By Jasen T. Davis
These are exciting times for proponents of cannabis legalization in California.
Conditions seem better as never before for pulling marijuana out of the grow closet and restoring it to its rightful place as a readily assessable and perfectly legal medicinal herb. It’s a near-perfect storm of circumstances: a progressive, reform-minded president in Washington and a lame-duck governor in Sacramento – both of who admit to having enjoyed pot in their youth; a crippling recession demanding innovative thinking about revenue streams; and a public mood already softened by Proposition 215, the California initiative legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Indeed, much has changed in the 13 years since Californians passed the Compassionate Use Act. Proposition 215 was followed by Senate Bill 420 — the Medical Marijuana Program Act of 2003, which outlined how much medical marijuana a person could have and cultivate, required the California Department of State Health Services to establish a registry for patients, and called for the issuance of state I.D. cards for those who used medical marijuana. The two laws represented enormous steps toward sensible drug policy, but did not, in themselves, stop the insanity: Under the Bush Administration, raids on medical-marijuana clinics by the D.E.A. and F.B.I. were commonplace, since federal law made no distinction between medical and recreational marijuana use.
But times are a’changing. Raids have become considerably less frequent under the Obama Administration, given U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s recently announced that such crackdowns on dispensaries would be suspended.
Further, California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a Democrat from San Francisco, recently introduced Assembly Bill 390 — the Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act. If approved, the measure would allow anyone over 21 to use marijuana, and would tax sales of the plant at $50 an ounce. This legal protection would also extend to other cannabis forms, including hemp, which has a multitude of marketable uses. If the bill passes, marijuana and all paraphernalia related to its consumption would be treated similarly to porn and alcohol: locked up and kept in the back so children wouldn’t be exposed it.
In a victory for pro-marijuana advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court on May 18 refused to hear an appeal by San Diego and San Bernardino counties of a California Supreme Court decision requiring them to follow the law and start issuing state I.D. cards. Both counties had argued since 2006 that federal law trumped state law in the matter. The High Court’s refusal to hear the case allows the lower-court ruling to stand. This development by no means ends the argument over medical-marijuana, but it is a significant step in the process, and opens the door for additional state laws reforming marijuana laws. It may just be the cover state legislators needed to vote for AB 390.
It’s easy to understand the reticence of San Bernardino County and San Diego politicians over the medicinal use of pot. Since the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937) the plant, including hemp and cannabis, has not only been outlawed but demonized: For long decades, it’s been portrayed as a harmful addictive substance at worst and a silly product pushed by stoners and hippies at best.
Today, the discussion is no longer regulated to the ramblings of hippies and the pages of High Times. CNN, MSNBC, Time and The Nation and mainstream commentators like Glenn Beck, Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann have openly discussed the topic in a calm and mature tone — during prime time, no less. In more and more circles, marijuana prohibition is being compared to the failed prohibition against alcohol in the 1930s. This parallel speaks volumes about the substantial changes in the public consciousness over the past few years.
Ralph Nader made the issue of marijuana legalization a central plank in both of his bids for president in 2000 and 2004. Democratic Congressman Lorena Sanchez of California went on CNN to defend the legalization effort. While Governor Schwarzenegger hasn’t given the issue his full support, he at least has said that it’s time to discuss the subject. President Obama voiced approval for the medical use of marijuana during his campaign. A recent Zogby poll commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project showed that 56% of Californians surveyed wanted to end the prohibition against marijuana.
None of this is to say that we can expect cannabis to put up on our grocery shelves any time soon. Marijuana still has its vast share of detractors, including John Lovell, lobbyist for the California Peace Officers Assn., and Joel W. Hay, a pharmaceutical economics professor at USC, who argue that pot clouds people’s judgment, is a gateway drug and causes cancer, and that greater availability would lead to a surge in use.
Nor are most mainstream politicians particularly anxious to jump headfirst into the fray. President Obama has proved much more hesitant than candidate Obama in calling for marijuana reform, and Schwarzenegger is, of course, on his way out of the governor’s office.
Further, Ammiano’s bill has already been subjected to withering attack. One criticism is that while commercial cultivators would have to acquire a license (costing up to $5,000, according to the proposal), the bill doesn’t address the issue of people who prefer to grow the plant for personal consumption. It’s one thing to try to regulate alcohol, which requires a lot of time and expensive equipment to produce, but as anyone who has ever grown it will tell you, marijuana grows just about anywhere with minimal care. Why spend $50 an ounce on taxes when you can grow your own and spend the money on a new pair of shoes.
