a federal crime, even when it is permitted by state law. However, the Department of Justice, under President Obama, has urged federal prosecutors not to pursue cases in which federal marijuana laws conflict with state law. This sort of informal policy can be changed at a presidential whim or disregarded by a particular U.S. attorney. This is an example of the capricious, selective enforcement of current laws.

I believe that eventually, perhaps with prodding by the states, the federal government will follow the tide of the times and reform its drug laws as well. It will do this in part to avoid damaging showdowns with state governments and in part because, once states start earning money from marijuana, Uncle Sam will want a piece of the action, too.

Somewhere in the distant future, once marijuana laws are reformed, we will have to confront the question of how to handle harder drugs. The medical issues will be different – such drugs are clearly much more dangerous than marijuana – but many of the practical issues are similar. Backers of the status quo may argue that marijuana reform is the gateway (anti-drug warriors like to call marijuana a “gateway drug”) to dangerous laxity about hard-core narcotics.

In some ways, they have a point. Dealing with reality can be habit-forming, but that does not mean we should avoid it. Our drug policies need a big dose of reform.

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3 Comments

  1. malcolmkyle says:

    Why would any one person believe they have the right to dictate to another person what they may or may not do with their own lives and bodies? Why waste so much time and energy on all the wrong issues? We are surrounded by serious, very real dangers. The next huge economic meltdown is approaching which will be far worse than the last one. While all this and more is going down, the busy bodies are worried about whether or not someone is smoking a bowl of flowers or snorting and injecting various powders. Drug use is not going away and the millions of people involved on a regular basis are your neighbors, business associates, co-workers, PTA members, little league coaches, cops, firefighters, nurses, doctors, and even politicians. We need to prioritize our agenda and spend our energies protecting and loving our children and each other.

    Prohibition isn't like a disease where we're still waiting for the cure to be discovered – we know the cure for this. This isn't like putting a man on the moon or inventing the Internet – it doesn't take some stroke of genius or feat of technology. We have everything we need, right now, to end this moronothon. Rarely in the history of mankind have we encountered a problem of such magnitude and consequence that is so eminently solvable.

    The Founding Fathers were not social conservatives who believed that citizens should be subordinate to any particular narrow religious moral order. That is what the whole concept of unalienable individual rights means, and sumptuary laws, especially in the form of prohibition, were something they continually warned about.

    What a lost and futile cause Prohibition is! The country is flat busted. It’s 'Weimar Republic' here we come. It would make more sense, and cost a hell of a lot less, if the Feds created an agency to count grains of sand on all of the US beaches. Why in Sam Hill would such a great nation purposely shoot itself in the foot?

  2. Jose Melendez says:

    How is it lawful to arrest anyone on the basis of a false claim?

    Federal law falsely claims: "Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance, §812(c), based on its high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and no accepted safety for use in medically supervised treatment, §812(b)(1). This classification renders the manufacture, distribution, or possession of marijuana a criminal offense. §§841(a)(1), 844(a). Pp. 6—11."
    source: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/03-1454.ZS….

    Millions have been arrested since DHHS applied for 2003 US Patent No. 6630507 in 1999, despite the title* of that federal document . . .

    Wait, what's DHHS? At the top of this page:
    supersoberme.com has a direct link to the feedback page of the US Department of Health and Human Services, the federal agency that was issued 2003 US Patent No. 6630507, "Cannabinoids as antioxidants and neuroprotectants", linked here:
    * source: http://tinyurl.com/classactionlawsuit

    Don't just blog. Free Marc Emery:
    http://cannabisculture.com/v2/content/2010/06/28/

  3. malcolmkyle says:

    1) In response to passage of California's medical marijuana law, the White House had the Institute of Medicine (IOM) review the data on marijuana's medical benefits and risks. The IOM concluded, "Nausea, appetite loss, pain and anxiety are all afflictions of wasting, and all can be mitigated by marijuana." While noting potential risks of smoking, the report added, "we acknowledge that there is no clear alternative for people suffering from chronic conditions that might be relieved by smoking marijuana, such as pain or AIDS wasting." The government's refusal to acknowledge this finding caused co-author John A. Benson to tell the New York Times that the government "loves to ignore our report … they would rather it never happened." Joy, JE, Watson, SJ, and Benson, JA. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. National Academy Press. 1999. p. 159. See also, Harris, G. FDA Dismisses Medical Benefit From Marijuana. New York Times. Apr.
    21, 2006

    2) Donald Tashkin, a UCLA researcher whose work is funded by NIDA, did a case-control study comparing 1,200 patients with lung, head and neck cancers to a matched group with no cancer. Even the heaviest marijuana smokers had no increased risk of cancer, and had somewhat lower cancer risk than non-smokers (tobacco smokers had a 20-fold increased lung cancer risk). Tashkin D. Marijuana Use and Lung Cancer: Results of a Case-Control Study. American Thoracic Society International Conference. May 23, 2006.

    3) Researchers at the Kaiser-Permanente HMO, funded by NIDA, followed 65,000 patients for nearly a decade, comparing cancer rates among non-smokers, tobacco smokers, and marijuana smokers. Tobacco smokers had massively higher rates of lung cancer and other cancers. Marijuana smokers who didn't also use tobacco had no increase in risk of tobacco-related cancers or of cancer risk overall. In fact their rates of lung and most other cancers were slightly lower than non-smokers, though the difference did not reach statistical significance. Sidney, S. et al. Marijuana Use and Cancer Incidence (California, United States). Cancer Causes and Control. Vol. 8. Sept. 1997, p. 722-728.

    4) In a 1994 study the government tried to suppress, federal researchers gave mice and rats massive doses of THC, looking for cancers or other signs of toxicity. The rodents given THC lived longer and had fewer cancers, "in a dose-dependent manner" (i.e. the more THC they got, the fewer tumors). NTP Technical Report On The Toxicology And Carcinogenesis Studies Of 1-Trans- Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, CAS No. 1972-08-3, In F344/N Rats And B6C3F Mice, Gavage Studies. See also, "Medical Marijuana: Unpublished Federal Study Found THC-Treated Rats Lived Longer, Had Less Cancer," AIDS Treatment News no. 263, Jan. 17, 1997.

    5) Federal researchers implanted several types of cancer, including leukemia and lung cancers, in mice, then treated them with cannabinoids (unique, active components found in marijuana). THC and other cannabinoids shrank tumors and increased the mice's lifespans. Munson, AE et al. Antineoplastic Activity of Cannabinoids. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Sept. 1975. p. 597-602.

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