June 9, 2008

The slippery slope of medicinal marijuana.

When California voted for Proposition 215, they were picturing terribly ill patients and modest houseplants, but, of course, it doesn't stop there. The NYT reports:
[P]atients need a prescription to acquire medicinal marijuana, but the law gave little guidance as to how people were to acquire it. That gave rise to some patients with marijuana prescriptions growing their own in limited quantities, the opening of clubs to make it available and growers going large scale to keep those outlets supplied.

In turn, that led to the kind of worries that have bubbled up in Arcata, home of Humboldt State University, where town elders say roughly one in five homes are “indoor grows,” with rooms or even entire structures converted into marijuana greenhouses.

That shift in cultivation, caused in part by record-breaking seizures by drug agents of plants grown outdoors, has been blamed for a housing shortage for Humboldt students, residential fires and the powerful — and distracting — smell of the plant in some neighborhoods during harvest....

In May, Arcata declared a moratorium on clubs to allow the city council time to address the problem. Los Angeles, which has more than 180 registered marijuana clubs, the most of any city, also declared a moratorium last year.

“There were a handful initially and then all the sudden, they started to sprout up all over,” said Dennis Zine, a member of the Los Angeles City Council. “We had marijuana facilities next to high schools and there were high school kids going over there and there was a lot of abuse taking place.”
If you make an exception in the law that bans something many people want to do — and do even when it is illegal — that exception is going to be exploited. But here, it seems, you have activity far beyond the original exception and a drastic failure of law enforcement. If the law isn't enforced, it's no wonder more and more people flow into the activity.

It's a good time to look back on Justice Scalia's concurring opinion in Gonzales v. Raich (2005), which upheld the application of the federal Controlled Substances Act to the activity the California law attempted to legalize. (Federal power, based on the Commerce Clause, depended, to put it simply, on the effect on interstate commerce.)
Drugs like marijuana are fungible commodities. ... [M]arijuana that is grown at home and possessed for personal use is never more than an instant from the interstate market–and this is so whether or not the possession is for medicinal use or lawful use under the laws of a particular State. Congress need not accept on faith that state law will be effective in maintaining a strict division between a lawful market for “medical” marijuana and the more general marijuana market. “To impose on [Congress] the necessity of resorting to means which it cannot control, which another government may furnish or withhold, would render its course precarious, the result of its measures uncertain, and create a dependence on other governments, which might disappoint its most important designs, and is incompatible with the language of the constitution.”
The Court was asked to "accept on faith" that California would enforce the line drawn by its law. Here's Justice O'Connor evincing the requested credulity (boldface added):
Both federal and state legislation–including the CSA itself, the California Compassionate Use Act, and other state medical marijuana legislation–recognize that medical and nonmedical (i.e., recreational) uses of drugs are realistically distinct and can be segregated, and regulate them differently....

There is simply no evidence that homegrown medicinal marijuana users constitute, in the aggregate, a sizable enough class to have a discernable, let alone substantial, impact on the national illicit drug market–or otherwise to threaten the CSA regime. Explicit evidence is helpful when substantial effect is not “visible to the naked eye.” And here, in part because common sense suggests that medical marijuana users may be limited in number and that California’s Compassionate Use Act and similar state legislation may well isolate activities relating to medicinal marijuana from the illicit market, the effect of those activities on interstate drug traffic is not self-evidently substantial....

The Government has not overcome empirical doubt that the number of Californians engaged in personal cultivation, possession, and use of medical marijuana, or the amount of marijuana they produce, is enough to threaten the federal regime. Nor has it shown that Compassionate Use Act marijuana users have been or are realistically likely to be responsible for the drug’s seeping into the market in a significant way.... The Court ... says that the California statute might be vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous physicians, that Compassionate Use Act patients may overproduce, and that the history of the narcotics trade shows the difficulty of cordoning off any drug use from the rest of the market. These arguments are plausible; if borne out in fact they could justify prosecuting Compassionate Use Act patients under the federal CSA. But, without substantiation, they add little to the CSA’s conclusory statements about diversion, essentiality, and market effect.
If confronted with the evidence described in the article, would O'Connor concede she got it wrong? Probably not. She said she was talking about medicinal users who grow their own marijuana. The growers described in the article are clearly growing for others and engaged in commercial operations.

The real problem is the lack of law enforcement. Since the Court upheld federal power, why isn't it used here? According to the NYT article:
In Arcata, a 29-year-old man, who asked that his name not to be used for fear of arrest, said that he earned about $25,000 every three months from selling marijuana grown in a back room to club owners from Southern California.

