Pot Legalization Effort Defies Stereotypes

It’s time for government officials to accept reality and legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

While taking my daughter to a punk-rock concert a few years ago, I noticed something even more fascinating than fellow concert-goers’ hairdos and intricate tattoos. It involved some common behavior.

Many people stood outside the venue, puffing cigarettes. When the doors opened, everyone — with no exception — put out their smokes before filing inside. But smoking didn’t stop. As the lights went down, clouds of marijuana smoke rose up across the hall.

Tobacco is a legal but regulated product, so when authorities announced that no tobacco is allowed, people complied. Recreational marijuana use is not legal, so people smoked it as soon as they felt safe from being caught. It’s already illegal, so why follow rules?

Public debates over marijuana use may become more common as supporters of legalization gather signatures for a November 2014 initiative. In 2010, a similar measure (Proposition 19) did respectably, but lost by 7 points. A new poll shows 60-percent of likely voters supporting legalization.

Such efforts have long had a “Cheech and Chong” stigma, and this particular initiative is viewed by some as an overly broad long shot. But supporters of the concept are increasingly focused on issues that are mainstream and wonkish — i.e., increasing government revenues, stretching law-enforcement resources and protecting the environment.

They often point out what the story above illustrates: People behave more responsibly when they are free to do something — and when that something is taxed and regulated rather than pushed into the shadows.

“Medical marijuana is nothing more than a land-use issue to me,” said Max Del Real, a lobbyist who represents medical-marijuana shops. “How do we regulate, tax them and move on?” He has lobbied San Diego to adopt an ordinance similar to the one in Sacramento, which raises $2.5 million a year in taxes from 39 legal dispensaries.
Dispensaries are allowed under California’s Proposition 215, but enforcement varies by locality. Many cities, including San Diego for the time being, use land-use restrictions to ban dispensaries.

Counties recognize different limits on how much “medicine” a patient may have. The feds have cracked down on dispensaries in California, but recently told Colorado and Washington officials that they will allow their legalization laws to proceed. It’s a mixed-up mess.

As a result, many cannabis growers operate in the shadows, paying no taxes, following no rules and despoiling the environment. Del Real opposes legalization, but prefers a regulatory framework that gives cities a tax incentive to be more rational in their medical-marijuana policies.

Humboldt County, 200 miles north of San Francisco, is Ground Zero in the debate. The redwood-forested county has the perfect climate for growing marijuana, and a political climate that’s amenable to it, too.

Mikal Jakabul, whose documentary film, “One Good Year,” chronicled the lives of some Humboldt growers, told me it would be hard to find a jury that would convict anyone for marijuana cultivation given how socially acceptable and economically beneficial it is locally. So the industry flourishes.

Humboldt’s District Attorney Paul Gallegos favors decriminalization, even as he points to ill effects of marijuana. “We should use our criminal justice system not to punish people for doing things we don’t like, but for things they are doing that are wrong, … like killing and robbing people,” he said in an interview Tuesday. Current laws “reward the wicked and punish the innocent,” he added.

Ironically, Humboldt residents voted overwhelmingly against legalization in 2010, for reasons that might have to do with protecting a homegrown industry from outside competition.

Jakubal favors legalization in general but fears the current initiative would lure out-of-town marijuana “miners,” who clear-cut forests, poison water supplies and drive out local growers. Protections for family farms must be “hard-written” into any initiative, he said.

But Nate Bradley, a former Wheatland police officer who represents Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said it would be easier to crack down on misbehavior by growers if they were regulated like other businesses. And he complains that the war on marijuana diverts police resources from more serious matters.

With widespread agreement on the failure of current policies, it may only be a matter of time before California officials acknowledge politically what those concert-goers understood inherently — legalizing a product may be the best way to control its use.

