Humans Need Catnip Too: Part 3
V. The Stiffening Winds of Change
The cannabis legalization movement has truly been, no pun intended, a grass-roots effort. Zero credit should be given to politicians, giant corporations, and big money for bringing this injustice to the forefront of our country's consciousness. Non-profit groups like the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws (NORML) have fought against all the lies and fear tactics of politicians, big money, and anti-cannabis zealots for decades.
California became the first state to legalize the use of cannabis for medical purposes in 1996, but that was only a light breeze compared to the reforms that have occurred in recent times. Two decades ago, support for cannabis legalization was barely over 25%, according to the Gallup poll conducted each year. During the "Oh God, Not Another" Bush Era, which spanned from 2001-2009, support for legalization climbed 10 percentage points. Now, in 2015, polls show a majority in favor of ending pot prohibition, with results ranging from 53%-58%. Support keeps increasing for all age groups. Today's U.S. population is generally much more informed on cannabis and its relative danger to society. It is impossible to re-create the widespread hysteria which past generations accepted as truth.
The year 2012 was when the proverbial genie escaped from the bottle here in the United States. Colorado and Washington State both passed complete legalization initiatives by a comfortable margin. The legalization model in Colorado has been doing so well, even Governor John Hickenlooper--an opponent of the new law--now admits the problem is "less vexing than we thought." Colorado has enjoyed a hefty tax revenue from their 2014 cannabis sales, as shown here.
Washington State's legalization model differs from Colorado's in the aspect that it's more regulated and restrictive, but they are also seeing positive results. The state has collected $83 million in tax revenue, and saved millions in government spending. Just like Colorado, adolescent usage has declined slightly or remained the same.
Both models have been successful, despite their differences. Washington State's law does not allow a person to grow recreational cannabis at home, while Colorado's allows for six plants per person or 12 per household. Studies will have to be done if these home grows undercut the black market or contribute to it. Licensing fees are much smaller in Washington. Colorado allows for armed guards at pot shops, while Washington State foolishly advises against it. Medical and recreational cannabis are separate entities in Colorado, white efforts have been made in Washington to mostly combine the industries. From a medical user's perspective, treating recreational and medical in a similar fashion hampers a patient's ability to acquire and grow sufficient amounts of medical cannabis. Also, patient registries can be accessed by the Federal Government--a privacy violation.
Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. followed suit in 2014 by passing legalization bills of their own. D.C.'s bill passed overwhelmingly, with 69% of the vote. Similar to Colorado's model, these most recent voter initiatives allow for limited home growing. Oregon just began sales of recreational cannabis on October 1, 2015, and Alaska will begin sales next year.
Several more states are poised to end their prohibitions on recreational cannabis in 2016, an election year that promises to bring out a more 420-friendly voting demographic. Nevada already has an initiative approved for their 2016 ballot. Other states who are in the process of qualifying for 2016 are Calfornia, Maine, Michigan, Arizona, and Massachusetts. Vermont may become the first state to legalize it via the state legislature process. While the US is slowly undoing cannabis prohibition by way of the voters, change is happening all over the Western Hemisphere.
The first country to end cannabis prohibition outright was Uruguay in December 2013. While the Netherlands has had a "coffee shop" model for cannabis since 1976, Uruguay has legalized the sale and production of cannabis as well.
Our neighbors to the North will undergo a 180-degree shift in their cannabis policies. On October 19, 2015, the notoriously cannabis-unfriendly Steven Harper was unseated as Prime Minister in favor of Justin Trudeau. The article provides some understanding how Canada elects a prime minister, which differs from the United States. Each of the several political parties has a leader, and whichever party wins the most Parliament seats has the reward of their leader becoming Prime Minister. Since Trudeau's Liberal Party won a majority of the 338 Parliament seats, he has the ability to end cannabis prohibition without much of a fight from anyone else. How quickly that reform will take place is yet to be seen, but Trudeau and his Liberal Party won on a platform that includes cannabis legalization. Harper's Conservatives enacted mandatory minimum sentences for growing cannabis, spread the typical misinformation, built more jails, and basically repeated the failed approach the United States has employed for so long.
"We will remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code, and create new, stronger laws to punish more severely those who provide it to minors, those who operate a motor vehicle while under its influence, and those who sell it outside of the new regulatory framework."
~Liberal Party of Canada
Mexico's Supreme Court just ruled in favor of four plaintiffs who claimed that it was unconstitutional to prohibit them from growing, possessing, and using cannabis. The ruling only applied to those four people, but it paves the way for more like it--and yet another sign that the decades-long mission to end cannabis prohibition is finally gaining ground. The Supreme Court's decision mirrors my own sentiment regarding recreational cannabis use--that the development of one's personality is a human right and should not be infringed. Article 22 in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:
"Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality."
