Repeal Prohibition, AgainNY Times - It's time to legalize marijuana!!!!
Repeal Prohibition, Again
Repeal Prohibition, Again
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
It took 13 years for the United States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol. [Well really marijuana has been illegal at the Federal level for 75 years, since the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act was passed]
The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.
We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws.
There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use. But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.
We considered whether it would be best for Washington to hold back while the states continued experimenting with legalizing medicinal uses of marijuana, reducing penalties, or even simply legalizing all use. Nearly three-quarters of the states have done one of these.
But that would leave their citizens vulnerable to the whims of whoever happens to be in the White House and chooses to enforce or not enforce the federal law.
The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.
There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco. Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. Claims that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs are as fanciful as the “Reefer Madness” images of murder, rape and suicide.
There are legitimate concerns about marijuana on the development of adolescent brains. For that reason, we advocate the prohibition of sales to people under 21.
Creating systems for regulating manufacture, sale and marketing will be complex. But those problems are solvable, and would have long been dealt with had we as a nation not clung to the decision to make marijuana production and use a federal crime.
In coming days, we will publish articles by members of the Editorial Board and supplementary material that will examine these questions. We invite readers to offer their ideas, and we will report back on their responses, pro and con.
We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues. But it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition.
Let States Decide on Marijuana
Let States Decide on Marijuana
By DAVID FIRESTONEJULY 26, 2014
In 1970, at the height of his white-hot war on crime, President Richard Nixon demanded that Congress pass the Controlled Substances Act to crack down on drug abuse. During the debate, Senator Thomas Dodd of Connecticut held up a package wrapped in light-green paper that he said contained $3,000 worth of marijuana. This substance, he said, caused such “dreadful hallucinations” in an Army sergeant in Vietnam that he called down a mortar strike on his own troops. A few minutes later, the Senate unanimously passed the bill.
That law, so antique that it uses the spelling “marihuana,” is still on the books, and is the principal reason that possessing the substance in Senator Dodd’s package is considered illegal by the United States government. Changing it wouldn’t even require an act of Congress — the attorney general or the secretary of Health and Human Services could each do so — although the law should be changed to make sure that future administrations could not reimpose the ban.
Repealing it would allow the states to decide whether to permit marijuana use and under what conditions. Nearly three-fourths of them have already begun to do so, liberalizing their laws in defiance of the federal ban. Two have legalized recreational use outright, and if the federal government also recognized the growing public sentiment to legalize and regulate marijuana, that would almost certainly prompt more states to follow along.
The increasing absurdity of the federal government’s position is evident in the text of the Nixon-era law. “Marihuana” is listed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act alongside some of the most dangerous and mind-altering drugs on earth, ranked as high as heroin, LSD and bufotenine, a highly toxic and hallucinogenic toad venom that can cause cardiac arrest. By contrast, cocaine and methamphetamine are a notch down on the government’s rankings, listed in Schedule II.
That illogical distinction shows why many states have begun to disregard the federal government’s archaic rules. Schedule II drugs, while carrying a high potential for abuse, have a legitimate medical use. (Even meth is sold in prescription form for weight loss.) But according to the language of the law, marijuana and the other Schedule I drugs have “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.”
STATES TAKE THE LEAD No medical use? That would come as news to the millions of people who have found that marijuana helped them through the pain of AIDS, or the nausea and vomiting of chemotherapy, or the seizures of epilepsy. As of this month, 35 states and the District of Columbia permit some form of marijuana consumption for medical purposes. New York is one of the latest states to defy the tired edict of the Controlled Substances Act.
It’s hard for the public to take seriously a law that says marijuana and heroin have exactly the same “high potential for abuse,” since that ignores the vastly more addictive power of narcotics, which have destroyed the lives of millions of people around the world. (There are no documented deaths from a marijuana overdose.) The 44-year refusal of Congress and eight administrations to alter marijuana’s place on Schedule I has made the law a laughingstock, one that states are openly flouting.
In addition to the medical exceptions, 18 states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized marijuana, generally meaning that possession of small amounts is treated like a traffic ticket or ignored. Two states, Colorado and Washington, have gone even further and legalized it for recreational purposes; two others, Alaska and Oregon, will decide whether to do the same later this year.
The states are taking the lead because they’re weary of locking up thousands of their own citizens for possessing a substance that has less potential for abuse and destructive behavior than alcohol. A decision about what kinds of substances to permit, and under what conditions, belongs in the purview of the states, as alcohol is handled.
Consuming marijuana is not a fundamental right that should be imposed on the states by the federal government, in the manner of abortion rights, health insurance, or the freedom to marry a partner of either sex. It’s a choice that states should be allowed to make based on their culture and their values, and it’s not surprising that the early adopters would be socially liberal states like Colorado and Washington, while others hang back to gauge the results.
PRE-EMPTED BY WASHINGTON Many states are unwilling to legalize marijuana as long as possessing or growing it remains a federal crime. Colorado, for instance, allows its largest stores to cultivate up to 10,200 cannabis plants at a time. But the federal penalty for growing more than 1,000 plants is a minimum of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10 million. That has created a state of confusion in which law-abiding growers in Colorado can face federal penalties.
Last August, the Justice Department issued a memo saying it would not interfere with the legalization plans of Colorado and Washington as long as they met several conditions: keeping marijuana out of the hands of minors or criminal gangs; prohibiting its transport out of the state; and enforcing prohibitions against drugged driving, violence and other illegal drugs. The government has also said banks can do business with marijuana sellers, easing a huge problem for a growing industry. But the Justice Department guidance is loose; aggressive federal prosecutors can ignore it “if state enforcement efforts are not sufficiently robust,” the memo says.
That’s a shaky foundation on which to build confidence in a state’s legalization plan. More important, it applies only to this moment in this presidential administration. President Obama’s Justice Department could change its policy at any time, and so of course could the next administration.
HOW TO END THE FEDERAL BAN Allowing states to make their own decisions on marijuana — just as they did with alcohol after the end of Prohibition in 1933 — requires unambiguous federal action. The most comprehensive plan to do so is a bill introduced last year by Representative Jared Polis, Democrat of Colorado, known as the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act. It would eliminate marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, require a federal permit for growing and distributing it, and have it regulated (just as alcohol is now) by the Food and Drug Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. An alternative bill, which would not be as effective, was introduced by Representative Dana Rohrabacher, Republican of California, as the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act. It would not remove marijuana from Schedule I but would eliminate enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act against anyone acting in compliance with a state marijuana law.
Congress is clearly not ready to pass either bill, but there are signs that sentiments are changing. A promising alliance is growing on the subject between liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans. In a surprise move in May, the House voted 219 to 189 to prohibit the Drug Enforcement Administration from prosecuting people who use medical marijuana, if a state has made it legal. It was the first time the House had voted to liberalize a marijuana law; similar measures had repeatedly failed in previous years. The measure’s fate is uncertain in the Senate.