But others in Arcata are less welcoming. Kevin L. Hoover, the editor of the local newspaper, The Eye, has made a practice of confronting people he believes are growing marijuana. Their houses are easy to spot, he said — covered windows, tall fences, cars coming and going late at night. “Sometimes the whine of fans,” he said.
Since it would be so easy to arrest these people, why are they not more afraid? Where is the enforcement? The NYT writes:
Also complicating law enforcement’s job is that marijuana is still illegal in the eyes of the federal government, which has been increasingly aggressive about prosecuting club owners they feel have crossed the line into commercial drug dealing.
Why does this complicate local law enforcement? It seems to be that both state and federal law enforcement should target the same large-scale operations. The feds could go after the terribly sick patients with houseplants, but why would they, when there are all these far less sympathetic growers to prosecute?
Among those recently convicted in California include a doctor and his wife from Cool who were given five years each in March for conspiracy to sell marijuana and growing more than 100 plants; a club owner from Bakersfield who pleaded guilty in March to possession of 40 pounds of marijuana with intent to distribute; and Luke Scarmazzo, a 28-year-old club owner and aspiring rapper who faces 20 years to life in prison after a conviction last month for running a multimillion-dollar club in Modesto that the government called a criminal enterprise.
How many are being prosecuted? Much as I like colorful details in news articles, I would sacrifice the knowledge that Scarmazzo is an aspiring rapper in exchange for some some comprehensive statistics about law enforcement.

61 comments:

TMink said...

That is a lot of verbage and excitement concerning a dead plant in a baggie. Perhaps the unintended consequences of the medical option have more to do with the insanity of prohibition than the law(s) in discussion.

Trey

George said...

Surprising that the maniacal Mexican drug gangs have not gotten involved, i.e. with shoot-outs, massacres, kidnappings, etc.....

rdkraus said...

The real problem is the lack of law enforcement.

The real problem is that 150 million Americans have smoked pot, and they all know it's no big deal, and millions continue to want to smoke, and it should have been legalized a long time ago.

I favor legalization of all drugs (based on individual ownership of our own bodies) for adults, but even non-libertarian types should have figured out by now that making pot illegal is .... STUPID. An enormous waste of time and money, and the criminalization of vast numbers of people who are not harming anyone (except in a very few cases themselves, but that's their choice).

rhhardin said...

It's the slippery slope of interstate commerce.

Wm F Buckley was against the war on drugs from the beginning, on the grounds that it only makes organized crime profitable where it otherwise would not be. It's hardly a libertarian position.

Zach said...

Todd Zywicki at the Volokh conspiracy had more than a few sour grapes posts about the Scalia opinion, if I recall correctly.

The question of gullibility in legal rulings is an interesting one. I laughed a little when one of O'Connor's sentences you highlighted included the phrase "may well." Is there another phrase that says so clearly that the author is about to make a mistake?

...California’s Compassionate Use Act and similar state legislation may well isolate activities relating to medicinal marijuana from the illicit market...

If the phrase were "may" instead of "may well", you'd expect the next sentence to offer support. Possibly it would even engage Scalia's "never more than an instant away from the interstate market" argument. "May well" implies that a judgement has been made, but begs off giving the basis for that judgement.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

"Surprising that the maniacal Mexican drug gangs have not gotten involved, i.e. with shoot-outs, massacres, kidnappings, etc....."

Surprise!! They have. We can't go into the forests hiking or off roading without going fully armed and in groups for fear of being attacked.
here

here

and here

In addition to the personal danger they present to people who want to enjoy the forests, they also leave garbage, sewage and other filth behind completely destroying the areas where they are "camping".

OldGrouchy said...

Alcohol Prohibition in 1920 - 1933 served only to enhance the power of the Mafia and people like Joe Kennedy while it did little to resolve whatever problem it was supposed to fix. Not at all certain that Prohibition was meant to fix alcoholism or public drunkenness.

Likewise, our drug prohibition doesn't stop drug use. The old Mafia and new versions from So. America and elsewhere are flourishing along with local drug dealers.

I really don't like the idea of legalizing recreational drugs but perhaps it needs to be examined and perhaps even tried. Law enforcement hasn't been a success either so it's time to try some different.

Zach said...

I could be persuaded to support pot legalization. (although you should really talk to a clean resident of Amsterdam sometime -- they can get pretty pissed off at the druggies.) But the libertarian argument for drugs of addiction leaves me cold. Where's the free will in a heroin addict choosing to shoot up more heroin?

Tibore said...

