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December 13, 2007

An Emerging Market (Historical, Political)

Proposition 215’s  passage by a comfortable margin in 1996 was an unprecedented repudiation of drug war hegemony that caught most drug policy “experts” by surprise. Even though the federal ban on marijuana had always been illogical, it had also been impervious to logic and seemed to have become  politically invincible from about 1980 on. Beyond that, the nationally prominent politicians from both major parties who could be persuaded to take public positions on medical use prior to the 1996 General Election had also been unanimous in their opposition to the initiative.

It was sensed almost immediately after the election that California would become the key battleground in what had become an unexpected national debate over medical use, but since even the first participants within the state couldn’t possibly have anticipated the twists and turns of the shadowy guerrilla war that has ensued for 11 years; and its major developments have remained obscure to even to the few honest reporters able to stay with the story, I offer this analysis with some temerity.  However, because I now have reason to believe that the decisive issue of the medical marijuana campaign may finally be emerging, and even though even though its outcome is still obscure, I believe defining it at this point will be helpful.  It must also be emphasized that the great majority of that campaign’s major combatants are still laboring under the spell of the partisan rhetoric that’s been driving them since 1996, so I don't expect either side to agree with this analysis.

The final determinant of the medical marijuana wars in California will be whether the combined power of federal agencies and their allies among local law enforcement will be able to thwart the powerful demand for marijuana that has unquestionably emerged in just the past few years, but which both sides have been ignoring; each for their own reasons.

Before ending today’s entry, I should also say that like most others, it was prompted by a recent development; in this case, a flame war that has erupted on drug policy reform discussion lists over an internet campaign launched by a veteran reformer who has always been something of a maverick and loner who has focused primarily on the critical nature of factual truth, which is why he had started his Drug Policy Library long before I was even aware  there was a reform "movement." Interestingly, he has been swayed in this instance by the surge in the (visible) medical marijuana market that’s taken place where he lives in Southern California over the last few years and came to conclusions that were very similar to mine, arrived from observations made from my very different vantage point as a Bay Area "pot doc."

Future entries on this topic will undertake a definition of the medical market in terms of the three components  Proposition 215 required before it could develop at all: physicians to certify customers as “legitimate,” customers willing to obtain the required physicians' recommendations, and a loose association of growers, vendors, and retailers willing to supply them. The key realization is that all those components (except the physicians) had already existed before 215 was passed; what has happened since 1996 is that they have simply become far more visible and another decade's new users have tried pot for the first time.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at December 13, 2007 04:09 PM