As California moves toward the legalization of marijuana — next month, voters will decide on Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 — a key question remains: could the new law produce a whole generation of stoners? Opponents of legalization say, yes, fearing it will lead to a massive increase in pot smoking among youth. But some supporters suggest the opposite: legalizing cannabis could de-glamorize it and ultimately prompt reductions in toking. Who's right?
That question is surprisingly hard to answer, but two recent research reports offer some potentially useful insight. The first, a Rand Corporation report that led to related testimony before the California legislature on Sept. 21, discusses the effects of price changes and taxation on consumption of drugs.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has reintroduced his pioneering bill seeking to legalize and tax pot in California.
In a statement released this afternoon, Ammiano's office said the San Francisco Democrat hopes the new legislation will build on support garnered by AB 390, his first pot-legalization measure, which passed out of committee in Sacramento but overran its deadline for consideration by the rest of the Legislature.
The bill's expiration last month appeared more or less in line with the grand strategy of Ammiano, who said he wanted to take plenty of time to build consensus on the issue. Now AB 2254, the latest incarnation of the Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act, will get a second shot.
"We're even more optimistic about the fate of this bill than we were about AB 390," Aaron Smith, California director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told SF Weekly.
California's budget turmoil is the worst in the nation. Sacramento closed a $42 billion deficit this summer only to face tens of billions more red ink already. Most expect another round of tortured budget balancing that further slashes aid to the most vulnerable, raises taxes and fees and kicks the can down the road with billions more in borrowing.
Meanwhile, California's largest cash crop is being largely ignored in the frenzied search for politically-viable revenue. The state’s marijuana yield is conservatively valued at $14 billion annually – nearly double the combined value of our vegetable and grape crops. The state Board of Equalization estimates that taxing adult marijuana consumption like alcohol would generate $1.4 billion in new revenue for the state. While that’s only a modest contribution toward our fiscal woes, it’s one more incentive to end decades of failed marijuana prohibition. In fact, the financial and human price that we currently pay for criminalizing pot is far too high.
I well remember the citywide excitement the first time “cannabis clubs” suddenly opened up throughout Hollywood where I was eking out a living as a lowly screenwriter and journalist. Then, just as suddenly, the marijuana dispensaries vanished.
Though California’s populace roundly supported the sale of medical marijuana to needy patients, the trouble—in the eyes of the federal government—ran the gamut from organized crime to allegations that nonprofit dispensaries were secretly earning money for themselves. It became a matter of the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution (“Leave everything else to the states, please”) versus the 14th (“Sorry, folks, you’re American citizens first and foremost, and that means we’re in charge”).
Colorado voters approved medical marijuana in 2000, but a storm of municipal concern and debate started only recently—more specifically, after President Obama announced he would stop raids on medical marijuana businesses—when pot shops sprouted up in numerous Colorado cities, including Boulder, Longmont and Fort Collins. Numerous cities have responded with moratoriums, giving themselves time to regulate dispensaries. While cities are still struggling (and will continue to struggle) with how to regulate the onslaught of medical marijuana dispensaries, it’s expected to be an issue at the state level as well.
An agent carries marijuana plants at a large plantation found near San Cristobal de Coyutlan in August. Credit: Associated Press
To weaken the cartels, some argue the U.S. should legalize marijuana, let cocaine pass through the Caribbean and take the profit motive out of the drug trade
In the 40 years since U.S. President Richard Nixon declared a "war on drugs," the supply and use of drugs has not changed in any fundamental way. The only difference: a taxpayer bill of more than $1 trillion.
A senior Mexican official who has spent more than two decades helping fight the government's war on drugs summed up recently what he's learned from his long career: "This war is not winnable."
Just last week, Mexican Navy Special Forces swarmed a luxury apartment tower in a central city and gunned down Arturo Beltrán Leyva, a drug trafficker whose organization helped smuggle several billion dollars worth of cocaine and marijuana into the U.S. during the past decade, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Within days of Mr. Beltrán Leyva's death, Mexican officials were already trying to guess which of his lieutenants would take his place. Almost no one expected the death of Mr. Beltrán Leyva to slow down the business of drug trafficking or the horrific drug-related violence in Mexico that has claimed around 15,000 lives in the past three years. On Monday, hit men gunned down several family members of a Mexican naval officer who had been killed in the Beltrán Leyva raid. Four people have been arrested in connection with the killing, though Mexican authorities say the hit men are still at large.