While waiting for Congress to evolve, President Obama, once a regular recreational marijuana smoker, could practice some evolution of his own. He could order the attorney general to conduct the study necessary to support removal of marijuana from Schedule I. Earlier this year, he told The New Yorker that he considered marijuana less dangerous than alcohol in its impact on individuals, and made it clear that he was troubled by the disproportionate number of arrests of African-Americans and Latinos on charges of possession. For that reason, he said, he supported the Colorado and Washington experiments.
“It’s important for it to go forward,” he said, referring to the state legalizations, “because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”
But a few weeks later, he told CNN that the decision on whether to change Schedule I should be left to Congress, another way of saying he doesn’t plan to do anything to end the federal ban. For too long, politicians have seen the high cost — in dollars and lives locked behind bars — of their pointless war on marijuana and chosen to do nothing. But many states have had enough, and it’s time for Washington to get out of their way.
On Monday at 4:20 p.m. Eastern Time, Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor, will be taking questions about marijuana legalization at facebook.com/nytimes.
NY Times to continue drug testing employees!!!!
NY Times hypocrites!!! NY Times to continue drug testing employees!!!!
The New York Times Will Continue Drug Testing Despite Pot Legalization Stance
Posted: 07/27/2014 5:35 pm EDT
NEW YORK -- The New York Times came out in its Sunday editorial in support of legalizing marijuana, kicking off a six-part series to make its case.
But the editorial board’s new stance doesn’t mean incoming Times employees can partake. As Gawker recently noted, the Times is one of several big media companies that require prospective hires to take a drug test. A Times spokeswoman told HuffPost that the paper's policy for drug testing hasn’t changed, despite the editorial board's decision.
“Our corporate policy on this issue reflects current law,” the spokeswoman said. “We aren't going to get into details beyond that.”
The Times editorial board would like to see that current law changed, arguing that the federal ban on marijuana inflicts “great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.” As with the earlier prohibition on alcohol, the Times is calling for repeal.
In a blog post on the series, editorial page editor Andy Rosenthal said that the paper's publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., supports the board's decision, which "was long in the making."
The Times has called in the past for legalizing medical marijuana, but Rosenthal said the current position came “as more and more states liberalized their marijuana laws in open defiance of the federal ban” and it “became clear to us that there had to be a national approach to the issue.”
During a Sunday appearance on ABC News’ “This Week,” Rosenthal acknowledged that he's smoked pot in the past and indicated he wouldn't be bothered if colleagues do now.
"I’ve never asked the people that work for me whether they smoke pot, and I’m not going to ask," he said.
The Public Lightens Up About Weed
"The war on marijuana is more harmful than marijuana itself" - NY Times
The Public Lightens Up About Weed
By JULIET LAPIDOSJULY 26, 2014
When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, he admitted that he had “experimented with marijuana,” but said he “didn’t like it,” “didn’t inhale it” and “never tried it again.” Whatever the accuracy of that statement, he was accused of pandering to the marijuana-wary voting public.
Flash forward to the early stages of the 2008 presidential campaign. At an event in Iowa, then-candidate Barack Obama disclosed that he had not only smoked marijuana as a young man, but inhaled it, too. “That was the point,” he said. The public responded with a shrug.
Between the two campaigns, Americans had loosened up considerably. By the time Mr. Obama was wooing voters in Iowa, Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” slogan was a relic of a fustier era, and “Weeds,” a comedy about a widowed mother who sells marijuana to support her family, was on TV. Few people remembered Judge Douglas Ginsburg, who in 1987 had to withdraw from consideration as a Supreme Court justice after admitting that he had used marijuana while a professor at Harvard Law School.
Seventy-eight percent of Americans thought marijuana should be illegal in 1991. That figure fell to 57 percent in 2008, according to the Pew Research Center. In 2013, for the first time in over four decades of polling on the issue, prohibition was a minority position. Fifty-two percent said they favored legalizing marijuana use; 45 percent were opposed.
It seems likely that the legalization majority will continue to grow. Pew’s latest survey says 54 percent of Americans now support legalization. That includes 52 percent of baby boomers (who opposed legalization in the 1980s) and 69 percent of millennials. As with same-sex marriage, young people do not seem to understand what all the fuss is about. On these two social issues, they’re libertarians.
So what happened? How did we get from “just say no” to “no big deal,” from “I didn’t inhale” to “that was the point”? Americans are not, on the whole, more liberal politically than they used to be — Gallup polling on ideological self-identification has been quite consistent for 20 years. They simply appear to have come around to the view that the war on marijuana is more harmful than marijuana itself.
Nearly three-quarters of Americans, 72 percent, say government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they are worth. Even Republicans, who tend to be more skeptical of legalization, overwhelmingly hold that opinion: 67 percent. And a shrinking share of the population believes marijuana is a “gateway” substance that leads to harder drugs (38 percent in 2013 versus 60 percent in 1977), or that marijuana use is “morally wrong” (32 percent in 2013, down 18 points since 2006).
Starting with California in the mid-1990s, Americans have seen state after state legalize the drug for medical use — and two states legalize it for general use — without enduring fire and brimstone. They’ve heard about ordinary people arrested on possession charges who cannot find jobs because of their criminal record. And they’ve read statistics showing a persistent racial bias in enforcement: Black citizens are nearly four times as likely as white people to be arrested for possession.
Perhaps Americans have also been swayed by the array of public figures who have spoken out against prohibition. Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, told The Times in 2012 that “we should treat marijuana the way we treat beverage alcohol.” “I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to,” he added, “but it’s just one of those things that I think: This war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.” Bob Barr, a former congressman, and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, signed a letter to Congress in 2009 arguing that each state should have the right “to dictate its own marijuana policy.” Giving states this authority, they said, “would free federal law enforcement resources for the more urgent tasks of thwarting, apprehending and prosecuting international terrorists or murderers.”
But Americans are not deriving their opinions on marijuana just from the media. Forty-eight percent said they had tried marijuana in 2013, according to Pew, up from 38 percent a decade earlier. One in 10 said they had used the drug in the last year. Someone who’s tried marijuana is unlikely to succumb to “Reefer Madness"-style fear-mongering, or to less hysterical but equally invalid ideas about the medical risks of occasional use. Roughly seven in 10 Americans believe alcohol is more detrimental to a person’s health, which is what the scientific establishment believes.
This isn’t the first time the nation seemed to be heading toward more liberal marijuana laws. In 1972 the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse unanimously recommended decriminalization; in 1977 President Jimmy Carter asked Congress to accept that advice. But there was a backlash movement, led in part by suburban parents worried that weed was turning their children into layabouts.
