The Obama administration on Thursday said it will not stand in the way of Colorado, Washington and other states where voters have supported legalizing marijuana either for medical or recreational use, as long as those states maintain strict rules involving distribution of the drug.
In a memo sent Thursday to U.S. attorneys in all 50 states, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole detailed the administration’s new stance, even as he reiterated that marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
The memo directs federal prosecutors to focus their resources on eight specific areas of enforcement, rather than targeting individual marijuana users, which even President Obama has acknowledged is not the best use of federal manpower. Those areas include preventing distribution of marijuana to minors, preventing the sale of pot to cartels and gangs, preventing sales to other states where the drug remains illegal under state law, and stopping the growing of marijuana on public lands.
There is strong support for a wide array of stringent post-legalization marijuana regulations to protect minors and the community wellbeing. The research shows intense support (above or near 90 percent) for:
Setting a legal age of 21
Prohibiting marijuana smoking in public places
Severe penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana
Making it illegal to provide marijuana to someone underage (even at home)
Prohibiting the sale of marijuana at grocery or convenience stores
Industry-financed youth prevention education
Taxation for state general fund revenue
An outright ban on marijuana advertising
What is particularly interesting is that support for this slate of regulations remains exceptionally strong even among those who approve of the legalization of marijuana.
The poll dug even deeper into attitudes toward marijuana advertising post-legalization, providing respondents with a list of more than a dozen different advertising media ranging from television to movie-theater advertisements, and asking where it would be acceptable for marijuana sellers/growers to advertise. The number one response, among both parents and the general population at large (including in CO and WA) was “nowhere.”
The data are exceptionally clear: There isn’t just a desire for these kinds of regulations, there is an expectation, among parents and among adults nationwide, that lawmakers put these in place if and when marijuana is legalized.
As of October 2012, a total of 903 physicians had recommended medical marijuana for the 108,000 patients holding valid red cards. Twelve physicians recommended medical marijuana for 50 percent of those patients, including one physician with more than 8,400 patients on the Registry.
Some physicians have recommended what appear to be higher-than-reasonable amounts of medical marijuana. In one case, a physician recommended 501 plants for a patient. In another case, a physician recommended 75 ounces of useable marijuana for the patient.
Do the arithmetic on 8400 patients for one physician. Assume a 50 40-hour workweeks and zero time spent on administrative tasks. That’s a little bit less than 15 minutes per customer. Medical practice? No. Just dope dealing.
The strategy of using quasi-medical legalization as a means of normalizing consumption and moving the political acceptability of full commercial legalization has been a great success … And I’m not unhappy with the outcome. … Still, the whole deal – and especially the role of the “kush docs” – makes me a little sick to my stomach.
I do not consider myself a drug warrior. (Though, few people do these days. It can be a little like racism. People attribute it to others, but never themselves.) I oppose incarcerating people for possession of quantities consistent with personal use. I favor policies that target demand rather than supply. I’m also skeptical of hype around new drugs that are predicted to lead the the decline of western civilization.
However, this small scale experiment with tolerating a drug appears to be coming to an end.
I have a few observations:
I’ve been reluctant to buy into the hype and, to be sure, there has been hype. At the same time, many people have responded to the hype by arguing that it’s just a cannabis analog and is no more or less harmful than cannabis. I don’t know a lot about the drug, but anecdotal reports seem to suggest that it’s not just marijuana by another name. There appear to be as many negative Erowid reports as there are positive or neutral reports. And, many of them state that there are differences between K2 and marijuana.
I find the marriage of legal capitalism and the drug troubling. Local gas stations, smoke shops and party stores display dozens of varieties more prominently than anything else in the store. (This NORML post describes the marketing.) The packaging uses images like cartoons, ninjas, yoga and Bob Marley to market it. A lot of it looks like it could be candy packaging. (Ugh! I feel like such a geezer saying this, but some of it reminds me of Warheads packaging.)
There does not appear to have been an attempt to regulate the drug(s). Could this have worked? I don’t know. Regulation seems to do little to hamper the marketing of legal drugs. I’d still prefer a ban with less harsh criminal penalties. My sense is that, with the possible exception of marijuana, the public doesn’t have the stomach for legalization. I wonder if tide will turn on marijuana as marketing increases. Time will tell.
UPDATE: I wonder what would happen if is wasn’t banned. I’m guessing you’d start to see some large manufacturers get more market share, more wealth, more clout and market in a more organized and effective way.
On the flip side, I also wonder if these kinds of companies would end up enjoying the kind of immunity that alcohol manufacturers maintain. We have a special place in our culture of alcohol and guns. Tobacco lost this protected status. It’s hard to imagine these companies enjoying this status. As suppliers go corporate, they become a target for lawsuits and risk management becomes necessary. What kind of risk management would they employ and what kinds of marketing restraint or checks would the create? I dunno.
The interview was balanced and informative. (A very rare thing for drug policy discussions.)
He also wrestled with the potential toxic marriage of capitalism and marijuana.
“We’ve seen legalization in two states — that’s the first step toward legalization in other states. That’s a step toward legalization nationally. So you have a third vice industry like tobacco and like alcohol. The problem with that is that 80 percent of the profits tobacco companies and alcohol companies make comes from heavy users. The business model is based on people consuming more than they should. And so there’s a strong economic incentive for big marijuana companies to create as much addiction as possible. And yeah, sure, marijuana is less harmful than Jack Daniels, but it’s not the same thing as safe or helpful in the home or helpful in the workplace, or good.
“And so the long-term worry is that you have sophisticated marketing programs in place, distribution programs in place, that create a double or tripling of the current level of marijuana usage.And … by the way, Americans [already] use marijuana at triple the global average. So we’re talking about a tripling of a tripling, and that’s a big deal. It’s something to think about, which is why many people are in favor of — or I believe will become more in favor of as they realize the risks — of severe limitations on the size of marijuana businesses and the advertising that they can undertake.”
He’s not just blowing smoke when he talks about selling out to the highest bidder. It’s already widely rumored that Philip Morris has leased warehouse space in the area. The company denies it, as do its top-tier competitors, but “I’ve heard a lot of talk about it,” says Keith Burdick, a partner at Xcalibur, one of the biggest independent generic-brand tobacco companies in the country. “You’re going to get cigarette companies in here. I’m sure of it,” says John Wickens, a real-estate agent who has sold or leased acres of commercial space to marijuana growers. Peter Bourne, the drug czar under Jimmy Carter, recently told Newsweek that tobacco executives shared their marijuana contingency plans with him.
The alcohol and tobacco industries traditionally get 80 percent of their profits from heavy users, and there’s every reason to believe that marijuana sellers will need the same ratio. That would mean Colorado’s burgeoning pot business could be the basis for a third huge, blood-sucking vice industry, dependent on converting kids and supporting heavy users. “No way,” says Arbelaez, when I raised this possibility with him. He talked passionately about medicine, and social progress, and it was moving, convincing stuff. “These people have families, and they employ families. They’re about helping people, not hurting people,” he said of his peers.
I want to believe him, but something happened after the board meeting. About eight of us went out for a drink. I found myself not in one of Denver’s dive bars, but the Churchill Bar, a smoking club inside the city’s poshest hotel, the Brown Palace. There, as a Bond-girl waitress delivered round after round of top-shelf conviviality and an electronic joint prototype appeared, it was easy to see my hosts 30 years from now, when legalization is here, sitting in the same woozy affluence—fatter, balder, and famously rich.