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October 08, 2007

How Big is Big? The gray market for medical marijuana

In a few weeks, the highly specialized gray market for "medical" marijuana created by California's unexpected rejection of unsolicited advice from all manner of high ranking federal and state officials just prior to the 1996 General Election, will be eleven years old. That Proposition 215 would have reached that age and still be an unwanted orphan in a state whose citizens had given it a comfortable margin is something I hadn’t anticipated; nor do I think many others would have predicted such an outcome in November 1996.

In fact, there were remarkably few specific predictions about what might happen following California's unprecedented voter rebellion against the drug war. But Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey had a plan: destroy the new law with a lightning thrust by lifting the licenses of any doctors attempting to comply with it. The Ninth Circuit scotched that threat on First Amendment grounds, a move New England Journal Editor Jerome Kassirer quickly applauded, only to be just as quickly cashiered for his temerity.

Actually, McCaffrey's threat worked to limit the number of physicians willing to sign recommendations and the few activist doctorss who did so quickly found themselves under attack from the Medical Board (the state's licensing body). At the other extreme, Peter McWilliams and Todd McCormick clearly thought they could experiment with clones intended to supply the pot distribution network they realized would soon be needed. They were made to pay dearly for their mistake: McWilliams with his life, and McCormick with five years of punitive incarceration in a federal prison. Not that punitive treatment of pot activists by law enforcement was limited to the feds; far more numerous abominations have occurred at the state level, a pattern that began during Dan Lungren’s final year as AG, and has persisted under both successors.

This isn't intended as a rehash of anti-pot abuses since January 1997; that would take a long book indeed;  however I do want to sketch some highlights of what may be the next phenomenon able to surprise everyone while frustrating the obvious desire of our drug war leadership to crush the gray market for marijuana that has evolved during 215's quixotic eleven year evolution.

I'm referring to the medical market's sheer size, which, at this moment, can only be guessed, but is proving much larger than most suspected. Equally unexpected was that the power of that market seems to have quietly shifted from the liberal Bay Area which had been so important to its early development, to more conservative places like San Diego and LA which, although dormant for years, are now manifesting surprising strength. Even now, after the DEA has entered into belated alliance with local police in what appears to be a  desperate federal effort to stave off the inevitable. Or is this just be just another interesting wrinkle in the poorly understood attempt of pot users to oppose the law that oppresses them?

Part of the problem is the generally timid and inept reportage of all  matters pertaining to pot by fearful mainstream media outlets, an ineptitude offset, at least partially  by the internet since the early Nineties.

All of which brings me to the point of this entry. It's a site started by Cliff Schaffer, long an intellectual opponent of the drug war whose Drug Policy Library was an early inspiration to me, and whose fertile brain keeps coming up with new ideas. His newest site, just by coincidence, was inspired by the same weakness I've been clamoring about for a while: the latent potential of the modern pot market which has been forced to remain deeply underground for nearly four decades.

Cliff has researched the clubs that are still opening in LA to take advantage of the surge in both interest and numbers of people with a physician's recommendation. His prediction is that the phenomenon isn't over and new clubs will continue to open. Only time will tell. In the meantime, the reform discussion lists are torn, with the majority of those commenting still lamenting "greedy" owners and patients who don't appear sick to the untrained eye.

What will happen over the next several months is anybody's guess. Will  the DEA continue to imitate Burma, or will it back off ?

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at October 8, 2007 01:52 AM