Americans still associate smoking marijuana with apathy. There’s a whole subgenre of Hollywood comedies devoted to stoned antics, like “Pineapple Express” or the “Harold and Kumar” series, which keep alive the impression that weed is the drug of choice of young people who’d rather sit on the couch eating snacks than grow up and get a job. Only a minority of Americans now think it’s the government’s responsibility to discourage that behavior through the criminal justice system. A majority believe that the war on marijuana has failed and that it’s time to end it.
On Monday at 4:20 p.m. Eastern Time, Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor, will be taking questions about marijuana legalization at facebook.com/nytimes.
The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests
The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests
By JESSE WEGMANJULY 28, 2014
America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.
In October 2010, Bernard Noble, a 45-year-old trucker and father of seven with two previous nonviolent offenses, was stopped on a New Orleans street with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. His sentence: more than 13 years.
The Racial Imbalance in Arrests
Blacks and whites use marijuana at comparable rates. Yet in all states but Hawaii, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana offenses.
For example, blacks in Iowa are
8.3 times more likely to be arrested.
Outrageously long sentences are only part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of people who are arrested each year but do not go to jail also suffer; their arrests stay on their records for years, crippling their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits. These are disproportionately people of color, with marijuana criminalization hitting black communities the hardest.
Meanwhile, police departments that presumably have far more important things to do waste an enormous amount of time and taxpayer money chasing a drug that two states have already legalized and that a majority of Americans believe should be legal everywhere.
A Costly, Futile Strategy The absurdity starts on the street, with a cop and a pair of handcuffs. As the war on drugs escalated through the 1980s and 1990s, so did the focus on common, low-level offenses — what became known as “broken windows” policing. In New York City, where the strategy was introduced and remains popular today, the police made fewer than 800 marijuana arrests in 1991. In 2010, they made more than 59,000.
Nationwide, the numbers are hardly better. From 2001 to 2010, the police made more than 8.2 million marijuana arrests; almost nine in 10 were for possession alone. In 2011, there were more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes put together.
The costs of this national obsession, in both money and time, are astonishing. Each year, enforcing laws on possession costs more than $3.6 billion, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. It can take a police officer many hours to arrest and book a suspect. That person will often spend a night or more in the local jail, and be in court multiple times to resolve the case. The public-safety payoff for all this effort is meager at best: According to a 2012 Human Rights Watch report that tracked 30,000 New Yorkers with no prior convictions when they were arrested for marijuana possession, 90 percent had no subsequent felony convictions. Only 3.1 percent committed a violent offense.
The strategy is also largely futile. After three decades, criminalization has not affected general usage; about 30 million Americans use marijuana every year. Meanwhile, police forces across the country are strapped for cash, and the more resources they devote to enforcing marijuana laws, the less they have to go after serious, violent crime. According to F.B.I. data, more than half of all violent crimes nationwide, and four in five property crimes, went unsolved in 2012.
The Racial Disparity The sheer volume of law enforcement resources devoted to marijuana is bad enough. What makes the situation far worse is racial disparity. Whites and blacks use marijuana at roughly the same rates; on average, however, blacks are 3.7 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession, according to a comprehensive 2013 report by the A.C.L.U.
In Iowa, blacks are 8.3 times more likely to be arrested, and in the worst-offending counties in the country, they are up to 30 times more likely to be arrested. The war on drugs aims its firepower overwhelmingly at African-Americans on the street, while white users smoke safely behind closed doors.
Only about 6 percent of marijuana cases lead to a felony conviction; the rest are often treated as misdemeanors resulting in fines or probation, if the charges aren’t dismissed completely. Even so, every arrest ends up on a person’s record, whether or not it leads to prosecution and conviction. Particularly in poorer minority neighborhoods, where young men are more likely to be outside and repeatedly targeted by law enforcement, these arrests accumulate. Before long a person can have an extensive “criminal history” that consists only of marijuana misdemeanors and dismissed cases. That criminal history can then influence the severity of punishment for a future offense, however insignificant.
While the number of people behind bars solely for possessing or selling marijuana seems relatively small — 20,000 to 30,000 by the most recent estimates, or roughly 1 percent of America’s 2.4 million inmates — that means nothing to people, like Jeff Mizanskey, who are serving breathtakingly long terms because their records contained minor previous offenses. Nor does it mean anything to the vast majority of these inmates who have no history of violence (about nine in 10, according to a 2006 study). And as with arrests, the racial disparity is vast: Blacks are more than 10 times as likely as whites to go to prison for drug offenses. For those on probation or parole for any offense, a failed drug test on its own can lead to prison time — which means, again, that people can be put behind bars for smoking marijuana.
Even if a person never goes to prison, the conviction itself is the tip of the iceberg. In a majority of states, marijuana convictions — including those resulting from guilty pleas — can have lifelong consequences for employment, education, immigration status and family life.
A misdemeanor conviction can lead to, among many other things, the revocation of a professional license; the suspension of a driver’s license; the inability to get insurance, a mortgage or other bank loans; the denial of access to public housing; and the loss of student financial aid.
In some states, a felony conviction can result in a lifetime ban on voting, jury service, or eligibility for public benefits like food stamps. People can be fired from their jobs because of a marijuana arrest. Even if a judge eventually throws the case out, the arrest record is often available online for a year, free for any employer to look up.
Correcting an Old Inequity As recently as the mid-1970s, politicians and the public generally agreed that marijuana abuse was handled better by treatment than by prosecution and incarceration. Jimmy Carter ran for president and won while supporting decriminalization. But that view lost out as the war on drugs broadened and intensified, sweeping marijuana along with it.
In recent years, public acceptance of marijuana has grown significantly. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia now permit some form of medical marijuana, and Colorado and Washington fully legalized it for recreational use in 2012. And yet even as “ganjapreneurs” scramble to take economic advantage, thousands of people remain behind bars, or burdened by countless collateral punishments that prevent them from full and active membership in society.
In a March interview, Michelle Alexander, a law professor whose book, “The New Jim Crow,” articulated the drug war’s deeper costs to black men in particular, noted the cruel paradox at play in Colorado and Washington. She pointed to “40 years of impoverished black kids getting prison time for selling weed, and their families and futures destroyed,” and said, “Now, white men are planning to get rich doing precisely the same thing?”
As pioneers in legalization, those two states should set a further example by providing relief to people convicted of crimes that are no longer crimes, including overturning convictions. A recent ruling by a Colorado appeals court overturned two 2011 convictions because of the changed law, and the state’s Legislature has enacted laws in the last two years to give courts more power to seal records of drug convictions and to make it easier for defendants to get jobs and housing after a conviction. These are both important steps into an uncharted future.
Debunking the White House’s Reefer Mad Reaction to the NYT
Debunking the White House’s Reefer Mad Reaction to the NYT
Back when I was a teenager I did some research on drugs and luckily I found a good source that didn't lie about them.