If medical marijuana is supposed to be a controlled substance, why isn't it being distributed through pharmacies or other actual medical venues, where control can be established? Seems to me that the legislation is completely half-assed, and law enforcement rounds out the ass'edness in this whole issue.

Ann Althouse said...

Tibore, those places are regulated by federal law. They can't sell controlled substances that can't be prescribed for any reason under federal law. All this activity is criminal under federal law. The fact that the state condones some of it can't change that. It's a ridiculous mess, and California is not competently controlling its own program the way the voters expected. Now California could step out of marijuana control altogether and leave it to the feds to deal with. But I don't think California voters are ready for that.

Too many commenters are repeating the old preference for legalization. I get it. But would you please focus on the immediate problem, where California only voted for personal, medicinal use and the feds make it all illegal, and towns are burdened by illicit greenhouses. Try to say something more interesting than: And that's why drugs should be legal. We are nowhere near there as a country, and there are some troubling problems to be solved now. I know marijuana enthusiasts and libertarians want to say, the only solution is full legalization. Try to say something more specific about precise problem described in the article.

dbp said...

It seems to me that CA could easily regulate this: Every California resident with a valid prescription could be offered a license to produce.

The license would limit growth to say two plants at a time and the right of local law enforcement to inspect the site (without warning) to ensure cultivation does not excede the medical need.

In cases where it is not possible for a holder of a prescription to grow their own, they could assign (through the state license agency) their quota to another grower.

Some product would leak into the recreational market, but this would knock down most of the problem.

I am BTW for legalisation, but the above is meant to answer the immediate question.

Zach said...

I wonder how the existence of a legal channel affects the choice to prosecute an illegal operation.

If I operated an illegal growing operation, the first thing I would do is get a certificate to be a medical marijuana supplier. Then anybody raiding me would have to prove that my operation was growing marijuana illegally, which would obviously harder to prove than the mere existence of a growing operation. I could even set up shadow marijuana clubs and a fake set of books, if I thought it would help.

Kirk Parker said...

"(Federal power, based on the Commerce Clause, depended, to put it simply, on the effect on interstate commerce.)"

Yes, on a pretext that's so preposterously transparent that even a 5th-grader should be able to see through it.

And here's the perhaps-obligatory PS: I'm strongly opposed to the "War on Drugs" and greatly resent the corrupting, militarizing effect it's had on our law enforcement agencies; but on the other hand am very ambivalent about the idea of simply legalizing some of the currently-banned drugs.

Trumpit said...

Since it would be so easy to ( ? ) these people, why are they not more afraid?

Much as I like colorful details in news articles, I sacrifice the knowledge that Scarmazzo is an aspiring rapper for SOME SOME comprehensive statistics about law enforcement.

_________________________________________

PLEASE FIX THE TYPOS. Interesting analysis. I lived in Eureka, CA and attended school at Humboldt State Univ. for 2 non-consecutive semesters. It's a public school with a private school feel, nestled in the Redwoods. I'll make a comment later when I get home from work.

Pogo said...

I have mixed feelings about this. Prohibition had the unintended side effect of introducing organized crime to the US.

Decriminalization seems wise for this more benign drug.

But tell me, in an era where smoking is increasingly prohibited, and even WF Buckley called to ban tobacco use, how is it we can justify smoking weed but not tobacco?

And in the era of hyperlitigation, with tobacco companies owing billions to various lawsuits, who do you suppose will take responsibility for manufacturing weed to be sold legally?

The concepts are completely contradictory.

PatCA said...

"You have activity far beyond the original exception and a drastic failure of law enforcement. If the law isn't enforced, it's no wonder more and more people flow into the activity."

We just defeated the request for a medical marijuana facility in our city. The police gave a presentation that made sense. In the real world, what cops hate is disorder as opposed to crime. Our police said that if you want to dedicate all your force to monitoring the marijuana facility, fine, they can monitor and evaluate whether any law is being broken and arrest a probably guilty person. Otherwise, forget it, it's too time consuming and will result in lawsuits and negative press about some poor innocent arrested by the goons.

It's all about big money. The movement has lobbyists in DC. Why is that? If this is a necessary medicine, why is it not dispensed by physicians like any other narcotic?

You can't ask a city police department to enforce every exquisitely crafted scheme without regard to real world practice. Either it's legal or it isn't--don't blame the cop on the beat for failing to meet totally unrealistic expectations.

Cedarford said...

Economic laws of supply and demand - and popular resistance by the American People against complete ban "absolutists" imposing draconian laws - ensure that such blanket bans on alcohol, pot, harder drugs, fireworks, cigarettes, and firearms are flouted - by resorting to "homemade", blowing off state law and bringing the getting illicit imports across our Borders (the the Ruling Elites willfully keep open to illegals and drug smuggling for their own financial benefit).