Mexico's Supreme Court ruling affirms Article 22 in the UN's Declaration, and it will be intersting to see how the UN reacts to this and other cannabis-related issues at their United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in April 2016. The United States has been a resolute defender of cannabis prohibition for decades, but other countries can easily see the hypocrisy we are displaying. We have been routinely chastising Latin American countries for growing coca plants or not trying hard enough to eradicate drug use. Yet, we are selling legal weed in four states.
Prohibition has failed on a global scale. It has not accomplished any of its goals, nor has it made us safer. The laws are based on racism and falsehoods; the enforcement of those laws have criminalized millions. Our police must focus on real crimes. It has been cruel and unusual punishment to those who benefit from its medicinal properties. It has perpetuated the dehumanization of recreational consumers who are enjoying a substance safer than alcohol. The screaming insanity of "marijuana" prohibition drowns out the well-intentioned words of those who wish to speak of its harms. And, it is paramount that free people realize the dangers of advanced technology combined with an overly authoritarian government. Before I talk about solutions, I shall leave you with the patriotic words of one of our greatest American citizens, Martin Luther King, Jr.
"In any civilized society, it is every citizen's responsibility to obey just laws. But at the same time, it is every citizen's responsibility to disobey unjust laws." ~Martin Luther King Jr.
If elected, Rocky shall end Federal cannabis prohibition quickly, but he has a plan to make sure legalization is done right.
At the Federal level, "Marijuana" will be separated into two categories--cannabis and industrial hemp--and will be immediately removed from the Controlled Substances Act. I entertained the idea of keeping cannabis in Schedule IV temporarily, but after looking at some of the dangerous drugs in Schedule II-IV--and those not even on the list--I conclude that cannabis has no business in Nixon's contribution to our nation's drug laws.
Two Democrat politicians, Martin O'Malley and Hillary "If You Believe Her I Have A Bridge To Sell You" Clinton, have mentioned that they would place cannabis in Schedule II if elected. While that would remove important restrictions to banking and medical research, it still implies that cannabis is somehow as dangerous as cocaine and methamphetamine.
Klonopin, a Schedule IV drug, is a benzodiazepine that was first used for epileptic seizures, with well-known potential for abuse. It's now being prescribed as a sedative and muscle relaxant; and also for anxiety, alcohol withdrawal, and insomnia. When I first heard of it as an adolescent I thought it was a street drug, since I had been offered some on several occations. Other benzodiazepines include Xanax and Valium. "Benzos" are yet another type of psychiatric medication that doctors are incentivized to prescribe to patients. They all have potential for abuse.
This all sounds familiar, doesn't it? In Section IV, I talked about Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI's) like Paxil, Zoloft, and Prozac being linked to episodes of addiction, mania, violence, and mass shootings. I had to confirm this with a friend who works in the medical field--but yes indeed, Paxil and other SSRI's are not controlled substances. A quick search will reveal countless stories of Paxil addiction and withdrawal. Apparently taking this medication for even less than a year can produce major, long-lasting side effects. Apparently the side effects of withdrawal are not being honeslty discussed with patients. Reading the comments gives insight to what people are going through when they want to get off these medications.
So, that decides it. Cannabis prohibition will end at the Federal level, and all 50 states will be required to decriminalize possession of one ounce or less. Nobody's children will be taken away by Child Protective Services exclusively for cannabis use. One can still be arrested for acting like a dumbass while intoxicated; that's not going to change. Those states who choose not to legalize cannabis will be allowed to issue fines of no more than $200 for the first offense and $1,000 for any additional offenses. Every state must also provide access to medical cannabis to people with qualifying conditions. Medical cannabis users will be issued paperwork and identification cards that provides an affirmative defense against fines or prosecution. They will be allowed to grow cannabis indoors in a secured area on their property or residence.
Every American citizen will have the right to possess at least an ounce at their residence, provided that they do not sell it or display evidence of child neglect. I base this logic on a 1975 court case in Alaska, Ravin v. State. In this case, the Alaska Supreme Court determined that the State Constitution's privacy clauses protect a person's right to possess and use cannabis in their home. This is part of a broader effort to re-establish citizens' right to privacy in their own homes.
The responsibility of Federal cannabis/industrial hemp regulation and oversight shall be given to the Department of Agriculture. The Cannabis, Alcohol, and Tobacco (CAT) division shall ensure that these products are extensively tested for pesticides, additives, and preservatives. The CAT will provide general oversight of the states who have chosen to legalize the sale of cannabis. The Bureau known as the ATF will be absobed into the FBI as part of the broader effort to consolidate some redundant and excess bureaucratic agencies.