The state legislature may have a bill before it calling for the legalization and taxation of cannabis, but it’s highly doubtful it will pass it on the first go-round.
But the Big Mo’ – momentum – is on the side of legalization, and for good reason. Marijuana remains California’s biggest cash crop, will annual sales estimated at about $11.4 billion. That’s a lot of green just begging for taxation – to the tune of about $1.3 billion a year for a state that’s barely able to pay its utility bills. Legalization would also provide financial relief on the federal level: The DEA spent nearly $10 million raiding California medical marijuana clinics between 2005 and 2007. In addition, the cost of prosecuting and incarcerating just one marijuana offender amounts about $500,000 an offender.
Regardless of the outcome, at least the debate in the argument for legalizing marijuana has been made public on a level that has never been seen before. This legitimizes the process far more than a bunch of declarations made by stoners getting lit in their parents’ basement. With so many politicians stepping forward to bravely discuss the topic, the prospects for California’s believers in the benefits of marijuana are brighter than ever.
Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act If passed:
Will tax and regulate marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.
Marijuana can only be sold to individuals who are 21 and over.
Marijuana and related paraphernalia must be sold in separate areas and otherwise kept in locked display cases.
Tariff of $50 per ounce for marijuana sold in California.
Requires grows to obtain a $5,000 commercial grow license.
Portions of bill provide funding for drug awareness and abuse and addiction prevention.
Many organizations, according to economic, scientific and legislative research, believe that the passage of the Act would save California $1 billion and provide $12-$18 billion in additional economic benefits.
CO Bill to Allow Schools the Choice to Let Student Patients Medicate
Colorado has been struggling with the issue of medical cannabis in schools ever since cannabis was first legalized in the state for medical use. Schools fear a loss of federal funding if they allow cannabis treatment for sick students, since the plant is still federally illegal, while parents, advocates and patients fight for patient access so that students can get relief. This month, cannabis patients won a major victory, as medicating with cannabis will now be allowed in Colorado public schools under a newly passed bill.
According to The Denver Post, House Bill 1373 requires treatment rights for patients, but allows schools to be able to choose where the patients can medicate, and what forms of cannabis they can use. Representative Jonathan Singer, the Democrat from Longmont who supported the bill, claims that schools who do not put such a policy into action are leaving it up to parents and students to choose how and where medication can take place.
The recent bill passed 10-3 in the House Agriculture, Livestock and Natural Resources Committee, showing an overwhelming support for children being able to medicate on school property.
“It forces a conversation,” Singer told The Denver Post regarding the bill, “that we were hoping would be a voluntary conversation.”
This bill works to help patients gain access, since the currently existing bill, allowing medication only if schools create a program, has not been successful. So far, no schools have implemented such a program, so until now, no medical cannabis users have been able to imbibe on school property.
“It’s kind of exciting that they are finally going to let it in after fighting this for five years trying to get children their meds in schools,” explained Shan Moore, the father of Chaz Moore, who fought and struggled while in school to be able to use medical cannabis.
“I do think it’s great—it’s just a little late for my kid,” he added. “Chaz stopped going to school before graduating. He would get sick, not be able to take his meds in school, and got tired of playing that game, and when he went to try and get his GED the same thing happened, since those classes take place in schools as well. So maybe now he’ll be able to get his GED and make something happen. He tried the online schools, but he doesn’t learn well online—he really needs to be there in person.”
Moore hopes that maybe with this new bill in place, his son will be able to medicate in schools, and therefore take the GED and continue his education. Like Chaz Moore, many Colorado children desire an education, but struggle to work and focus because they can’t get the medicine they need. Hopefully with this new bill in place, students who need medicine will be able to receive relief so they can focus on learning.
Colorado passes Ordinance to Implement a Cannabis Odor Regulation
At first glance, odor regulations seem like something out of a cartoon or children’s book, but here in Denver they are very real.
According to The Denver Post, Denver City council is concerned about the offensive to some, pleasant to others, aroma that is omitted from dispensaries and other cannabis operations, and recently passed an ordinance to crack down tighter on odors.
While the city has been debating back and forth about how they should treat the expiring moratorium on cannabis businesses, they quickly decided in favor of the odor ordinance. If this passes this month, then this new rule will be officially approved and enforceable by the local Health Department. This new regulation would mean that businesses can file odor complaints, not just private citizens. Then, if a dispensary receives five complaints, they would have 30 days to clean up their act and fix the odor issue before they receive an inspection.
