Man, remember when we passed a cascade of medical marijuana initiatives in the 1990s, normalizing pot and building support for full legalization? That was great. Most Americans now support legalizing pot. And—even better—genuinely sick people in 17 states can hold down a meal without being sentenced to prison. But now that Initiative 502 threatens to legalize marijuana in Washington State, medical marijuana entrepreneurs have arrived on the scene (taking advantage of those laws we passed) and are the leading force to stop legalization. Their No On I-502 PAC, their magazines, their dispensaries, and their authorization clinics are braying that legalizing pot will lead to more arrests and that legalization's regulations will hurt patients. In the last 24 hours, more than a dozen misinformed people have contacted me with complaints that if they can only possess an ounce of pot, if medical marijuana patients aren't allowed to drive high, and if folks have to pay taxes at stores, well then, it's not legalization. Hogshit.
Lots of legal commodities are highly regulated! Do these medical marijuana advocates also believe that, say, tightly controlled tobacco is illegal? Corn, petroleum, gin—are those things illegal because they're taxed? If this was actually about reducing the number of patient arrests, they'd want to legalize marijuana by passing I-502. That would finally provide arrest protection for patients in possession, which they don't have now. But this isn't about policy—or patients—for a lot of these industry folks.
Watch this incredible video from 4Evergreen Group, one of the leading anti-legalization campaigners, which runs a business writing authorizations for people with ostensibly debilitating conditions:
They look real sick dancing around and smoking Swisher cigars stuffed with weed, don't they? "We are here to have fun," one of the guys in the video says. "Have you signed up?" This is one reason that nobody with half a brain takes the "medical" patients' opposed to legalization seriously.
First, they look to me like the most indulgent stoners of all—an embarrassment and liability to the actually sick people who need pot to hold down a meal or manage pain. Second, they seem largely concerned that they might have to—the injustice, the horror—meet regulatory standards and pay taxes.
Look, there's nothing wrong with non-sick people getting high. But the medical-pot industry leaders are taking advantage of a two-tier system: You can use pot with impunity if you pay into their system. If you pay for an authorization and patronize their dispensaries, you're safe. Everyone else? Everyone who doesn't pay up or is too ethical to fake an illness can be prosecuted for pot. And then those same businesses are using their profits to, you know, oppose legalization and make sure their lucrative system remains intact. The people running these pot business are largely white and wealthy, and they have nothing to lose. They're apparently fine letting cops lock up lots of poor black and Latino people for pot as long as "patients"—many of whom aren't actually sick, it must be said—can keep paying up. If I-502 fails, it's because of the medical pot industry's greed and selfishness. These industry interests may be a necessary byproduct of compassion for the genuinely sick, and medical pot laws weren't a mistake—they're probably a necessary step to legalizing marijuana. But they're also the biggest obstacle to progress.