More than a decade ago, U.C.L.A. drug policy expert Mark Kleinman was interviewed by The New York Times to discuss in-depth his reasoning why marijuana legalization was a poor idea.
While the removal of penalties for small amounts of possession, cultivation and use made sense, he said, he wasn’t in favor of the establishment of a commercial market that would inevitably lead to even more consumption of the drug, which, like anything else, could have adverse affects if abused or used by adolescents.
His shift in views, writes Times columnist Bill Keller, is reflective of where we are going as a nation with this issue. Washington, alongside Colorado, have become the first two states that have approved legalization for production, sale and consumption of the drug for those over the age of 21. This historic move makes nationwide legalization not a question of if, but how and when.
We have few models upon which to rely. In the Netherlands, for example, there is a limited amount of legalization.
Beyond that, examples are sparse. A number of local jurisdictions throughout the country have decriminalized private, personal use of the drug. There are 18 states total that have approved it for medicinal purposes. Another 12 states are considering medicinal approval.
So Washington and Colorado are essentially on their own in striking a balance – a particularly difficult feat, given that marijuana is still considered a Schedule I substance under federal law. Federal prosecutors with the U.S. Justice Department have yet to provide further guidance on how states should proceed.
No one sees that changing anytime in the immediate future. Kleinman, for example, says it won’t happen until “the second Hillary Clinton administration.”
As California experienced in its being the first to legalize medical marijuana, the pitfalls are plentiful, and they can’t always be avoided.
Kleinman says that perhaps the best model is the wine industry. It would be a market that is fragmented. It would have numerous producers, and none would become dominate. Doing this might mean restricting licenses and also allowing people to grow a few in their homes on their own.
Among the considerations that are being made right now in Washington:
- Certifying laboratories that will test for both contamination and potency;
- The development of consumer labels;
- Hiring teams of inspectors who will ensure that everyone is compliant with all the rules;
- Setting restrictions on advertising.
On top of all that, there is the issue of marijuana DUIs, and how the state will move to regulate that. Colorado recently enacted a marijuana DUI bill that quantifies marijuana intoxication as the presence of 5 nanograms of THC or higher in the blood system. Washington passed a similar measure last year, even before legalization. This system is wrought with issues, as there is no scientific basis for this threshold.
The bottom line is that whatever system is established, it’s bound to be imperfect because it’s the first. California knows that story well. But with this continued shift in opinions, it seems we are at least headed in the right direction.
The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 949-375-4734.
How to Legalize Pot, May 19, 2013, By Bill Keller, Opinion, The New York Times
More Blog Entries:
Measure D Still Leaves Los Angeles Dispensary Policy Hazy, May 27, 2013, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog