Like gay marriage, medical marijuana is here to stay
On the Venice Boardwalk, the pot hawkers come at you like carnival barkers. In their green scrubs, armed with business cards, they beckon passersby to enter their narrow shops.
“Do you have a headache? A backache? Come on in, our doctor is very high quality,” a green-clad barker said. “Do you have cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, insomnia or depression?”
If you did, you were in luck. The doctor was in. The doctor is always in.
Tuesday, I visited the Green Doctors, a hole-in-the-wall storefront next to Jody Maroni’s Sausage Kingdom, where 40 bucks gets you a physician visit, and 25 bucks more gets you a medical marijuana card, the only legal way to buy pot in California. For now.
Customers who receive a medical marijuana card at a place like the Green Doctors can stroll over to a nearby dispensary — at least three are within easy walking distance -- and take their pick of THC delivery systems: smokables, edibles, tinctures, topicals, teas.
(Of course you can check out reviews on Yelp first: “The interior is laid out like an up-scale doctor’s office, very clean with an extremely pleasant ambiance—chairs, sofas and a coffee table in the waiting,” wrote Jennifer S. about the Venice Beach House, a dispensary on Pacific Avenue. “The budtenders are attractive women who are friendly, professional and knowledgeable.”)
The consumption of marijuana, practically speaking, is legal in California, and has been since voters passed an initiative legalizing it for medical use in 1996. Despite the failure in 2010 of a ballot initiative that would have legalized the recreational use of pot, everyone and his brother knows that if you want or need to use the drug, legal barriers are mere technicalities. These days, pot is as ubiquitous a social lubricant as pinot noir.
Like gay marriage, pot is here to stay. And just like gay marriage, it seems like the rest of the country is finally starting to catch on. Or light up.
In November, Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize the recreational use of pot. Twenty states, plus the District of Columbia, already allow medical use.
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who helped blaze the trail on gay marriage, has called for pot legalization, taxation and regulation for adults in California. He is the highest ranking elected official in the state to do so.
Monday, the ACLU announced that he will lead the civil liberty group’s effort to place another pro-pot ballot initiative on California’s November 2016 ballot, though he told me Tuesday evening there is a push to get a measure on the ballot in 2014.
“It’s amazing, really surprising, how quickly we seem be evolving on this,” Newsom said. “Colorado and Washington played a big role in this. There’s a saying: ‘Once the mind is stretched it never goes back to its original form.’ People believe legalization is possible.”
Tuesday, the Gallup organization released a poll showing that for the first time in 44 years, a wide margin of Americans--58% to 39%-- believe marijuana should be legalized.
Less than a year ago, only 48% said pot should be legal. That is an astonishing leap of 10 points in the last 11 months alone.
The percentage of Americans who support legalizing pot has been steadily inching up for more than 40 years. When Gallup first asked the question in 1969, only 12% thought it should be legal, and 84% thought it should not.
Gallup’s latest numbers indicate that support for legalizing marijuana is still something of a partisan, and regional, issue. Sixty-five percent of Democrats support it, but only 35% of Republicans do. The East, West and Midwest support legalization. In the South, however, only 44% support changing the laws.
But independents, those coveted voters who swing elections, appear to have made the biggest impact: 62% say they support legalization, up from 50% last November.
Predictably, there’s a generation gap. Younger adults between 18 and 29 are much more supportive of legalizing pot (67% to 31%) than folks 65 and older (45% to 53%). But even among senior citizens, support for legal pot has leaped about 14 points in the last two years.
In a survey released last week, the Tulchin Research organization, polling for the ACLU, found that nearly two-thirds of California voters (65%) now support a proposal to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana sales to adults.
Though marijuana remains illegal under federal law, Atty. Gen. Eric Holder said in August the government would not interfere with new state laws legalizing pot. (Selling it to minors, however, or trafficking it across state lines will still incur the government’s prosecutorial wrath.)
“The big question is: How do you do it right?” Newsom said. “Some want to legalize, and let the chips fall where they may. I am not one of those. We want to keep it out of the hands of our kids.”
He and his panel will study a raft of issues: whether the legal age for purchasing pot should be 18 or 21, how to enforce driving-under-the-influence laws, how to regulate cultivation and sales, where revenue would go (schools? law enforcement?), and how to deal with the already thriving medical marijuana sector.
Whatever the panel comes up with, though, will be a proposal to regulate and tax what is already a fact of life.
In Los Angeles, pot has become so much a part of the landscape that the battles it inspires are NIMBY fights about where dispensaries can be located and how many a neighborhood should have to to bear.
The new reefer madness looks nothing like the old reefer madness.
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