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  • bassjoe||

    Public debates over marijuana use may become more common as supporters of legalization gather signatures for a November 2014 initiative. In 2010, a similar measure (Proposition 19) did respectably, but lost by 7 points. A new poll shows 60-percent of likely voters supporting legalization.
    Um, does Reason have editors? I ASSUME the author is talking about propositions in California -- as the rest of the article kind of focuses on that state -- but it's completely unclear. I live in California and I can't recall the Prop number of the marijuana legalization initiative three years ago, nor can I remember how much it lost by and I have honestly no idea there's another effort afoot; how anybody who reads this outside of California is going to figure it out is beyond me.

  • BakedPenguin||

    "Steven Greenhut is the California columnist for U-T San Diego."

  • ||

    I read that as "California communist". Probably just out of habit.

  • BakedPenguin||

    The words California, columnist, and communist are not uncorrelated.

  • Tamfang||

    Yeah, it would have been nice to mention California somewhere above the passage about signatures and votes.

  • ||

    The BAD initiative was Prop. 19.
    Confusingly written by Richard Lee (of Oaksterdam fame), it took away patients' Prop. 215 rights to cultivate cannabis for their personal use. It couldn't really "Legalize marijuana!" for recreational use, the Prop. 19 battle cry, while marijuana a federally-scheduled drug.
    Lee & his investors (SK Seymour was his LLC), PLUS his Oaksterdam students, all thought they'd have a post-passage-of-Prop.-19, monopolistic distribution chain stretching from an Oakland stronghold to conservative SoCal. Butpro-cannabis patients -- many of whom are disabled and can't afford to buy enough cannabis for REAL MEDICAL needs, caught on and fought back.
    I was one of those patients. I opposed Prop. 19, and now support the CCHI2014 initiative. It decriminalizes adult PERSONAL cultivation/use. It directs the CA Legislature to go mano a mano with the feds re legalization of COMMERCIAL production and distribution. It sets specific parameters designed to keep commercial production and sales treated fairly, in the same way, in terms of taxes, regulations, etc., as beer and wine.
    Unlike 19, CCHI2014 is not funded by special interests who'll profit from new law. It's a grassroots effort, supported by pro-cannabis patients scared awake by 19's near passage. If it gets the signatures to get on the ballot (very likely, given the support I see), the "Jack Herer" initiative WILL pass in 2014.

  • ||

    It's going to be absolutely delicious when full legalization finally takes place watching all of the hippie leftists turn against "Big Pot" when it turns into a normal business, like Big Tobacco, Big Oil and Big Pharma.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I don't think it'll ever get to that point, but I could see hipsters ragging on individual strains.

    "I was smoking purple widow kush before it was cool, man."

  • Bill Dalasio||

    You can kind of see that in some of the article.

    Jakubal favors legalization in general but fears the current initiative would lure out-of-town marijuana “miners,” who clear-cut forests, poison water supplies and drive out local growers. Protections for family farms must be “hard-written” into any initiative,
  • Mr. Hyde||

    Before legalization:
    "Dude, the Man needs to leave my business alone."

    After legalization:
    "Dude, the Man needs to put in

  • Ketogenic Paleo||

    As strange as it may seem, because environmentalists and hippies have to shop somewhere, there is a pro-business/pro-capitalism branch of the green/hippy movement lead by Green/environmentalist growers, manufacturers and retailers.
    Sure, they might talk about their own businesses "giving back" to the community and curse large corporations but they're still undeniably capitalist

  • Square||

    Already there - one of the main opposition groups in CA right now is small growers who don't want weed taken over by the evil corporate culture of straight America.

  • godzleaf||

    What small grower wants .gov fucking with them over their cannabis crop any more than they want to get fucked with over their tomato or grapefruit crops?

  • Wizard4169||

    No need to wait; I've already seen people slagging on legalization because they're afraid commercialization will spoil the "purity" of the pot experience.

  • godzleaf||

    Are we suppose to cry over a few big business aspiring Humboldt fucktards having to compete in an open market with small growers?

