No, this isn’t about free handouts of some folks’ favorite herbal remedy. This is about freeing marijuana from the shackles of federal bureaucrats and antiquated federal regulation. 21 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana in some form, mostly medical use of marijuana. Voters in Arizona approved a medical marijuana ballot measure in 2010, but it’s implementation was delayed for months as Gov. Brewer and lawmakers tackled the thorny issue of respecting the will of the voters while not running afoul of a myriad of federal laws and regulation. In November 2012 voters in Colorado and Washington state approved ballot measures legalizing the personal use of marijuana for any reason. Colorado lawmakers recently passed and Governor Hickenlooper signed the most comprehensive laws creating a legal but well regulated marijuana market. The law stipulates licensing requirements for retail marijuana, including that they must be at least 1000 feet from a school, and allowing for some cities and local governments to opt out and not allow any pot shops within their jurisdiction. The law calls for a 15% excise tax on sales, which will be earmarked for public school construction, as well as an additional 10 percent sales tax to cover the government’s cost of regulating recreational marijuana sales. By state law voters must approve any new taxes, and a recent poll indicates 77% support for the taxes with only 18% opposed. Colorado residents may possess up to 1 ounce at a time, and may purchase that amount in any single transaction. Out of state visitors may also possess up to one ounce but may only purchase up to 1/4 ounce in any single transaction. Tourism companies are already setting up tours to pick up out of state visitors for “wine country” style tours with visits to marijuana growing “farms”, dispensaries with “tasting rooms”, and “munchie buffets” afterward. And retailers are lining up to open retail shops. Sounds great, doesn’t it? New small businesses starting up, hiring folks, while new tax revenue streams into the state coffers. Just one little problem: these folks can’t open a bank account, because banks fear prosecution for money laundering or aiding and abetting because possession or sale of marijuana is still a serious federal crime. These folks can’t deduct operating expenses, such as rent, utilities, wages, etc., like every other business can, because you can’t deduct an expense for something that is an illegal operation. And these business are at risk for the Dept. of Justice swooping in at any time and seizing their assets, which the federal government has done many times to medical marijuana dispensaries and grower cooperatives in California, under both the Bush and Obama Administrations.
And now the issue as finally reached Congress. Congressmen Denny Heck (D-Wash.) and Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) have introduced the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act, which would protect financial institutions that service legal marijuana businesses. It is estimated that half of marijuana dispensaries in the nation don’t have a bank account. Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) introduced a piece of legislation that would amend IRS code to allow deductions and credits related to state-legal marijuana sales. The bill has seven co-sponsors. And Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) has introduced the States’ Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act, to protect the property owners of state-sanctioned medical marijuana facilities, which the DOJ is increasingly targeting in prosecutions in California. All good pieces of legislation, but all face a difficult challenge getting through the Republican controlled House. And there’s an easier, better approach: get the federal government out of it’s failed policy of marijuana prohibition. It hasn’t worked any better the alcohol Prohibition we tried in the 1920s, and the argument for marijuana’s prohibition is less convincing than for alcohol prohibition. The United States first prohibited marijuana in the 1930s, with the Marijuana Tax Act, which outlawed its possession or sale. That law is superseded by The Controlled Substances Act (CSA), passed by Congress in 1970. The CSA is the federal U.S. drug policy under which the manufacture, importation, possession, use and distribution of certain substances is regulated. The legislation created five Schedules (classifications), with varying qualifications for a substance to be included in each. Two federal agencies, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determine which substances are added to or removed from the various schedules. The most tightly controlled schedule is Schedule I Controlled Substances. Drugs listed in this category are categorized as Schedule I if:
- The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
- The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
- There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.
Drugs listed in Schedule I include LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), a semi-synthetic psychedelic drug famous for its involvement in the counterculture of the 1960s. Mescaline, a naturally-occurring psychedelic drug and the main psychoactive constituent of peyote. Psilocybin and psilocin, naturally-occurring psychedelic drugs and the main psychoactive constituents of psilocybin mushrooms. Heroin, one of the most powerful and addictive narcotic in the world. And guess what other drug is included in the list of mind altering psychedelic drugs and Heroin? Yep, lowly old marijuana. That’s absolutely insane for marijuana to classified in the same category as those drugs. There is no “high potential” for abuse, it isn’t addictive or even habit forming; completely unregulated caffeine is more addictive (I know, I’ve tried both). There are several accepted medical uses. The federal government itself approved a capsule form of medical marijuana called Marinol for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting and for AIDS-related wasting. Marijuana is accepted for medical use for a wide range of ailments in the states with legal marijuana. Here in Arizona we voters voted to accept marijuana as a medical treatment for people suffering from Cancer, Glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis C, ALS, Chron’s disease, Alzheimer’s, or chronic pain. I hope I never qualify for medical marijuana in Arizona, I’ll just vacation in Colorado.
Since it is the DEA and FDA determine which substances are added or removed from the controlled substances schedules, it is past time for the Obama Administration to have those agencies remove marijuana as a controlled substance. The American Medical Association has been calling for the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Schedule I since 2009. Remove marijuana as a controlled substance and leave it up to the states and local governments and their voters to decide if they want to allow marijuana use and, if so, how to regulate it. That’s what the federal government did when it repealed (alcohol) Prohibition. The government just said it’s no longer illegal federally, and left it up to states and communities to make their own decisions. I grew up in Ohio, where stores can sell beer & wine, but you can only buy liquor at a state liquor store. And I grew up in the town of Westerville, which prohibited the sale of any alcohol within the city limits. Westerville has a history with the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union); someone once tried to open up a saloon in town and the little old Christian ladies blew it up. Across the old South there’s many “dry towns” and “dry counties”. That’s fine, that’s what local governments do best, deciding what works best for their communities. And in the states where marijuana is legal – with more sure to follow – they reap in new taxes, and regulate it so it’s safe and fair to everyone. And think of the huge dent it will make in the cash flow and power of the Mexican drug cartels! No more sending human mules trekking across the border with 100 pound backpacks of marijuana – we grow our own, thank you, and it’s cheaper and better!
One of my best experiences getting high was when I visited some friends in Holland in 2002. The one friend had worked with me in a hotel in the Caribbean, and he now lived in Holland with his husband. (Holland has had marriage equality since 2001). They lived a suburb of Amsterdam. Friday evening we boarded one of the shuttle buses the village operates on weekends so folks could go down the village square and enjoy the pubs and clubs and not have to worry about driving home under the influence. The village operated the only pot shop, sales helped the village budget immensely, improving both recreation opportunities, and also police security. I looked over their extensive menu and selected an enticing sounding Hindu Kush variety. We sat down on a bench in the park, rolled a joint, and lit up. We nodded politely to the policeman who walked by and, he smiled back. Then we enjoyed some music and beer at a pub and then a nice dinner. We decided to walk home to walk off the dinner and enjoy the evening air. And enjoy a nice Hindu Kush nightcap.
That’s the way a sensible society works.