The "medicinal" pot commercialization problem in CA and other states could be cured in the most part by putting commercial product in legal prescription drug distribution channels with "brand and price" issues worked out in a legal market, still allowing small private growers, and cracking down hard on black market major commercial pot growers..
Part of the problem was the people and authorities in California got quite offended by the arrogant DEA. And their "shove your stupid local laws", your Federal Masters "order Zero Tolerance" mentality.

Lawmakers always underestimate human ingenuity.

We can control stuff coming across our Borders if we choose to, but we have whole industries of immigration lawyers, ACLU activists, corporate lobbying groups wanting cheap labor, and an obscenely large contingent of "legitimate" bankers, realtors that want Open Borders for illegal drug traffic.
So Borders, the one place where control is realistic, is out.

Attempting to stop interstate traffic is futile. Which is demonstrated by all the state border fireworks shops, liquor stores, cigarette outlets.

Want a gun in a clueless asshole state like New Jersey that says law-abiding citizens are only allowed rifles and shotguns on a state bureaucrats whim with a 200 buck application, FBI fingerprinting, investigation and mandatory firearms familiarity course even for Army Vets and ex-police? Simple. Have a friend in another state with saner laws buy a gun, even the awful "handgun, or "assault" semi-auto hunting rife. Then have them "gift you" the gun where both of you say the gun was a gift, no money exchanged. State can't do anything about that or any guns you inherit or have legally purchased when resident of another state.

Human ingenuity goes past brilliant ways of outwitting the DEA Gestapo.
In California, NY, most Blue States - the high price of cigarettes has led to a proliferation of organized cigarette smuggling gangs, many from the ME and quite bad (like Hez and Hamas). One semitrailer of Marlboro cartons out of Kentucky is an instant 43,000 in profit once it hits NYC, even with lower level dealers getting their 5 bucks a carton cut. In California, they have gone with diversion of export cigarettes, even bulk tobacco, and set up illegal cigarette factories with alien Mexican labor. Even hand-rolled cigarettes sold by entreneurs (20 cigs takes a good maker about 5 minutes to roll using 40 cents in material and sells on the street for 5 bucks)
And people have made guns and fireworks from scratch. Both are pretty simple to do, though pretty dangerous compared to stuff made with quality controls.
I've done homemade fireworks. All you need is powdered metal, an oxidizer, a suitable container. A friend once made an AK-47 from blueprints off the internet and old car parts in his metal shop in 3 weeks - just to see if it would work well. It did. Then he junked it because the thing is actually easier to make in full auto mechanism than a semi-auto one. (And an illegal full auto gun IS one of the things that does have draconian penalties associated with it) But it is comforting to know that the public cannot be completely disarmed by the American Government

And we all know about moonshiners, meth labs..so easy an illiterate hick could do it..

P. Rich said...

One obvious problem with nationwide federal enforcement of any law is availability of resources. This becomes evident repeatedly in areas such as disaster response and border/immigration enforcement - and prohibited substances. The states need to be the first line of defense in all such cases; but the states (and cities) are choosing to cherrypick their responsibilities, especially when as usual there are local costs (monetary or political).

rdkraus said...

Sorry Ann, I should have stuck to the subject. Something about the insanity of our drug laws sets me off - and I don't even do any.

It was an interesting analysis.

Justice O'Connor could be the most "activist" Justice ever. A perfect example of a Justice who thinks she is a super legislator, literally "making" law from the bench, rather than ruling on statutes passed by others. Her opinions in the recent affirmative action cases illustrate this perfectly. She never met a problem that couldn't be solved by a three way test (that she made up, but could be found nowhere in the Constitution).

Scalia is usually pretty good on this, but somehow went off the rails here. I suspect the drug laws also set him off, but in the other directiion (from me).

former law student said...

If you make an exception in the law that bans something many people want to do — and do even when it is illegal — that exception is going to be exploited.

True, but the exception does not drive marijuana cultivation in that part of the world. It's a very rural area with few legal ways to make a dollar. Ray Raphael's Cash Crop: An American Dream shows that even a quarter-century ago, marijuana growing was a major industry on the North Coast.

It's all about big money. The movement has lobbyists in DC. Why is that?

Uh, to advocate changing the law? Many grass roots movements hire lobbyists: Gun rights advocates, pro-choice women -- heck all three Presidential candidates spoke in front of AIPAC.