As everybody knows heroin and the other opiates are physically addictive. I.E. you get physically sick if you stop taking them.
I also read that cocaine was psychologically addictive, but NOT physically addictive like opiates. I suspect that is true.
I also read the alcohol was physically addictive. You get the DTs or "delirium tremens" if you stop taking that.
Based on the evidence I have seen I suspect that the DT's are either mythology to scare kids from drinking liquor. Or if the DT's really exist that physical addiction to alcohol is very rare.
Last but not least when I did my reading years ago as a teenage I didn't find a sherd of documentation saying that marijuana was physically addictive like heroin or psychologically addictive like cocaine.
So now, i.e. 2014 when I read about marijuana being addictive, I almost always suspect it is either mythology and propaganda created to scare the children from using marijuana. Or simply propaganda to justify the government's "War on Drugs"
In this article, which is from NORML, it seems that the government has invented a new "definition" so that they can claim marijuana is "addictive".
It seems like this new "definition" of marijuana addiction includes "disturbed sleep" and "loss of appetite".
If that's the government's "definition" of marijuana addiction, would say it's must more propaganda from our government masters and the police who have a vested interest in keeping marijuana illegal.
Debunking the White House’s Reefer Mad Reaction to the NYT
by Mitch Earleywine July 29, 2014
The New York Times has joined the majority of US citizens in the call for a more rational marijuana policy. The White House responded with an attempt to explain why a taxed and regulated market is no “silver bullet solution.” Alluding to The Lone Ranger probably wasn’t a great idea, but I think they mean that this isn’t a panacea for every problem related to cannabis.
Of course, all our other legislation is perfect, so we shouldn’t change this policy until we have a solution with all advantages and no disadvantages.
Our government says that this use of law enforcement and court time targets marijuana users because the plant alters brain development, impedes academic achievement, impairs driving, and creates addiction. The tacit assumption, that prohibition is going to prevent all of these problems, is tenable at best. (We’ve had police officers whip out the handcuffs over 18 million times since 1981. From 1995 until now, we’ve had at least one marijuana arrest per minute. The plant is more available than ever.) But let’s forget about how prohibition isn’t going to help and address the White House’s Furious Four Factors.
The first two (brain development and academic achievement) fall under the “what about the children” category. When all else fails, it’s great to play the baby card. NORML has condemned juvenile consumption for decades now. Of course, the underground market is notoriously bad at carding purchasers. When was the last time a dealer asked for ID? Licensed distributors who could lose their livelihood for underage sales would be markedly more motivated to keep the plant from children. But let’s address the claims.
Brain Development. Regular use early in life could alter brain development. But here’s the point no one is supposed to mention: we don’t really know for sure. It’s likely. It works in animals. But it’s not proven. The niftiest gizmos that take pictures of brains often can find differences between those who’ve used early and those who haven’t. But we don’t have a time machine. We don’t really know if these people had deviant brains before they ever saw the plant.
Investigators who run these expensive studies also have a hell of a time publishing results unless they find some differences. Many would rather leave the data in a drawer than battle editors and reviewers in an attempt to publish a paper that says that marijuana has no impact. What has been found is not always consistent. It’s one brain area showing differences in one study and another in the next. Reports that find nothing, or that the non-users actually have deviant brains (e.g. Block, O’Leary, Ehrhardt, et al., 2000, who found bigger ventricles in non-users), never get mentioned. Big reviews try to tell a coherent story, but effects are small. Binge drinking is markedly worse. (See Lisdahl et al.). Cigarette smoking leads to detectable changes in brain structure, too. I’d joke that we should make alcohol and tobacco illegal following this logic, but I’m afraid some people will actually try to do so.
Academic achievement. If the government genuinely cared about my academic achievement, I think I would have learned more in public school. But that’s another issue. We know that mastering new material immediately after using cannabis is extremely difficult. Going to class high is a dumb waste of time. It would certainly interfere with grades. But what’s the real issue here?
Decades ago, researchers showed that college students who used the plant had better grades than their peers who didn’t (Gergen, Gergen, & Morse, 1972; Goode, 1971). It’s not that marijuana’s a study aid. Students who liked the plant might have taken classes they enjoyed and flourished as a result. Subsequent studies didn’t always confirm these results, and investigators lost interest.
But high school kids who use the plant often bonk their exams. Most heavy users had earned lower grades prior to their marijuana consumption, suggesting cannabis could not have caused the poorer performance (Shedler & Block, 1990). Essentially, cannabis users with bad grades in high school also had low marks when they were in fourth grade. Cannabis might not lead to bad grades, but folks with bad grades often turn to cannabis. In addition, high school students who smoke cannabis heavily also tend to use alcohol and other illicit substances. Once these factors are taken into account, the link between cannabis and academic performance disappears. These results suggest that drugs other than marijuana might lower grades (Hall, Solowij, & Lennon, 1994).
In truth, if the government wants to see better achievement in school, the best answer would require schools with funding. Perhaps we could attract more of the energetic, enthusiastic, well-trained teachers who inspire learning if we offered better salaries. Students might find school more engaging when teachers are delighted and facilities are excellent. Busting teens for possession seems too indirect a strategy for improving education.
Driving. Paul Armentano has done such a superb job of summarizing the relevant data on this topic that I don’t want to belabor it.
A few points are worth emphasizing. NORML has always opposed impaired driving. People who can’t pass appropriate roadside sobriety tests should not operate a motor vehicle. Note that passing a sobriety test has little to do with the content of anyone’s blood or urine.
A recent meta-analytic review suggests that, at most, cannabis is no worse than antihistamines and probably on par with penicillin when it comes to culpability for accidents. If we’re going to make all drugs that impair driving illegal, we’re going to have a lot of runny noses and infections to handle.
Research from The Netherlands shows that folks who use cannabis in the laboratory lose their willingness to drive (source). When the experimenter forced them, they go slower, avoid trying to pass other cars, and start putting on the breaks earlier when they have to stop. These compensatory steps probably explain why a couple of studies have found cannabis users less culpable than drug-free drivers. Surprise surprise! This work never got any press. (Drummer, 1994, Bates & Blakely, 1999).
A study of over 300 drivers involved in fatal crashes in California focused on motorists who tested positive for cannabis but no other drug. Unexpectedly, they were half as likely to be responsible for accidents as those who were free of substances (Williams,,Peat, & Crouch, 1985). Another investigation of over 1,800 fatal crashes in the United States found that drivers who used only cannabis were only 70% as likely to have caused an accident as the drug-free group (Terhune, Ippolito, & Crouch, 1992). These are literally impossible to publish anymore, potentially suggesting the bias alluded to in the Elvik meta-analysis. So don’t drive high, but drive as if you were. Go slowly. Don’t try to pass. Leave room to stop.