  • ULOST||

    These scumbag growers/dispensaries are trying to get it regulated for their own selfish interests. Then they can pay lobbyists too and get laws passed to make you less free and able to compete.
    Oh, yeah, it would be horrible for people to have unregulated freedom to exercise an individual right. And make sure you tax it too because that is the only way to make it legitimate and create governmental incentive. It's only right to pay proper tribute to the crown for the privilege.

  • herbisonmatilde||

    my friend's step-sister makes $84/hr on the computer. She has been laid off for nine months but last month her check was $21144 just working on the computer for a few hours. Continue Reading

  • Peddler931||

    Yes, as soon as legalisation occurs, there will be those who call for supply management to keep prices high and save the traditional family pot farm.

  • Teaganl||

    Since I started fre+lancing I've been bringing in $90 bucks/h… I sit at home and i am doing my work from my laptop. The best thing is that i get more time to spent with my family and with my kids and in the same time i can earn enough to support them... You can do it too. Start here.for more work detail go to tech tab.

  • carminahultgren||

    my buddy's aunt makes $87 an hour on the internet. She has been laid off for six months but last month her payment was $19984 just working on the internet for a few hours. great post to read

  • ||

    Wow, as an attorney very familiar with cannabis-related laws, this article requires a number of comments! So I’ll try to divide my comments up and post them separately. But I do want to say, first thing off the bat, that I TOTALLY support the Jack Herer initiative. It's good for medical marijuana patients, and good for almost everyone else (especially taxpayers), and good for California's economy. Who isn't it good for? Anyone making $$$$ from the hideous and unfair federal asset forfeiture laws, and for the corporations, like Monsanto, who'd like to start selling GMO cannabis seeds and growing and selling GMO cannabis.

  • ||

    Re pot smoking theaters. Not a good idea because of fire hazards, but I wouldn’t assume that the reason people continued to smoke cannabis in the theater, but tobacco users stopped, is because, as the author assumes, is simply because “It’s already illegal, so why follow rules?” Maybe that was true for some of the "tokers," but probably not for all of them.
    Tobacco smoking in enclosed spaces was banned, by law, in California because smoking and second-hand tobacco smoke can cause cancer. Unfortunately, not enough people know that not only does marijuana smoke NOT cause cancer, but it actually has a slight anti-cancer effect. This was proved in a federally-funded study by Dr. Donald Tashkin of UCLA. He matched groups of people who smoked only tobacco, with a group who smoked only cannabis, with a group that smoked neither tobacco or cannabis. The groups were matched so other factors were kept the same.
    The result? The cannabis-smokers had a very slightly lower incidence of lung cancer than the group that smoked nothing. It wasn’t a difference of statistical importance -- but it clearly showed that smoking cannabis, unlike smoking tobacco, does NOT cause lung cancer. And the result of this study matches other information. For details, se next comment.

  • ||

    The Taskin study matches the results of a study by the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I, School of Biology, Complutense University, Madrid, Spain, “Cannabinoid action induces autophagy-mediated cell death through stimulation of ER stress in human glioma cells” (see http://www.jci.org/articles/view/37948). It matches the Cancer Institute’s 2011 briefly public decision to advise doctors that they can recommend marijuana not only for its anti-nausea and appetite-improving effects, but for its anti-tumoral effects, too. (see http://blog.norml.org/2011/03/.....nt-page-3/ ; the research that supports that recommendation is still on the Institute‘s back pages . . . . )
    People smoke "pot" for medicinal reasons, so may feel it’s OK & legal to smoke inside a theater, like anyone can take a pill whenever needed. People with severe pain (from disease/injury), or severe nausea (from AIDS) must smoke regularly and often.
    But the fire in crowded theater problem is solvable. Legitimate patients would understand; if I were the theater operator I would just tell them that while smoking cannabis is different than smoking tobacco, the risk of FIRE from smoking ANYTHING remains the same, so no open flame. Patients can use an electronic vaporizer.
    More comments to follow!


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