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September 10, 2008

Proposition 215 and the Drug War: 1

As the twelfth anniversary of Proposition 215 approaches, I thought it might be a good time to review what a study of applicants hoping to use cannabis under the terms of California’s initiative reveals about use of cannabis (“marijuana”) in contemporary America and perhaps more importantly: what the rigorously enforced criminal prohibition of its use tells us about “human nature.”

The following is part 1 of a still undetermined number of entries I hope to finish by November 4. Just how many installments it will take will depend on how busy I am and how much detail I’ll be satisfied with. Like everything else in this blog, it’s very much a work in progress.

In November 1996, 56% of California voters surprised experts by approving the nation’s first medical marijuana initiative (Proposition 215), defying the near-unanimous advice of all living ex-presidents, most state officials, and an overwhelming majority of elected politicians. Although I’d favored the initiative myself, expected it to pass, and thought I was reasonably well informed on drug war culture, the degree to which both 215’s supporters and opponents were lacking a coherent plan for the post election period surprised me. I now realize I had underestimated both the depth of their disagreement and the willingness of drug war supporters to completely disregard the letter and spirit of the new law. Later I would discover the degree to which the reform side was willing to shoot itself in the foot because of rigid commitment to a strategy which, although less implacable, was almost as blind to new information as their opposition.

California legislators usually pass “enabling” legislation to guide the implementation of successful initiatives, but in this case, the determined opposition of police and other key participants froze that process at the committee level for over seven years. It wasn’t until October 12, 2003 that a severely watered down bill (SB 420) was signed by Gray Davis, who would soon be recalled himself, one year into his second term.

After eight years of legislative gridlock, and nearly four of chaotic law enforcement, SB 240 has produced a statewide pattern in which harassment of participants in the emergent gray market varies from county to county and time to time; however the default has consistently been anti marijuana. Nevertheless, the big picture seems to be slowly changing in one important respect: opponents of any marijuana use seem to have finally accepted that the initiative can’t be canceled. They are now using their bureaucratic dominance to obstruct it to the extent possible. That they are enjoying some success is confirmed by scattered press accounts and troubling anecdotes I hear on a weekly basis from people seeking recommendations.

To return to the (almost forgotten) interval between 1997 and 2001, the vacuum following 215’s passage was critically important because it allowed scattered gray markets offering some form of quasi-legal retail distribution through “buyers’ clubs” to spring up in pot friendly areas. After that, passage of SB 420 and the predictably hostile June, 2005 Supreme Court decision in Raich, severely jostled those markets, but it now appears that, in the absence some external calamity, rapidly acting cannabinoids and/or cannabinoid agonists will eventually become legally available by prescription.

I’m basing that prediction on recent developments in those still-evolving markets and a growing public awareness that “stress” is both endemic in modern society and an important cause of individual and societal dysfunction; also an increasing parallel awareness that cannabinoids can safely and effectively counter the most common anxiety syndromes.

This seems like a good place to stop. The next installment will deal with a fundamental issue: inhaled pot’s efficacy and safety as an anxiolytic.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at September 10, 2008 10:45 PM