Addiction. The new DSM V definition of addiction qualifies me for a caffeine disorder, so I’m obviously biased. Better take what I say with a grain of salt. But be careful, salt allegedly has addictive properties, too.
After five millennia and a series of moving definitions, researchers have finally identified something that they can call marijuana withdrawal and marijuana addiction. I’m guessing that prohibitionists really love this one. it conjures up images of sweaty heroin users snatching purses and plunging needles into infected arms. Have you met people who mug girl scouts to maintain their marijuana money? Neither have I. So what is marijuana addiction supposed to be? Among the most common symptoms are disturbed sleep and, I can barely say this with a straight face, loss of appetite. Anybody who uses every day and then gets irritated on a day without the plant could end up qualifying. If you tell anyone struggling with the opiates that these are the symptoms of your addiction, you’re likely to get a swift kick in the crotch. Expert opinions suggest that only the hallucinogens are less addictive than marijuana.
The most negative thing a government can do to its citizens is punish them. If we want to use punishment, we need outstanding reasons. These four simply do not qualify.
Citations: Block, R. I., O’Leary, D. S., Ehrhardt, J. C., Augustinack, J. C., Ghoneim, M. M., Arndt, S., et al. (2000). Effects of frequent marijuana use on brain tissue volume and composition. NeuroReport, 11, 491–496.
Drummer, O. H. (1994). Drugs in drivers killed in Australian road traffic accidents. (Report no. 0594). Melbourne, Australia: Monash University, Victorian Institute of Forensic Pathology
Gergen, M. K., Gergen, K. J., & Morse, S. J. (1972). Correlates of marijuana use among college students. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2, 1–16.
Goode, E. (1971). Drug use and grades in college. Nature, 239, 225–227. Hall, W., Solowij, N., & Lennon, J. (1994). The health and psychological consequences of cannabis use. Canberra: Australian Government Publication Services.
Shedler, J., & Block, J. (1990). Adolescent drug use and psychological health: A longitudinal inquiry. American Psychologist, 45, 612–630.
Terhune, K. W., Ippolito, C. A., & Crouch, D. J. (1992). The incidence and role of drugs in fatally injured drivers (DOT HS Report No. 808 065). Washington DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Williams, A. F., Peat, M. A., & Crouch, D. J. (1985). Drugs in fatally injured young male drivers. Public Health Reports, 100, 19–25.
The Federal Marijuana Ban Is Rooted in Myth and XenophobiaThe Federal Marijuana Ban Is Rooted in Myth and Xenophobia
You mean smoking a joint won't make me go out and rape 6 women and then rob a few Circle Ks???? Damn, I guess I can't believe anything from the movie Reefer Madness that I was shown in high school to warn me of the dangers of marijuana!!!!
The Federal Marijuana Ban Is Rooted in Myth and Xenophobia
JULY 29, 2014
By BRENT STAPLES
The federal law that makes possession of marijuana a crime has its origins in legislation that was passed in an atmosphere of hysteria during the 1930s and that was firmly rooted in prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans, who were associated with marijuana use at the time. This racially freighted history lives on in current federal policy, which is so driven by myth and propaganda that is it almost impervious to reason.
The cannabis plant, also known as hemp, was widely grown in the United States for use in fabric during the mid-19th century. The practice of smoking it appeared in Texas border towns around 1900, brought by Mexican immigrants who cultivated cannabis as an intoxicant and for medicinal purposes as they had done at home.
Within 15 years or so, it was plentiful along the Texas border and was advertised openly at grocery markets and drugstores, some of which shipped small packets by mail to customers in other states.
The law enforcement view of marijuana was indelibly shaped by the fact that it was initially connected to brown people from Mexico and subsequently with black and poor communities in this country. Police in Texas border towns demonized the plant in racial terms as the drug of “immoral” populations who were promptly labeled “fiends.”
As the legal scholars Richard Bonnie and Charles Whitebread explain in their authoritative history, “The Marihuana Conviction,” the drug’s popularity among minorities and other groups practically ensured that it would be classified as a “narcotic,” attributed with addictive qualities it did not have, and set alongside far more dangerous drugs like heroin and morphine.
By the early 1930s, more than 30 states had prohibited the use of marijuana for nonmedical purposes. The federal push was yet to come. [So some state governments made marijuana illegal before the Feds made it illegal with the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act]
The stage for federal suppression of marijuana was set in New Orleans, where a prominent doctor blamed “muggle-heads” — as pot smokers were called — for an outbreak of robberies. The city was awash in sensationalistic newspaper articles that depicted pushers hovering by the schoolhouse door turning children into “addicts.” These stories popularized spurious notions about the drug that lingered for decades. Law enforcement officials, too, trafficked in the “assassin” theory, under in which killers were said to have smoked cannabis to ready themselves for murder and mayhem.
In 1930, Congress consolidated the drug control effort in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, led by the endlessly resourceful commissioner, Harry Jacob Anslinger, who became the architect of national prohibition. His case rested on two fantastical assertions: that the drug caused insanity; that it pushed people toward horrendous acts of criminality. Others at the time argued that it was fiercely addictive.
He may not have actually believed his propaganda, but he fed it by giving lurid stories to the press as a way of making a case for federal intervention. This narrative had a great effect at Congressional hearings that led to the enactment of The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which tried to eradicate the use and sale of the drug through heavy taxation.
Mr. Bonnie and Mr. Whitebread report that the witness list for those hearings contained not a single person who had done significant research into the effects of cannabis. Mr. Anslinger testified that even a single marijuana cigarette could induce a “homicidal mania,” prompting people to want to kill those they loved. The bill passed handily; President Franklin Roosevelt signed it into law. [Isn't he the jerk that turned America into a socialist country???]
It was not until 1951, when Congress again took up the issue, that a reputable researcher was called to testify. Dr. Harris Isbell, director of research at the Public Health Service Hospital in Lexington, Ky., disputed the insanity, crime and addiction theories, telling Congress that “smoking marijuana has no unpleasant aftereffects, no dependence is developed on the drug, and the practice can easily be stopped at any time.”
Despite Dr. Isbell’s testimony, Congress ratcheted up penalties on users. The states followed the federal example; Louisiana, for instance, created sentences ranging from five to 99 years, without parole or probation, for sale, possession or administration of narcotic drugs. The rationale was not that mairjuana itself was addictive — that argument was suddenly relinquished — but that it was a “steppingstone” to heroin addiction. This passed largely without comment at the time. [I remember reading articles in the Arizona arguing that the death sentence be given to sellers of marijuana. Jan Brewer, Tom Horne and Will Humble probably agree with that rubbish]
The country accepted a senselessly punitive approach to sentencing as long as minorities and the poor paid the price. But, by the late 1960s, weed had been taken up by white college students from the middle and upper classes. Seeing white lives ruined by marijuana laws altered public attitudes about harsh sentencing, and, in 1972, the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse released a report challenging the approach.
The commission concluded that criminalization was “too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use,” and that “the actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.” The Nixon administration dismissed these ideas.
During the mid-1970s, virtually all states softened penalties for marijuana possession. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia have made medical use of some form of the drug legal. The Justice Department’s recent decision not to sue states that legalize marijuana — as long as they have strong enforcement rules — eases the tension between state and federal laws only slightly but leaves a great many legal problems unresolved.
The federal government has taken a small step back from irrational enforcement. But it clings to a policy that has its origins in racism and xenophobia and whose principal effect has been to ruin the lives of generations of people.
What Science Says About Marijuana
What Science Says About Marijuana
By PHILIP M. BOFFEY JULY 30, 2014
For Michele Leonhart, the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, there is no difference between the health effects of marijuana and those of any other illegal drug. “All illegal drugs are bad for people,” she told Congress in 2012, refusing to say whether crack, methamphetamines or prescription painkillers are more addictive or physically harmful than marijuana.
Her testimony neatly illustrates the vast gap between antiquated federal law enforcement policies and the clear consensus of science that marijuana is far less harmful to human health than most other banned drugs and is less dangerous than the highly addictive but perfectly legal substances known as alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana cannot lead to a fatal overdose. There is little evidence that it causes cancer. Its addictive properties, while present, are low, and the myth that it leads users to more powerful drugs has long since been disproved.
That doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless; in fact, the potency of current strains may shock those who haven’t tried it for decades, particularly when ingested as food. It can produce a serious dependency, and constant use would interfere with job and school performance. It needs to be kept out of the hands of minors. But, on balance, its downsides are not reasons to impose criminal penalties on its possession, particularly not in a society that permits nicotine use and celebrates drinking.
Marijuana’s negative health effects are arguments for the same strong regulation that has been effective in curbing abuse of legal substances. Science and government have learned a great deal, for example, about how to keep alcohol out of the hands of minors. Mandatory underage drinking laws and effective marketing campaigns have reduced underage alcohol use to 24.8 percent in 2011, compared with 33.4 percent in 1991. Cigarette use among high school students is at its lowest point ever, largely thanks to tobacco taxes and growing municipal smoking limits. There is already some early evidence that regulation would also help combat teen marijuana use, which fell after Colorado began broadly regulating medical marijuana in 2010.
Comparing the Dangers As with other recreational substances, marijuana’s health effects depend on the frequency of use, the potency and amount of marijuana consumed, and the age of the consumer. Casual use by adults poses little or no risk for healthy people. Its effects are mostly euphoric and mild, whereas alcohol turns some drinkers into barroom brawlers, domestic abusers or maniacs behind the wheel.
An independent scientific committee in Britain compared 20 drugs in 2010 for the harms they caused to individual users and to society as a whole through crime, family breakdown, absenteeism, and other social ills. Adding up all the damage, the panel estimated that alcohol was the most harmful drug, followed by heroin and crack cocaine. Marijuana ranked eighth, having slightly more than one-fourth the harm of alcohol.
Federal scientists say that the damage caused by alcohol and tobacco is higher because they are legally available; if marijuana were legally and easily obtainable, they say, the number of people suffering harm would rise. However, a 1995 study for the World Health Organization concluded that even if usage of marijuana increased to the levels of alcohol and tobacco, it would be unlikely to produce public health effects approaching those of alcohol and tobacco in Western societies.
Most of the risks of marijuana use are “small to moderate in size,” the study said. “In aggregate, they are unlikely to produce public health problems comparable in scale to those currently produced by alcohol and tobacco.”
While tobacco causes cancer, and alcohol abuse can lead to cirrhosis, no clear causal connection between marijuana and a deadly disease has been made. Experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the scientific arm of the federal anti-drug campaign, published a review of the adverse health effects of marijuana in June that pointed to a few disease risks but was remarkably frank in acknowledging widespread uncertainties. Though the authors believed that legalization would expose more people to health hazards, they said the link to lung cancer is “unclear,” and that it is lower than the risk of smoking tobacco.
The very heaviest users can experience symptoms of bronchitis, such as wheezing and coughing, but moderate smoking poses little risk. A 2012 study found that smoking a joint a day for seven years was not associated with adverse effects on pulmonary function. Experts say that marijuana increases the heart rate and the volume of blood pumped by the heart, but that poses a risk mostly to older users who already have cardiac or other health problems.
How Addictive Is Marijuana? Marijuana isn’t addictive in the same sense as heroin, from which withdrawal is an agonizing, physical ordeal. But it can interact with pleasure centers in the brain and can create a strong sense of psychological dependence that addiction experts say can be very difficult to break. Heavy users may find they need to take larger and larger doses to get the effects they want. When they try to stop, some get withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, sleeping difficulties and anxiety that are usually described as relatively mild.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine, the largest association of physicians specializing in addiction, issued a white paper in 2012 opposing legalization because “marijuana is not a safe and harmless substance” and marijuana addiction “is a significant health problem.”
Nonetheless, that health problem is far less significant than for other substances, legal and illegal. The Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences, said in a 1999 study that 32 percent of tobacco users become dependent, as do 23 percent of heroin users, 17 percent of cocaine users, and 15 percent of alcohol drinkers. But only 9 percent of marijuana users develop a dependence.
“Although few marijuana users develop dependence, some do,” according to the study. “But they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), and marijuana dependence appears to be less severe than dependence on other drugs.”
There’s no need to ban a substance that has less than a third of the addictive potential of cigarettes, but state governments can discourage heavy use through taxes and education campaigns and help provide treatment for those who wish to quit.
Impact on Young People One of the favorite arguments of legalization opponents is that marijuana is the pathway to more dangerous drugs. But a wide variety of researchers have found no causal factor pushing users up the ladder of harm. While 111 million Americans have tried marijuana, only a third of that number have tried cocaine, and only 4 percent heroin. People who try marijuana are more likely than the general population to try other drugs, but that doesn’t mean marijuana prompted them to do so.
Marijuana “does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse,” the Institute of Medicine study said. The real gateway drugs are tobacco and alcohol, which young people turn to first before trying marijuana.
It’s clear, though, that marijuana is now far too easy for minors to obtain, which remains a significant problem. The brain undergoes active development until about age 21, and there is evidence that young people are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of marijuana.
A long-term study based in New Zealand, published in 2012, found that people who began smoking heavily in their teens and continued into adulthood lost an average of eight I.Q. points by age 38 that could not be fully restored. A Canadian study published in 2002 also found an I.Q. loss among heavy school-age users who smoked at least five joints a week.
The case is not completely settled. The New Zealand study was challenged by a Norwegian researcher who said socio-economic factors may have played a role in the I.Q. loss. But the recent review by experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse concluded that adults who smoked heavily in adolescence had impaired neural connections that interfered with the functioning of their brains. Early and frequent marijuana use has also been associated with poor grades, apathy and dropping out of school, but it is unclear whether consumption triggered the poor grades.
