Friday, March 4, 2011

Colorado Scuttles MMJ "Edibles" law

One of about fifty ads appearing in the March 3-9 Colorado Springs Independent, for Medical Marijuana Dispensaries.

Though I've never taken a drag from a marijuana cigarette, far less inhaled, I did move to a state which legalized the weed for medical use in 2000. That is the state of Colorado. Since then numerous battles have erupted as the extent and parameters of the law have been tested and re-tested including limiting numbers of patients, the definition of what pain qualifies a person for medical marijuana (mmj) use or how close dispensaries can be to schools, playgrounds etc. On top of that have been the federal laws which clash with those of all the states that legalized mmj. Colorado is no exception, and several busts have been made when suppliers have grown more than what had been acknowledged as their fair share.

The latest state revisions appeared to finally have reached some kind of equilibrium as sales of mmj flourished in numerous communities where it was legally allowed, although last November a number of places included referenda- ballot measures which sought to halt all dispensaries, effectively outlawing them in those areas. Colorado Springs was no exception, except that the banning effort failed by about 53%-47%. And so, advertisements for mmj continue to appear in the local Independent paper (Colorado Springs Independent) which averages about 44 such ads every week. (When I brought pages of the newspaper with me to Barbados last May, none of the family could believe it. "They sell this stuff openly over there!")

The most recent effort to neutralize the state's mmj laws arrived from a Republican state senator who sought to have all marijuana "edibles" banned. These included: pizzas, green teas, brownies, muffins, cakes and other assorted confections which incorporated edible forms of marijuana as opposed to smoking it. As people may be aware, for some patients, any kind of inhaling is a 'no-no' since the respiratory complications are aggravated and much worse than the pain issues. Thus, mmj edibles fill a niche for all dispensaries and any outlawing of them would've cut their profits down significantly - so much so many would have to close. Fortunately, the attempted edibles ban was scuttled via up or down vote in the Colorado Senate.

Now, in the state of Colorado, as with many budget- busted places, this is no small issue. Say what you will on whatever side of the mmj debate you fall, but the fact remains the mmj dispensaries bring in much needed revenue for communities via sales taxes. Colorado Springs alone reaped more than $1 million in revenue from its dispensaries last year, which made the difference in terms of keeping many recreational areas open, as opposed to being shuttered. (And bear in mind, Colorado Springs had been the national media's poster child for city budget deficits, having to turn off street lights, cut bus service, shutter restrooms in parks, and halt weed extraction, containment as well as trash collections in parks.)

The acceptance and use of mmj nationally is yet another issue, and a number of critics have complained the mmj bandwagon is all bogus and merely an effort to legalize marijuana nationally. One such critic is TIME contributor Andrew Ferguson who wrote an article entitled, 'How Marijuana Got Mainstreamed’ (Nov. 22, 2010) but which I believe missed the point.

That is, many legitimately sick people (including those on cancer chemotherapy) now have an option apart from being in the maw of the profiteers at Big PhrmA. That a "high" is often an accompaniment ought to be applauded not condemned, but we have way too many Puritans still lurking around. What is the difference anyway between someone whose chronic pain is dulled, and who feels a little euphoria from a medicinal joint, and a person taking Vicodin prescribed by a PhrmA outfit? (That was the last 'high' I experienced, after having wisdom teeth removed five years ago and taking Vicodin for it. Fortunately, I was able to halt it when the pain ceased, some aren't so lucky and get hooked- and I'd wager many more than ever get hooked on the devil weed).

Apart from the medical issues and results (and I believe they're fairly clear on the side that mmj is effective, certainly for enabling an appetite and the ability to hold down some food during chemo) there is the issue of law enforcement using pot arrests to fill up the nation's prisons. As it is, the U.S. of A. has the dubious distinction of being the LEAST free nation on the planet with 1% of all its citizens locked behind bars and more than 2% caught up in the maw of the justice system, either on parole, probation, serving time, in home detention or whatever. These proportions beat even those for Russia, Iran and China!

Add in the average cost to house inmates, at about $25,000 each per year, and you have a total case for why the current laws (analogous to 1930s prohibition) are downright nuts. It's nuts because tossing down tens of billions of dollars to lock people up for smoking a weed is counter-productive in an era of budget-busting state deficits, not to mention national ones. It's also nuts because it's conceding huge sums of money to drug cartels which could instead be taxed and collected for state and national gain. Again, a more sober and rational approach must be found and this is why I side with most astute politicians, judicial experts and others in saying the 'war on drugs' needs to have a stake put through its heart, as it's nonsense. We need to halt this war just like other actual wars of aggression leading to invasions, that are really wars of choice, as opposed to just responses to provocation.

If there is a national momentum to get rid of these laws, which have the country the most imprisoned in the world, then I am all for states like Colorado, et al leading the way to drive other states toward fiscal and judicial sanity. In the meantime, kudos must be extended to President Obama for his notching down of the harsh, prosecutorial bent of the Justice dept. which had been endemic during the Bush years. Thus, no more do we see the spectacle of mmj cancer patients being dragged off to cells, somewhat like political prisoners in the old Soviet Gulags.

Congrats to Obama and let's see that he does indeed get re-elected in a landslide victory next year, as now seems to be the indication....with no substantive Republican (other than Uncle Newtie Gingrich) set to challenge him.

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