If this is a necessary medicine, why is it not dispensed by physicians like any other narcotic?

Because in the Controlled Substances Act, Congress has labelled marijuana a Schedule 1 substance. By Congressional fiat, marijuana has "no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision."

former law student said...

how [can we] can justify smoking weed but not tobacco?

Human beings historically will risk their health to alter their consciousness. But the risk-payoff ratio of tobacco is unfavorable: There are pot parties and cocktail parties, but no cigarette parties.

And in the era of hyperlitigation, with tobacco companies owing billions to various lawsuits, who do you suppose will take responsibility for manufacturing weed to be sold legally?

Weed is a crop; cigarettes are a manufactured good. If R.J. Reynolds sold people handfuls of dried leaves instead of cancer sticks their responsibility would be attenuated. If I'm injured by a wine-drunk driver, the grape grower has the least culpability in the grower-winery-dram shop-drunk driver chain.

blake said...

...Arcata, home of Humboldt State University, where town elders say roughly one in five homes are “indoor grows,” with rooms or even entire structures converted into marijuana greenhouses.

Wow, only one in five? Do they say what caused the sudden, drastic drop?

Chip Ahoy said...

I was reading this post just fine and everything was computing as I went along until I got to the part where it goes, "to impose on congress the necessity of resorting to means which it cannot control, which another government may furnish or withhold, would render its course precarious, the result of its measures uncertain ...", legal legal something something and my thoughts flipped over to an entirely unrelated subject, actually seeing it with my mind, while my eyes continued scanning down the post as if they were still reading it but without bothering to comprehend anything because the other thing I was thinking was so engaging. Then I got to the end and thought, "Oh bloody wow. Man, that was weird."

OK, now what were we talking about again?

Oh plants. Right. I like plants. Plants are good. They absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen, you know. As a matter of fact, I add CO2 to aquariums. The plants love it. Then, of course, the fish take in the oxygen the plants let off allowing for an increased population of both, so everybody benefits here, here, and here.

Zeb Quinn said...

It's a ridiculous mess, and California is not competently controlling its own program the way the voters expected.

Truth be told, scratch an advocate for medical marijuana and what you'll usually find underneath is a pothead who just wants to get loaded. That's the true impetus for medical marijuana. A way to "legally" get pot. Plus, they're clearly operating under the strategy that if they can just somehow winnow a legalization of pot for one purpose --any purpose--that'll get them one step closer to overall legalization. Same way with people who extoll the wonderous uses hemp.

blake said...

Maybe Trumpit will chime in on this, but I've always associated Humboldt with marijuana use. I think there's a CSU Humboldt logo that has the leaf on it.

I don't know about others as far as commenting on this particular issue and not the War On Drugs in general, but I think I disagree with your premise.

When California voted for Proposition 215, they were picturing terribly ill patients and modest houseplants

I wasn't. (Er, assuming I voted for it.) I'm sure there are naive people out there who were, but I'm equally sure a large number of people saw it as a "foot in the door", as Zeb suggests.

If the law isn't enforced, it's no wonder more and more people flow into the activity.

Sure, but if the law is vague--and, let's face it, the propositions that get on the ballot in this state are so incomprehensible, we have to always have two or three, all purporting to outdo the other ones, while (at best) all but one are actually designed with the intent of fooling the voters--why would a cop bother?

"Oh, look: An ambiguously legal activity that I can get beat up over trying to stop! Sign me up for that!"

We are nowhere near there as a country, and there are some troubling problems to be solved now.

Aren't we? I've never taken anything strong than aspirin in my life (and I've used aspirin-like substances a total of twice in my adulthood), and find myself regarded as a curiosity (or a liar).

I mean, it's true that we're not in the sense that we're increasingly meddlesome and feel that the state should have the power to regulate anything we don't like or trust, but in the sense of "OMG! You smoke the devil's weed?" Meh.

Actually, the problem I'm having is figuring out what the problem is here. I wouldn't care for the smell if I lived in Humboldt, but in L.A. it'd be just one of many smells one endures, and far from the worst.

I can see the potential for violence should drug dealers decide to eliminate their home-grown competition. But I think this would throw the whole situation into sharp contrast: The Fed's going to break into honest citizens' homes to prosecute more-or-less law-abiding folk while letting the violent gangs run free?

Pogo said...

If R.J. Reynolds sold people handfuls of dried leaves instead of cancer sticks their responsibility would be attenuated
You have more faith in lawyers than I do. Why exactly wouldn't RJR be sued for selling a product that is sold precisely because it is going to be smoked? They have been sued for selling tins of tobacco for chewing and pounches for smoking. Why do you think avoiding the value-added part releases them from liability?