Cannabis businesses and advocates are not happy about this new complication, and are speaking out against the arbitrary nature of regulating odors.
“The only thing that can be done is air filtration to ensure that odors are mitigated through carbon scrubbers,” explained Mark Slaugh, Executive Director of the Cannabis Business Alliance, in an exclusive interview with CULTURE. “The ‘problem’ is not the odor per se, since obnoxious odors aren’t outright prohibited or regulated for other businesses with strong scents. The problem is the prejudice giving rise to complaints in the first place and over-reactionary ordinances that unfairly target cannabis businesses and don’t apply equally to other Denver businesses with obnoxious odors.”
Slaugh further argues that the cannabis industry is bringing needed change to the city, and should not be slighted for something as minor as strong odors.
“The cannabis industry is primarily responsible for producing economic benefits for once poor and decaying neighborhoods which the industry improved,” he added. “These areas were once stagnant, filled with commercially abandoned warehouses that eventually became cannabis cultivation and manufacturing facilities. The city of Denver has required the industry to improve the landscape around those buildings and they have truly begun transforming these neighborhoods.”
“Now, the industry is being targeted under this odor ordinance and under the moratorium as the ‘problem’ of these areas when, in fact, they are the pioneers of neighborhood renovation and a major factor in the rise of tourism and people moving to Denver post-legalization,” he continued. “It would seem that the City council wants to kick out and limit the very pioneers who created a settlement in the first place, all in the name of continued development and gentrification of the neighborhoods cannabis businesses have increased their value in and call home.”
Even some of the City council members are skeptical that this new ordinance will be a good way to fix the problem.
“When you begin to saturate and when you begin to concentrate (businesses), there’s no odor ordinance that can identify where this is coming from,” Albus Brooks, a local Councilman, told The Denver Post. “And I’ve never seen a council so sure of a bill that hasn’t even come through committee yet.”
While there is no doubt that some measures should be taken to ensure dispensaries and grows contain there odors, many seem opposed to this new, somewhat draconian, odor ordinance proposal. A final decision will be reached this month.
Government Begins Rethinking Scheduling of Cannabis
There is currently a petition to the FDA in progress that calls the federal government to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substance Act’s Schedule I list, which holds the plant in the same category as hard drugs such as methamphetamine or heroin. Although medical cannabis, and now even recreational cannabis, is legal in Oregon, it still is not recognized as legal by the federal government. The Feds also don’t recognize it as officially serving a medical purpose.
The Controlled Substances Act has very strict criteria for how to classify the drugs on its Schedule I list, and there are many people who think that after many recent studies, cannabis simply doesn’t meet that criteria. To be placed on the list in the first place, a drug not only has to have a high potential for abuse, but it also has to have no medical uses, and be considered unsafe. The fiction of these statements in reference to cannabis is now widely known. A few very recent studies have proved the effectiveness of treating seizures in children with cannabis oil. The people are basically calling the government out and saying, let’s rethink the way we think about cannabis. To get cannabis removed from the Schedule I list, there has to be a petition placed with the Drug Enforcement Administration. There have been many attempts to get cannabis removed from this list in the past. Since 1972, petitions to the DEA have been denied. This time, however, the DEA has requested the Food and Drug Administration to perform a study to see if the classification of cannabis really should be different.
Supporters of the reclassification of cannabis claim that once the plant is no longer controlled by the federal government, federal spending that was once used to enforce cannabis laws and process offenders through the criminal justice system can be reallocated to more important things like education. They also argue that the U.S. government could make tons of revenue on the taxation and regulation of the cannabis industry. We already know this to be true in Oregon, where the state government collected nearly 3.5 million dollars of revenue after only its first month of recreational sales.
The reclassification of cannabis, and its removal from the Controlled Substance Act’s Schedule I list, could mean big changes for Oregonians. It would first of all make a huge difference in the way we think about cannabis locally, and nationally. The stigmas that surround cannabis that are already starting to melt away will soon be gone completely. Secondly, medical growers and dispensary owners will start to face less opposition when trying to operate and run their businesses. Not constantly looking over their shoulder for the Feds. Our state government would finally be in agreement with the federal government, and Oregonians will no longer be breaking federal law when they smoke or sell cannabis. This would create big changes in the eyes of the Oregon State police and court system, and the way they deal with cannabis users.
The DEA has remained pretty silent about their upcoming decision, and their study with the FDA. It has been projected that they will be making a decision by mid-year. Hopefully the U.S. Government can finally recognize what Oregon and many other states already have about the medical benefits of cannabis.
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