Marijuana legalization is a beginning, not an end.
When residents of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the adult use of cannabis, it felt like a momentary rush of sobriety in a country dazed by decades of anti-marijuana hysteria. But what comes next?
The drug war edifice is cracking and the end of prohibition may be nigh. Or may not be. The way things play out is not preordained. Major strategic differences among legalization proponents are surfacing about how to proceed. Some drug policy reform leaders, fearing an official backlash, are urging a cautious, go-slow, approach: make it as easy as possible for the feds to back off and let the states do their thing. Other voices, claiming a pro-pot electoral mandate, are calling for bold, assertive moves to implement the will of the voters.
Some medical marijuana dispensary operators are celebrating the prospect of expanding into adult sales, while others worry about getting squeezed out as weaker players fold in an increasingly competitive, multibillion-dollar industry. Mom-and-pop growers in the Emerald Triangle of Northern California, America’s cannabis bread basket, who’ve paid their dues over the years, cringe when they hear of post-election overtures to tobacco companies from single-issue obsessed, DC-based, drug policy reform lobbyists who presume to speak for tens of millions of cannabis consumers.
The future of cannabis is up for grabs – as much as anything can be in our ailing, corporate-dominated culture. So why not think big? Here are some ideas:
1. Tax and Regulate: Endorsed by 500 economists and several Nobel laureates, a 2005 report projected that ending marijuana prohibition in the United States would save $7.7 billion in combined state and federal spending, while taxing herb transactions would bring in $6.2 billion annually—a net gain of close to $14 billion. Whatever funds that re-legalizing cannabis adds to federal and state treasuries should be matched dollar for dollar by cuts in the obese Pentagon budget, which currently exceeds the combined military expenditures of the next 21 countries on earth. If the United States can’t defend itself with a budget equal to the combined military expenditures of the next top 10 countries, then America’s military leaders are incompetent and ought to be dumped.
2. Cultivate: Implement small-is-beautiful regulations capping the number of marijuana plants in a way that favors family farms rather than agribusiness giants. Make organic farming practices mandatory and discourage high-energy intensive indoor grows. Tobacco companies – or any businesses Big Tobacco invests in – shall not be permitted to grow cannabis or produce cannabis products. Tobacco farmers instead will be encouraged to cultivate industrial hemp, which was needlessly banished from the American agricultural landscape because of the war on drugs. Offer tax breaks for farmers and companies that engage in large-scale cultivation and production of fiber hemp, a versatile, ecologically sustainable plant with more than 25,000 known industrial applications – everything from hemp clothing, food and cosmetics to hemp surfboards, insulation and car panels.
3. Exchange: Organically grown marijuana should be available for barter and purchase by men and women 18 years and older in licensed cannabis dispensaries, herb stores, farmers markets, whole (small "w") food emporiums, and health clubs from sea to shining sea. Liquor stores, drug store chains and supermarket chains will be barred from selling marijuana because they sell dangerous, unhealthy products: cigarettes, booze, toxic household items, children’s toys reeking of endocrine-disrupters, pharmaceuticals with pernicious, sometimes lethal, side effects, junk food loaded with corn syrup, neurotoxic additives and GMOs. In order to minimize exposure to these harmful substances while promoting cannabis commerce, it’s crucial to disentangle marijuana from mainstream corporate monoculture.
4. Apologize: All marijuana prisoners must be freed immediately and the U.S. government should pay reparations to those whose lives were ruined because they were among the more than 20 million people convicted of violating U.S. laws against marijuana possession. Reparations should also be paid to medical patients -- including military veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injuries -- who have been denied access to marijuana or discriminated against because they used cannabis for therapeutic purposes. And the millions of U.S. drug war victims in Latin America and other countries should also be compensated. This won’t ever happen given the astronomical sums at stake. In lieu of reparations, the U.S. government must issue a formal apology for waging a dishonest, destructive, and logically incoherent crusade against cannabis users at home and abroad.
5. Experiment: Medical marijuana in California, the first state to re-legalize the herb for therapeutic use in 1996, began as a laboratory experiment in democracy, and it has led to a cultural shift in favor of legalizing cannabis for personal use. A portion of the revenue accrued from taxing legal marijuana transactions should be used to underwrite other laboratory experiments in democracy – in particular, green new deal work programs founded on the premise that a green economy entails more than producing environmentally benign consumer goods. Spearheaded by a burgeoning cannabis industry, a green economy will point the way toward novel forms of labor-sharing, voluntary simplicity, and local self-providing, while challenging the tyranny of the job system that was implanted during the industrial revolution. (Work yes!! Jobs no!) Alienation and bleak prospects, not marijuana-smoking, are root causes of amotivation.
6. Educate: For a long time, the illegality of cannabis acted as a deterrent to clinical research in the United States. Recent scientific discoveries regarding the “endocannabinoid system” – which includes “cannabinoid” receptors in the brain and body that respond pharmacologically to marijuana – have breathtaking implications for nearly every area of medicine. This information will be integrated into science classes, medical school curricula, and continuing education seminars for doctors, other health professionals, and the general public. And the federal government henceforth will vigorously sponsor clinical investigations into marijuana’s healing potential, which has barely been tapped.
7. Heal: Make cannabis a centerpiece of a robust single-payer healthcare system that rewards citizens who embrace healthy lifestyles, preventative medicine, and holistic healing options. There should be incentives for women who breastfeed their children (kids who breastfeed are typically healthier than non-breastfed offspring) and for people who medicate with marijuana, exercise regularly and eat whole food diets. (Medical marijuana patients in general drink less alcohol and take less painkillers and Big Pharma meds than patients who don’t use cannabis.) Healthcare costs will plummet when the federal government guarantees that every citizen has access to vitamin D in sufficient quantities, as well as orally ingested cannabis extracts infused with cannabidiol (CBD), a non-psychoactive component of the marijuana plant with remarkable healing properties. Vitamin D combined with CBD will become the “killer” public health app of the post-prohibition era.
8. Occupy: Legalizing marijuana without challenging endemic social injustice is a formula for “repressive tolerance” – cut the masses some slack while they’re getting shafted. Economic inequality is socially divisive, psychologically stressful, and hugely damaging in terms of health outcomes, especially for poor people, who comprise half the population in 21st century America. Massive inequalities disgrace and sicken the United States. Extensive research has shown that health and social problems by almost every measure — from mental and physical illness to violence and drug abuse — are more prevalent in countries with large income disparities. A post-prohibition society that doesn’t address pathological income inequality will not be able to heal itself.