If I'm injured by a wine-drunk driver, the grape grower has the least culpability in the grower-winery-dram shop-drunk driver chain.
Yes, so we sue the bartender. And this means that RJR, Pot Division, would be free to sell, but distributors become liable. So what? So Taco Bell got sued for selling bad tomatoes. Won't they sue the growers? Even if true, the problem remains the same: someone's going to get sued for selling it.

As a former law student, surely you know that. It's what lawyers do best.

Original Mike said...

Ann said: When California voted for Proposition 215, they were picturing terribly ill patients and modest houseplants ...

I wouldn't be so sure about that.

Amy said...

These links might help a bit -- Bureau of Justice Statistics for 2006 and 2007.
http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/pdf/t4382006.pdf

http://www.albany.edu/sourcebook/pdf/t4382007.pdf

John Stodder said...

I know marijuana enthusiasts and libertarians want to say, the only solution is full legalization. Try to say something more specific about precise problem described in the article.

It's difficult. The public's embrace of the medical marijuana concept was undertaken by the polity, I suspect, as a safety valve to allow limited but real access to the least dangerous, most popular of the traditional illegal drugs of 60s yore. The potential for unintended consequences was enormous and predictable. Terms like "medical" and "personal use" are infinitely expandable. Add to that the utter contradiction between state and federal law -- federal authorities raiding facilities that cities expressly permit and the state condones -- and you've got a problem that can only be addressed via abandoning the whole experiment.

So it really does come down to prohibition vs. decriminalization. Either the medical pot clubs should be made illegal and all closed down and medical marijuana use be designated as legally no different from recreational use, thus illegal; or they should remove the hypocritical "medical" designation and turn it into a legal product whose cultivation, distribution and consumption can be regulated and policed without the aid of the Mexican Mafia. To stick to the "precise problem" described in the article is akin to discussing the "precise problem" of talking caterpillars in Alice in Wonderland.

The fact is, you're right, federal law enforcement could decide to set up a task force in Humboldt County and, working with the utilities and other entities that keep records which might reveal the patterns of a grow house, begin making arrests and conducting prosecutions. In fact, that ball is probably already rolling due to the NYT's publicizing of this issue. The feds react primarily to headlines and pictures.

If their hand is stayed from doing that, it might mean they are worried about the political effect of such show trials could be to bring down the drug-war regime. But if I were running a grow-house operation in Arcata today, I would pack up the plantation, today, so as not to be the guy of whom the FBI decides to make an example.

One curious thing: Humboldt County was a famed outdoor growing area. Why would the indoor growers also be there, making such an obvious spectacle of themselves? Has Arcata become the Silicon Valley of marijuana cultivation? Maybe that's what protects them. Despite the hostility of the local editor and the university, maybe the town fathers like all the money going into local merchants' pockets, so the sheriffs are asked to look the other way.

Anthony said...

Truth be told, scratch an advocate for medical marijuana and what you'll usually find underneath is a pothead who just wants to get loaded. That's the true impetus for medical marijuana.

Essentially correct, I think. Were their interests even remotely pure they would be lobbying congress and the FDA to fund basic fast-track research into creating safe and effective drugs based on MJ. I wish they'd just be honest and argue for legalization and be done with it. This sort of lying just weakens their case.

Of course, if pot ever were to be legalized you can bet RJ Reynolds would be first in line with an entire product line of cannibis-based items. One wonders what the hippie set would make of that development.

Pogo said...

So why is it exactly that smoking tobacco is verboten, but marijuana is tolerated?

If it is argues that it is "stupid" for pot to be illegal because it because it results in "the criminalization of vast numbers of people who are not harming anyone (except in a very few cases themselves, but that's their choice,", why treat tobacco differently?

Troy said...

Why isn't the medical marijuana law being enforced? First, pot up in Humboldt County is a way of life. The place is lousy with pot and potheads. Most don't use of course, but it's remote and has the perfect climate for growing marijuana and it's easy to hide in the thick forests.

Second -- POLITICS. If one in 5 homes are growing... many of those folks either vote already or will vote if the sheriff -- an elected official -- cracks down. Even the cities/towns may be contracted with the sheriff's department to do law enforcement so there are no -- or not many -- municipal police dept's to do the job. People usually or eventually get the law enforcement they want -- especially with sheriffs.

The Feds could be spotted a mile away up there.

Legalization will not get the Mexican gangs out of it just like legalized gambling didn't get rid of the Mafia or the Russians and the growing illicit cigarette market or booming moonshine businesses all over the U.S.

It's not that drugs should be or not be legalized -- the public just needs to be clear-eyed as to what it is doing. The Compassionate Use Act was mostly about legalizing pot. They should just say that and then put it on the ballot.

Trooper York said...

Pedro: Man, what is in this shit, man?
Man Stoner: Mostly Maui Waui man, but it's got some Labrador in it.
Pedro: What's Labrador?
Man Stoner: It's dog shit.
Pedro: What?
Man Stoner: Yeah, my dog ate my stash, man.
Pedro: Yeah?
Man Stoner: I had it on the table and the little motherfucker ate it, man. Then I had to follow him around with a little baggie for three days, man, before I got it back. Really blew the dog's mind, ya know?
Pedro: You mean we're smokin' dog shit, man?
Man Stoner: Gets ya high, don't it?
[Song, "Rockin' Robin" plays... ]
Man Stoner: I think it's even better than before, you know?
Pedro: Uhhh, I wonder what Great Dane tastes like, man.
(Up in Smoke, Cheech and Chong 1978)

TMink said...

The problem is not the pot, it is the hypocricsy of the quasi legal status. The previous posters who wrote this were accurate. Fish or cut bait, legalize it or throw them in prison.

Trey

Kirk Parker said...

Pogo,

"The concepts are completely contradictory."

Shhhhh--you aren't supposed to notice!

But since you did bring it up: yes indeed. What do you suppose is driving my ambivilence?

Palladian said...

"Weed is a crop; cigarettes are a manufactured good. If R.J. Reynolds sold people handfuls of dried leaves instead of cancer sticks their responsibility would be attenuated."

What do you think cigarettes are made of? If you're going to reduce C. sativa to "dried leaves" then why is tobacco not also "dried leaves". Smoking any kind of dried leaves will probably give you cancer. Why should we single out the Noble Weed Tobacco as the bad guy?

Palladian said...

PS: I hate cigarette smoke as much as I hate marijuana smoke. I wish everyone smoked pure, rich pipe tobacco if they have to smoke at all.

chuck b. said...

"It seems to be that both state and federal law enforcement should target the same large-scale operations..."

I think they do. Anecdotally, it seems like there's a story on the local news every night about the feds busting a large-scale marijuana growing operation somehwere in the Bay Area. And I think there are more and more stories about local enforcement doing that as well. (Is federal money attached?) Whatever, there is definitely some pushback.

The feds have been esp. successful shutting down medical marijuana clubs in San Francisco and Oakland by threatenting to seize the real estate where the clubs operate.

I think you have to ask who wants to pay for this enforcement. What and where are the electoral benefits to be had by bragging about busting marijuana growers? It's hard to imagine in Calif's most populous regions.

Prosecuting marijuana operations is a fine line between something people want to see happen, and something that could backfire. Which is why it's interesting to watch the process unfold democratically.

Trooper York said...

In New York City the guys that used to sell weed are selling regular cig's out of the trunk of their cars. They make more money trucking in the untaxed cig's from down south.

blake said...

That's nice of the state to provide them with job security, Troop.

rhhardin said...

But would you please focus on the immediate problem, where California only voted for personal, medicinal use and the feds make it all illegal, and towns are burdened by illicit greenhouses. Try to say something more interesting than: And that's why drugs should be legal.

The legal system is a system, and is subject to ordinary pitfalls of systems.

One of which is that you can't make a system run counter to human motivations.

The trick in building systems is making them run downhill, not uphill.

You can be infinitely wise and your illegal pot system will still not work, in spite of every reform. Which is what Buckley said.

This is an excellent book. Get the earliest edition you can (Systemantics, by John Gall). It tended to bloat with each revision.

John Stodder said...

What and where are the electoral benefits to be had by bragging about busting marijuana growers?

Compared with cocaine and heroin, marijuana makes for better stats from a PR perspective. It weighs more, allowing law enforcement to brag about how many "pounds" of "narcotics" or "illegal drugs" they have seized, and it looks better on TV than a bunch of powder, pills or rocks. For that reason, too, plus the powerful odor, it's easier for law enforcement to find.

The continued perception of success in the drug war -- assuming that perception exists -- depends heavily on marijuana to boost the stats, so the government will fight hard to keep it illegal.

Pogo said...

Maybe we need a drug effect constant, say, the Kesey or K, whereby one beer equals 1K.

