Feds won’t challenge states with marijuana legalization

This is big news. And, I think it’s good news.

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.

 

Regulating the marijuana market

marijuana marlboroThe Partnership at Drugfree.org reports the results of a recent survey:

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.

 

“Yes, we are Big Marijuana”

T-Shirt In A Shop Window On Howard Street
T-Shirt In A Shop Window On Howard Street (Photo credit: spike55151)

 

The Stranger covers the launch of the first national marijuana brand and stock promotion. It even included a former Mexican President!

 

Flanked by lawyers, a state lawmaker, and former Mexico president Vicente Fox, Shively said he is a “couple weeks” from an initial $10 million milestone, and within three years, he fully expects to open—some medical marijuana and some recreational marijuana—a dozen branded stores in Washington State, another dozen stores in Colorado, and as many as hundreds in California (a state where only medical marijuana is currently legal but where voters are widely expected to legalize recreational pot in 2016).

A glimpse into the the commercialized pot market was evident in a menu of marijuana strains that hung in the back of the room, designed to capture the classic Latin American esthetic of tequila or cigar marketing, promoting future products with the gusto of a fast-food signboard: The “exclusive hand-selected variants” featured familial homages like “Diego Reserva” (the firm, Diego Pellicer, is named after Shively’s great grandfather) to local nods like “Juan de Fuca,” also the name of a waterway northwest of Seattle.

Despite connotations to Big Tobbacco, he says the reputation of Big Marijuana “is not a problem for us. We are honored to have this place in history. We intend to be the number one brand in both markets”—both medical and recreational marijuana—”on a worldwide basis.”

The project will begin by re-branding the Northwest Patient Resource Center and other local medical cannabis outlets, and soon stores will open under recognizable franchises across several states.

 

 

How to Legalize Pot

Marijuana!
Marijuana! (Photo credit: JohnathanLobel)

 

The NY Times recently had an Op-Ed based on an interview with Mark Kleiman about his plan for implementing Washington’s new pot policy. (They voted to legalize it last fall.):

 

If you read the proposal Kleiman’s team submitted to Washington State, you may be a little boggled by the complexities of turning an illicit herb into a regulated, safe, consumer-friendly business. Among the things on the to-do list: certifying labs to test for potency and contamination. (Pot can contain, among other nasty things, pesticides, molds and salmonella.) Devising rules on labeling, so users know what they’re getting. Hiring inspectors, to make sure the sellers comply. Establishing limits on advertising, because you don’t want allowing to become promoting. And all these rules must account not just for smoking but for pot pastries, pot candies, pot-infused beverages, pot lozenges, pot ice cream, pot vapor inhalers.

One of the selling points of legalization is that states can take a cut of what will be, according to estimates, a $35 billion to $45 billion industry and earmark some of these new tax revenues for good causes. It’s the same tactic used to win public approval of lotteries — and with the same danger: that some worthy government function comes to depend on creating more addicts. And how do you divvy up the revenues? How much goes to offset health consequences? How much goes to enforcement? How do you calibrate taxes so the price of pot is high enough to discourage excessive use, but not so high that a cheap black market arises? All this regulating is almost enough to take the fun out of drugs.

 

 

 

Legal weed

English: Marijuana plant. Español: Planta de m...
English: Marijuana plant. Español: Planta de marihuana. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Fresh Air recently aired a great interview on the marijuana legalization. It spent a lot of time looking at the medical marijuana regulation in Colorado and how that will be the model for full legalization.

 

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.”

 

 

Stupid and driven by bad motives

I recently listened to an interview with a comedian who grew up in Washington DC at the height of the crack epidemic. It’s a too rare inside perspective from someone inside a community ravaged by crack:

GROSS: So how did the crack epidemic affect your neighborhood?

THURSTON: It was – I think the first thing I remember was not being…

GROSS: And do you know one of the reasons why I’m so interested? I remember like during the height of the crack epidemic, like always thinking what’s it like for the kids who are growing up in this, you know, and like now we can talk to the kids because they’re adults and find out, you know?

THURSTON: Exactly. Let me – I remember not being able to go outside. I remember specifically not being allowed to sit on our front stoop. And on the weekends I used to sometimes sit on the stoop and eat breakfast outside, especially in the summertime. We didn’t have air conditioning, it’s hot, it’s a nice day.

And there was a period of time when that was no longer allowed. I remember not playing outside as much and being told go to so-and-so’s house but stay inside, there’s a sort of captivity. And I also have a very particular memory of watching some of my friends walk down that road that I didn’t walk down.

And there was a family of brothers who lived across the street from us, and there may – there were at least three of them, I’m pretty sure there were four, and you could just watch them almost like that image of evolution, which shows kind of a hunched-over ape evolving into man.

You could watch the older brother get into the drug business, and then the next one and the next one and then the youngest one, and it was just – that was the pattern established. And I remember when those guys used to deliver pizza for Domino’s, and that was their way of making money, and that was their job, and they had rigged up a lawnmower engine to their 10-speed bikes to turn them into motorcycles and would zip down 16th Street – I lived at 16th and Newton – and I thought that was so cool.

And then I remember when those same kids set up a lemonade stand. And then I remember when their jackets got nicer, their boots got nicer, and they were selling drugs. And that was a – I don’t know, such a strong memory in my head of, well, they used to that, and now they do this. And I used to be able to do this, and now I can’t do that. Those are some of the effects I remember kind of growing up in a neighborhood that was being corrupted and poisoned by crack cocaine.

GROSS: In seventh grade, you moved to a different neighborhood.

THURSTON: Yeah, the end of seventh grade, we moved out of northwest Washington, D.C., to Tacoma Park, Maryland. And essentially it had become too much for my mother, and I think it was very stressful for her raising me. She was raising me alone. So she was working a lot of hours to pay for all these things, including private school at the time.

And I was pretty cool with it because, again, as a kid, whatever you grow up in feels normal. So this is where my friends are, this is the neighborhood I know. I’m not feeling so dramatic about the situation. But as a parent, you’re probably just seeing risk, risk, risk, risk, risk – everywhere.

Because of the terrible disparate impact of the drug war on black men and the irrationality of the 100-to-1 sentencing ratio, it’s become received wisdom among many that the motivations for the war on drugs were racism and pleasure-policing moral panic. It’s easy to forget that the same communities now suffering from those high incarceration rates were undergoing a rapid and frightening transformation during the crack epidemic. The parents in those communities wanted to protect their children and reclaim their neighborhoods.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 (the law that created the 100:1 sentencing ratio) enjoyed strong support from the Congressional Black Caucus:

Go check the Congressional Record: in 1986, when the federal crack law was debated, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) supported it, and some CBC members pressed for even harsher penalties. A few years earlier it was CBC members and other Democrats in Congress who pushed President Reagan, against his considered judgment, to create the Office of National Drug Control Policy (better known as the drug czar’s office).

That said, I have little doubt that we would have abandoned this failed policy years ago if we were incarcerating young white men in enormous numbers.

I have no idea what Baratunde Thurston‘s opinion is of the drug war, but his life experience challenges that assumption that the architects of the drug war were simply malevolent and/or stupid.

I’m no fan of the drug war and I believe that we should abandon incarceration for use or possession of quantities consistent with personal use. It brings to mind a fallacy I recently heard of, Chesterton’s Fence:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.