Zack Moore says he will make about $6,000 after six months of growing marijuana. Credit: CNN
Driving down Broadway, it's easy to forget you are in the United States. Amid the antique stores, bars and fast-food joints occupying nearly every block are some of Denver's newest businesses: medical marijuana dispensaries.
The locals call this thoroughfare "Broadsterdam." As in Amsterdam, Netherlands, these businesses openly advertise their wares, often with signs depicting large green marijuana leaves.
"The American capitalist system is working," said attorney and medical marijuana advocate Rob Corry.
It's a matter of supply and demand.
"The demand has always been there," he said, "and the demand is growing daily because more doctors are willing to do this, and now businesses, entrepreneurs, mom-and-pop shops are cropping up to create a supply."
Colorado voters legalized medical marijuana in 2000. For years, patients could get small amounts from "caregivers," the term for growers and dispensers who could each supply only five patients. In 2007, a court lifted that limit and business boomed.
Between 2000 and 2008, the state issued about 2,000 medical marijuana cards to patients. That number has grown to more than 60,000 in the last year.
State Sen. Chris Romer, a Democrat whose south Denver district includes Broadsterdam, said the state receives more than 900 applications a day.
"It's growing so fast, it's like the old Wild West," Romer said. "This reminds me of 1899 in Cripple Creek, Colorado, when somebody struck gold. Every 49er in the country is making it for Denver to open a medical marijuana dispensary."
They're calling it the Green Rush.
A bud of legally grown marijuana is held by a cancer patient, in Portland, Maine. Credit: AP Photo
It's boom times for the marijuana trade in Northern California. Rural Humboldt County's economy depends on both the legal and illegal sales of pot, as growers to trimmers to entrepreneurs aim to land quick cash. But some citizens, and the mayor of Arcata, are trying to "rope back in" the business.
It's not easy to tell the difference between legal medical marijuana and illegal recreational pot.
And because doctors are prescribing pot to just about anyone who wants it, these are boom times for the marijuana trade.
Decades after back-to-the-land hippies first moved to rural Humboldt County in Northern California, it remains a mecca for marijuana.
At the plaza in downtown Arcata, there are still wandering, tie-dyed souls playing guitar and bartering for handmade bongs. They openly buy, sell and trade small bags of primo weed.
Nick Larson and his buddy hitchhiked to town to see if the streets truly are paved with pot.
"We've heard stories all the way down. 'Dude, get down to Humboldt. You gotta try their weed, it's amazing!' " he says. "So we get down here and people are like, tossing handouts, and we're just like, 'Oh my god.' Like, whether it be trim or just straight buds, it's just amazing."
In Eureka, the town next door, a long line stretches outside the Humboldt Patient Resource Center. The pot dispensary is marked with the familiar green leaf logo and a Tibetan prayer flag.
The point man in the federal government's marijuana eradication program in the central Appalachians is claiming victory in a sprawling Kentucky national forest that once led the nation in pot production, but the illegal crop still is thriving on private lands deeper in the mountain range.
A crackdown has pushed growers off the 700,000 acre Daniel Boone National Forest and onto even more rugged terrain where they're just as unwelcome, said Ed Shemelya, head of marijuana eradication in the Appalachian High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.
One of the primary reasons for NOT following Europe and the United States by introducing 'degree's of decriminalisation' for cannabis users has always been the governments inability to work out how to recoup the losses legalising cannabis would inevitably manifest upon big lobbying industries such as pharmaceuticals, petroleum and alcohol.
The fact is, as soon as cannabis becomes deregulated (for medical use for instance), the pharmaceutical industry stands to loose billions of pounds in over-the-counter sales of popular pain-killers such as paracetamol and aspirin. And they're not about to take such a loss lying down.
Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to allow dispensaries to continue selling medical marijuana, but they still are looking into capping how many dispensaries are allowed inside city limits.
Published reports state the council spent seven hours hashing out the deal. They failed to make a decision on whether medical marijuana should be grown only at those dispensaries or other locations. Councilman Jose Huizar wanted to make sure marijuana was not coming from drug cartels, according to reports.
Northern Territory independent politician Alison Anderson says cannabis is being sewed inside kangaroo carcasses and hidden in women's underwear so it can be smuggled into remote Aboriginal communities.
The former Labor Indigenous policy minister, who became an Independent earlier this year, says marijuana has replaced petrol sniffing as a scourge in remote communities, with children as young as eight smoking the drug.
The Member for MacDonnell today told the Northern Territory Parliament cannabis is mostly trafficked into the communities by women who hide it in their underwear because they know male police officers are not allowed to body search them when they drive through roadblocks.