September 25, 2006
Further Evidence of an Enormous Cannabis Market
As I’ve been saying with increasing certainty since late 2002— an opinion based entirely on my interviews of Californians seeking ‘medical marijuana’ recommendations— the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996 was a pivotal event with real potential for changing American drug policy. The bad news has been that, so far, neither the policy’s full-time supporters nor its full-time opponents seem to have learned much. The good news is that there is now considerable evidence to suggest that trends partisans on both sides have been simply too blind or preoccupied to notice may be about to overtake them.
I refer to the knotty issue of pot’s continuing popularity, despite nearly forty years of fierce law enforcement efforts to suppress it. Sooner or later, the long-avoided questions of what that popularity is based on and why it has been so persistent will have to be answered. As is usual with any policy, the unintended consequences may be the most important, and as is also often the case with policies in which mistakes were neither recognized nor acknowledged, the longer they were in effect, the greater the damage to both society and the reputations of those seen by history as most responsible.
Another straw in the wind testifying to the sheer size of California’s pot market appeared yesterday in the form of a detailed report on a new phenomenon: the purchase of tract homes in the Central Valley for use as indoor grows by Asian crime syndicates, apparently to avoid scrutiny at the Canadian Border, which has increased since 9/11. Whether that market is thought of as ‘recreational’ or ‘medical’ use, its size and continued growth really beg the same questions.
September 20, 2006
Prop 215 is nearly 10
I began actively opposing the drug war only in late 1995; in that sense, I was a Johhny-come-lately to the drug policy reform 'movement,' an amalgam of disparate groups which remains as politically invisible as it was then and yet, in 1996, may have launched the one strategy capable of accomplishing its 'impossible dream' of ending the drug war.
Largely because our nation's drug policy has been so devious, poorly understood, and effectively protected by its federal handlers, the issue is still in doubt, but it's now clear the key strategy was Proposition 215, a 'medical marijuana' initiative passed nearly ten years ago in California, the one venue where it could be decisive- for the simple reason that it was the only pot law permissive enough to reveal how many chronic users there may be.
Although I'd long believed the elephant in the national living room was the sheer size of the illegal pot market that's developed since the Sixties, I knew little of the circumstances responsible for its growth and wasn't at all sure how the phenomenon might be demonstrated; especially with the feds so good at diverting attention from their policy's failures and 'reform' so unaware of their significance. The irony is that although neither side seems yet to have realized what's happening, California's pot users are finally coming out of the closet in numbers that can't be dismissed.
The ultimate irony is that the responsible mechanism seems to have been the 'scrip mills' that have been providing recommendations to record numbers of applicants throughout the state since 2004. Those now 'legal' buyers are, in turn, fueling demand for the 'dispensaries' and other retail outlets now seeking business licenses in one community after another.
It was the same pressure that has generated an improbable law suit from the state's most conservative counties, while encouraging more liberal areas to finally comply with SB 420. A genie is beginning to emerge from its bottle; however this drama ends, things won't go back to where they were 10 years ago.
September 11, 2006
Questions Never Askedhtml>
No public policy is discussed with more heat and less clarity than the one euphemistically called ‘Drug Control.' A good example of our national drug-related schizophrenia occurred last week when SAMHSA released a survey purporting to show illicit drug use increasing among senior citizens, but diminishing among teens and young adults. As usual, the drug czar took full advantage of an opportunity to criticize the aging baby boomers every federal government since Nixon has blamed for exacerbating our drug problems. They discovered pot as they were coming of age in the Sixties as the largest cohort of Americans ever; they had also been the first television generation and it was their protests of a losing Viet Nam war which made it impossible to continue. Once the adolescent pot market was established, it has never been seriously impeded and has continued to add to the population of long term users ever since .
According to prevailing federal myth, then-President Nixon had no choice but to ‘crack down’ on boomers by declaring a ‘War on Drugs” which has since been a great success at quadrupling the prison population, but hasn't really dented drug use. Those who pointed out that cannabis had once been medicine which didn’t seem nearly as harmful as some other illegal agents— or even alcohol and tobacco, for that matter— were quickly labeled ‘legalizers’ or worse and answered with the claim that pot leads to a host of risky behaviors including trials of ‘harder’ drugs. Although the ‘gateway’ theory has never fulfilled the causality requirement required of such a hypothesis, a Gateway ‘Effect’ has become an item of faith for policy supporters and is almost never questioned by those claiming to be 'neutral.'
In point of fact, no clinical study of a large population of chronic cannabis users has ever been done; not because they were in short supply; but because of the obvious difficulty of identifying and recruiting subjects facing harsh social and criminal sanctions.Let alone that NIDA would never have allowed one.
At first glance, it might seem that the ‘amnesty’ offered by Proposition 215 in 1996, might have been such an opportunity; especially when it became clear that virtually all ‘medical’ applicants were already chronic users who had first tried pot during adolescence Unfortunately; because both sides in the ‘debate’ have been clinging to the same sterile arguments for ten years, not as much has been learned as might have been. On the other hand, although things can probably never be put back where they were in 1996; whatever 'progress' has been made to date has been far more uncertain and difficult than necessary.
As far as the SAMHSA study is concerned, one is forced to wonder WHY pot has remained our most popular illegal drug tried since MTF studies first began in 1975 and why the annual totals of arrests and plants seized continues to increase every year if the 'control' is working as well as claimed. As usual, Fred Gardner's perspective was far more accurate, detailed, and nuanced than any other.
Another important question also comes to mind: how long will it take voters to demand answers to the most basic questions about our disgraceful drug policy; like why has such a monumental faiure been so carefully protected for so long?