The billions of dollars that are spent on cannabis law enforcement will be allocated to addiction treatment, education, and to law enforcement efforts in fighting dangerous drugs as well as international drug trafficking.
Television and radio ads for tobacco have been banned since 1971, and cannabis shall be treated like cigarettes in this regard. Ads for tobacco and cannabis paraphernalia, vaporizers, and e-cigs would also be disallowed from the airwaves. Alcohol commercials will continue to be legal; however, sexual images and connotations will be strictly prohibited. As a society we claim to value educating our kids about the dangers of alcohol, yet we allow commercials where bikini-clad hotties magically appear when some hapless guy opens a beer can.
Small business will reign supreme in the cannabis industry. This is part of my broader idea of a "Small Business Renaissance" to occur in the United States. This idea is a great way to counter the arguments of some anti-cannabis zealots who claim "Big Marijuana" will influence our kids like "Big Tobacco". Promoting the small business model also ensures that individuals who have difficulty finding conventional jobs can start up their own business without easily being destroyed by a huge chain store like "Weed-Mart". Certain industries should be small business-only, and the cannabis industry is a perfect example.
Children will finally receive an honest drug education. When we remove cannabis from the shadows of prohibition, we can be more open with our kids about the harms of adolescent use. An open relationship means the ability for a parent to intervene in an adolescent's drug activity sooner. The authoritarian model we have used all these years has encouraged cannabis use more than reduced it. For example, the Drug Abuse Resistance Program (DARE) has been proven ineffective in empirical studies. From personal experience as a teenager, the kids who wore DARE shirts in my high school were the kids using drugs!
One of the most common reasons cited for teen drug use is boredom. Those aged 12-17 who are frequently bored are 50% more likely to use drugs and alcohol, according to a University of Columbia study. I propose a nationwide effort called SHAPE (Society for Harnessing Adolescent Productivity and Enjoyment) which will increase funding for youth activity programs, work programs, and push for a more interesting and hands-on education for adolescents. This "read, regurgitate, busywork" model is not approprate for the technologically advanced (and therefore, more easily bored) adolescents of today. Also, drug testing for cannabis at schools for any reason will cease; the last thing a student with a history of cannabis use needs is to have healthy diversions forcibly taken away.
Representatives of the cannabis industry will be appointed for positions in cannabis education and public relations. A first-time adult user, medical or recreational, will be paired up with a "guide", who will give them advice on the various strains of the plant and their effects. The guide will be available as long as the person wishes.
Over the years, I have sampled over 100 different varieties of cannabis, from Master Kush to Blue Dream to Sour Diesel. Some relax me and are great for anxiety, some put me to sleep, some make me much more focused on a given task, and a couple I've tried make me feel anxious--so I stay away from those. A person's demeanor, specific illness, and tolerance for cannabis' effects are factors that determine which strain is best for each person. It's important for any cannabis user to be educated on the different strains and hybrids.
It is even more important to address the issues with cannabis "edibles" such as brownies or candy bars, as these are much too potent for a beginner. In fact, I'd advise recreational users against ingesting cannabis in this fashion altogether. Vaporization of cannabis plant extract is honestly the healthiest and safest method.
The Cannabis Public Relations Department will communicate directly with representatives of the cannabis community in order to establish some basic rules. Think of it as creating a system of "Cannabis Etiquette", designed to clearly state what to do and what not to do with cannabis.
Take the issue of driving, for example. Media campaigns will be launched to warn people of the dangers of driving while intoxicated on any substance. Alcohol and cannabis have different effects on the driver. A Federal study even echoes prior research and claims driving drunk is much more dangerous than driving stoned. Driving while impaired should always be a criminal act, but we need to establish some easy guidelines:
A beginner or infrequent user of cannabis needs to understand that the minute they inhale, their driving must be done for the day. A daily cannabis user should wait at least 4 hours before getting behind the wheel.
Social clubs would be the only areas that would allow for public consumption of recreational cannabis. The clubs will be staffed with drivers to transport the customers. Membership would be required to enter. It would be up to the states to decide the zoning laws for these establishments.
With cannabis prohibition eliminated, the law enforcement industry could be affected. I'd sincerely hope that anyone working as a narcotics officer has more of a desire to help fight drug abuse and addiction than arrest people for it. Federal grants will become available to help possibly displaced workers in the law enforcement industry to transition to other positions in the industry.
It was beneficial for the country to see Colorado and Washington legalize cannabis, and achieve positive results. The sky didn't fall, an army of stoners didn't take to the streets, and both states have enjoyed substantial profits and tax revenue. It's been said for decades, and people are finally listening: the benefits of cannabis outweigh the harms. Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, D.C. will experience a success story as well. The country is ready for a long-overdue change.
Stop the arrests. The time is "meow" for the liberation of human catnip.