Restricting marijuana to adults is more important now that Colorado merchants are selling THC, the drug’s active ingredient, in candy bars, cookies and other edible forms likely to appeal to minors. Experience in Colorado has shown that people can quickly ingest large amounts of THC that way, which can produce frightening hallucinations.
Although marijuana use had been declining among high school students for more than a decade, in recent years it has started to climb, in contrast to continuing declines in cigarette smoking and alcohol use. Emergency room visits listing marijuana as the principal cause of admission soared above 455,000 in 2011, up 52 percent from 2004. Nearly 70 percent of the teenagers in residential substance-abuse programs run by Phoenix House, which operates drug and alcohol treatment centers in 10 states, listed marijuana as their primary problem.
Those are challenges for regulators in any state that chooses to legalize marijuana. But they are familiar challenges, and they will become easier for governments to deal with once more of them bring legal marijuana under tight regulation.
The Great Colorado Weed Experiment
The Great Colorado Weed Experiment
By LAWRENCE DOWNESAUG. 2, 2014
In January, Colorado defied the federal government and stepped with both feet into the world of legal recreational marijuana, where no state had gone before.
For seven months Coloradans have been lawfully smoking joints and inhaling cannabis vapors, chewing marijuana-laced candies and chocolates, drinking, cooking and lotioning with products infused with cannabis oil. They are growing their own weed, making their own hash oil and stocking up at dispensaries marked with green crosses and words like “health,” “wellness” and “natural remedies.” Tourists are joining in — gawking, sampling and tripping in hotel rooms. Business is growing, taxes are flowing, cannabis entrepreneurs are building, investing and cashing in.
Cannabis sales from January through May brought the state about $23.6 million in revenue from taxes, licenses and fees. That is not a huge amount in a $24 billion budget, but it’s a lot more than zero, and it’s money that was not pocketed by the black market.
The criminal justice system is righting itself. Marijuana prosecutions are way down across the state — The Denver Post found a 77 percent drop in January from the year before. Given the immense waste, in dollars and young lives, of unjust marijuana enforcement that far too often targets black men, this may be the most hopeful trend of all.
The striking thing to a visitor is how quickly the marijuana industry has receded into normality — cannabis storefronts are plentiful in Denver, but not obtrusive, certainly not in the way liquor stores often are. Marijuana-growing operations are in unmarked warehouses on the city’s industrial edges.
The ominously predicted harms from legalization — like blight, violence, soaring addiction rates and other ills — remain imaginary worries. Burglaries and robberies in Denver, in fact, are down from a year ago. The surge of investment and of jobs in construction, tourism and other industries, on the other hand, is real.
Legal, Safe and Taxed This is what the people of Colorado voted for overwhelmingly in amending the State Constitution in 2012 “to regulate marijuana like alcohol,” a shrewd frame that placed a major social shift firmly in the no-brainer category. The promise of Amendment 64 is a flood of tax revenue for education, drug abuse prevention and research — with as much as $40 million for school construction every year, and $10 million for studying marijuana’s therapeutic and medical benefits. In a state where medical marijuana has been legal since 2000, doing little evident harm, the move to legalize recreational use was seen by most voters as a sensible next step.
Though Gov. John Hickenlooper opposed Amendment 64, he admits that the debate is over — that this is a good-government issue now, and his administration is trying to making legalization work. The state government began the year well prepared, swiftly erecting a system to regulate the new business and to enforce the web of laws that strictly limit where you can use cannabis, who can buy it and how products are made, marketed and sold. A digital inventory system tracks every plant “from seed to sale.” The law forbids public consumption and selling to those under 21. (Stings by state regulators recently found 100 percent of targeted shops in Denver and Pueblo complying with the underage law.) Police are cracking down on nuisance public-smoking violations but aren’t wasting time chasing otherwise-law-abiding users.
To keep stoned drivers off the roads, the state is expanding to 300 the number of law-enforcement officers trained as “drug-recognition experts.” Combating drugged driving is complicated, because there are no instant roadside tests for marijuana and results might be meaningless anyway; regular users can have blood concentration levels of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, well over Colorado’s legal limit of five nanograms per milliliter and drive perfectly well, and marijuana can be detectable weeks after a high has worn off. Research on the dangers of mixing marijuana and driving is scant, but so is evidence that legal cannabis makes the highways more dangerous. The Colorado State Patrol reported in April that fatal crashes in the first quarter of 2014 were down 25.5 percent from the year before.
10 Things That Tell the Colorado Story
The world of legal marijuana is suddenly real. Here is what you’ll find there, besides the tie-dye, buds and bongs.
The Problem of Edibles Cannabis advocates were caught off guard in the first months after legalization by complaints about the risks of overdosing on cannabis-infused food and drinks. Thanks to high-potency oils, a single chocolate bar or bottle of soda can contain enough THC to get several people high. An unwitting user may not realize this until an hour or two after eating or drinking too much.
A handful of emergency-room visits by children sickened by edibles prompted the state in May to tighten the labeling laws, requiring products to be clearly marked as marijuana. Last Thursday, it enacted an emergency rule requiring edibles to be divided — or easily dividable — into single servings containing no more than 10 milligrams of THC. But how to label single pieces of candy or keep tempting sweets away from children are lingering questions.
Legalization opponents have seized on two highly publicized deaths in Colorado possibly linked to edibles — a visiting student ate some cannabis cookies and jumped off a balcony; a man is accused of fatally shooting his wife after ingesting marijuana candy and possibly painkillers. But these anecdotes fall short of a persuasive argument for renewed prohibition, and there is still no evidence that THC, even in large amounts, is even close to being as lethal as alcohol or tobacco.
To discourage minors from using marijuana, the state is spending $17 million on youth prevention and education. An ad campaign aimed at 12- to 15-year-olds, who are seen as more open to persuasion than older teenagers, is being unveiled this month. It will focus on marijuana’s potential risk to growing brains, using props like giant rat cages and the slogan: “Don’t be a lab rat.” The state says its deterrence campaign is honest and scientifically sound. Still, some critics are skeptical, citing a long history of ineffective antidrug campaigns and a century of hysteria and shaky evidence about marijuana’s dangers.
Lessons Beyond the Rockies “The Colorado model of medicalization and legalization is a model that is designed around continuous input and continuous adjustments,” said Christian Sederberg, a lawyer at a Denver firm dedicated to marijuana law and advocacy. Other states will be keeping a close eye on those adjustments.
Washington State, which approved legalization by a ballot initiative in 2012, got its first recreational dispensaries in July. It is following a different model, with far stricter controls on advertising and public displays, and a tight licensing process that, so far, has allowed relatively few marijuana stores to open, with limited supplies at very high prices. How well legalization will drive out illegal operations in Washington is not yet clear. Seattle has such abundant and cheap black-market weed, pot shops may end up being only a tourist novelty.
Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing some form of medical marijuana. Alaska and Oregon will put full legalization before the voters this fall. Industry lobbyists are hoping to have legalization initiatives on ballots in up to six states in 2016.
Advocates are trying to make California one of them. It was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, in 1996, and thus has the longest history with an open cannabis culture. Many call it de facto legalization, because medical marijuana ID cards are laughably easy to get. While California’s experience shows the downsides of ineffectual laws and lax enforcement, it has not turned the state into a story of rampant addiction, crime or community upheaval. Support for full legalization there has grown as dire predictions of disaster, made over two decades, have not been borne out.
A similar dissonance exists in the Netherlands, which for years has tolerated — though never legalized — recreational marijuana, in order to separate users of soft drugs from users of hard-core opiates. Its system is an awkward mix of tolerance and criminality. The country’s cannabis cafes have to rely on black-market weed, and as cities have grown weary of pot tourism they have tried, in the face of great resistance, to restrict use to residents.
Uruguay, meanwhile, recently became the first country to regulate marijuana growing and selling nationwide through a system in which the price is state-controlled and everyone involved — sellers, distributors, buyers — must be a citizen and licensed by the government. The goal is to end the narco-traffickers’ monopoly and drug violence. The success of this approach, and applicability to the United States, has yet to be shown.
So Far, So Good Beyond the challenges of edible cannabis and parental anxiety, the problems facing Colorado are mostly prosaic and fixable — or out of its hands.
At a cannabis conference in Denver in June, some panelists were asked to consider “existential threats” to their industry, like the danger that some future crackdown could send them all to federal prison. They ruefully acknowledged that possibility, but expressed hope that momentum in the states would soon become unstoppable, sweeping even the executive branch and Congress in the right direction. For now their experiment remains firmly on the rails, and moving, along with public opinion, toward a future ever further from the failed war on drugs.
Related Editorial Observer on the debate in two towns in Colorado over marijuana legalization »
High in the Rockies, a Chill Marijuana Debate
High in the Rockies, a Chill Marijuana Debate
AUG. 2, 2014
Publish Date August 2, 2014.
By LAWRENCE DOWNES
GUNNISON, Colo. — Getting a feel for Gunnison, Colo., a town in the Rockies about four and a half hours southwest of Denver, takes a bicycle and a few minutes. On Main Street and nearby blocks you will pass a Wal-Mart, a pizza place called Pie-Zans, a bike-repair-and-espresso shop, the offices of The Gunnison Country Times, the campus of Western State Colorado University and Traders Rendezvous, which claims to have the state’s largest collection of antlers and mounted animal trophies. Ride long enough and you will find seven churches and five liquor stores, six if you count the Safeway.
What you will not find are any stores selling marijuana. These are not allowed.
To see the new Colorado after Amendment 64, which legalized recreational cannabis, you have to drive a half-hour north, to Crested Butte. It has three dispensaries selling marijuana buds and pipes and cannabis-infused candies and drinks. They are off the main drag; their presence is low-key, even deferential.
The towns are not drastically different. Crested Butte, population 1,550, is for skiers and tourists; its main street is more colorfully painted, more self-consciously alpine. Gunnison, population 5,854, has deep roots in ranching and mining. It’s for hunters towing A.T.V.'s, students and underpaid faculty members at the university, and high-caliber athletes devoted to the strenuous life. A classic Gunnison sight is a $6,000 mountain bike racked atop a $700 Subaru.
The towns are divided by marijuana now, but many in Gunnison expect a change is gonna come. Voters will be deciding in November whether to legalize marijuana sales within the city limits, and if so, whether to tax them. The city voted down medical marijuana stores in 2011. But just a year later Gunnison County, which includes the city, voted 67 percent in favor of Amendment 64. To many in Gunnison, that is a sign that the world has turned.
This is how it feels in Colorado, in Denver and beyond: Even people and places not overeager to embrace marijuana are not cowed by legalization. Seven months after plunging into the what-if world of legal marijuana, Colorado feels years ahead of the rest of the country in cannabis understanding. If you go to Colorado, as many out-of-town reporters have, armed with adolescent stoner jokes, you should know that Cheech and Chong were famous 40 years ago. Many of the advocates and entrepreneurs leading the revolution are in their 20s and 30s and will not relate. And the majority of Coloradans who are going on with their lives, living apart from the world of weed, will not find you funny.
Gunnison has two would-be ganja-preneurs, Jason Roland and Todd Houle, pressing for legalization so they can open a store. The closest they have to an adversary might be Matthew Kuehlhorn, director of the Gunnison County Substance Abuse Prevention Project, which works in the public schools. He puts himself on the tolerant end of those who want to discourage marijuana use, and refuses to exaggerate its dangers. “You can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube,” he said. “So now we’re finding ways to reduce harm and continue on forward.” He wants marijuana taxes to be earmarked for youth programs. Mr. Roland and Mr. Houle agree. The City Council isn’t so sure.
The real drug problem in town, several Gunnisonians said, is alcohol — no surprise in a skiing-ranching-college town. Western State Colorado University has had to live down a reputation as a party school (locals call it “Wasted State”), and officials there do not think legal marijuana is going to help. The dean of students, Gary Pierson, said the school tries hard to send a drug-free message. Even authorized medical-marijuana users have to medicate off-campus.
I asked Chris Dickey, publisher of The Country Times, whether his paper had editorialized for or against Amendment 64. He couldn’t remember. “We have other issues. It’s a small town; the economy’s always kind of limping along. The environmental issues are always a pressing concern. The status of our local education institutions. Those are the things that impact people’s lives.”
George Sibley, a writer who came to the Gunnison Valley in the 1960s, said the key to grasping local politics in the Mountain West is knowing your altitude. “Above 8,000 feet, it’s almost always Democrat, and down-valley it’s almost always Republican,” he said. “Down-valley it’s more agricultural, self-reliant, Jeffersonian-type Republicanism. But up-valley, it was miners, originally, and union people, and then it became posturban liberals with urban backgrounds.”
By this theory, Crested Butte, at 8,885 feet, breathes solidly liberal air. Gunnison, at 7,703 feet, is more in the zone of political flux. Mr. Sibley said he expected legalization to win, which suited him fine. But he said there was a silent faction in town, how big he wasn’t sure, that would vote against marijuana shops simply to preserve the status quo.
“I actually think it’ll be slow,” Mr. Sibley said. “But life will not be very much different. There will be a significant new tax source for the community, and everybody will be even more used to it than they are now. You’re never going to stop it, of course, because if you put a challenge in front of a bunch of high school kids ...”
He let the thought finish itself.
Related Editorial on how the experiment with legalization in Colorado is going so far »