My ignorance tells here, but perhaps:
1 beer = 1K
1 joint = 2K
Oxycontin = 3K
Morphine = 5K
Cocaine = 50K
Methamphetamine = 100K
LSD = 10K + 5 TL (Timothy Learys)

The the cops can report that they captured a gazillion K today, and pot would have no particular advantage by it's weight or volume, and everybody's happy. Some are very happy. Even too happy, and why won't they just shut up and put down the flower pots and go to bed?

Revenant said...

What do you think cigarettes are made of? If you're going to reduce C. sativa to "dried leaves" then why is tobacco not also "dried leaves".

Tobacco is dried leaves, but cigarettes are dried leaves wrapped in a paper tube for the specific purpose of being smoked by human beings. Suppose you have two companies, one of which sells boxes of rat poison and the other of which sells pill bottles of rat poison "chewable tablets" in Tropical Fruit flavor. Which of those two companies is more likely to run afoul of the ban on assisted suicide?

Besides, what would marijuana producers or retailers be sued *for*? There is some evidence that smoked marijuana raises cancer risk, but you don't have to smoke it to enjoy its effects. Nobody ever got cancer from a pot brownie. You're right that bars and bartenders sometimes get sued for selling alcohol to people the jury thinks they shouldn't have sold to, but that's because bars sell alcohol for immediate public consumption; supermarkets, liquor stores, and other wholesalers and retailers have as little liability as anyone can have in a lawsuit-happy nation like America.

Revenant said...

Legalization will not get the Mexican gangs out of it just like legalized gambling didn't get rid of the Mafia

It pretty much did get rid of the Mafia, or at least the Mafia's role in gambling.

Sure, to start off with there were a lot of Mafia ties to gambling, just like there were to alcohol production or pornography. But that's because they got in on the ground floor. The thing is, criminals tend to be impulsive, vindictive, and not terribly bright, which means they tend to lose out to legitimate businessmen over the long run. So the big liquor companies and casinos are pretty much mob-free today, or as mob-free as you can get dealing with union labor.

rhhardin said...

Here's a way to tell whether drugs are for private use or for the market.

Find out whether the guy votes in favor of or against legalization.

Private growers are for legalization, market growers are against legalization.

Why against? All the profit comes from the excess of selling price over growing price. Without the risks of distribution, there's no way to support a huge markup.

Troy said...

Revenant... It got the Mafia out of Vegas and Atlantic City, but illegal offshore gambling is bigger now than it ever has. The Mafia has a huge interest in many so called "Indian" casinos as well. Sports book makes the NY York and NJ mob, et al. millions. There is billions of illegal gambling in the U.S. -- al while legalized gambling is spreading like wildfire. Legalizing anything does not make it go away and tends to make it more prevalent.

I'm not arguing against legalizing marijuana per se, but voters should know that:
1. it will NOT stop illegal pot and may actually increase it and
2. pot use will increase across the board.

That's not hyperbole; it just is.

montana urban legend said...

I'm wondering how many of you live in CA or are personally more familiar with the state. I understand we're supposed to address some overly complicated, incredibly arcane and useless legal rulings having to do only with the intended, medical use in the proposition - per the professor's instructions - but the fact of the matter is that many sections of CA don't seem to mind if marijuana is used recreationally. The fact that increasing numbers of municipalities are enacting statutes to relegate enforcement of non-medical violations of the legislation to the lowest priority possible shows that CA is ahead of where the professor claims that "(w)e are nowhere near... as a country". It seems to me that Santa Monica, Santa Cruz and I'm sure quite a few other places are voicing an interest in making a change to what "the voters expected."

Of course, the other possibility is that they're trying to force the problems related to enforcement back into the state's court, but I would tend to doubt that's anywhere near their primary motivation. Google "cannabis... santa monica", "santa barbara", "san francisco", etc. and you'll see which organizations are celebrating the passage of these measures.

Ann Althouse said...

"the fact of the matter is that many sections of CA don't seem to mind if marijuana is used recreationally."

Read the article. What they mind is the greenhouses all over the place. It's not something I'd want in my town, quite aside from whether individuals were using marijuana. If I had something like that near my house, I would be livid.

Revenant said...

Revenant... It got the Mafia out of Vegas and Atlantic City, but illegal offshore gambling is bigger now than it ever has.

The key word in that sentence is "illegal". Legalize it and in ten years it'll be dominated by a joint Carnival Cruise Lines/Harrah's operation or something.

The Mafia has a huge interest in many so called "Indian" casinos as well. Sports book makes the NY York and NJ mob, et al. millions.

There is billions of illegal gambling in the U.S. -- al while legalized gambling is spreading like wildfire.

Illegal gambling flourishes because people want to gamble and can't do it legally. That's why mob domination of gambling is limited to areas where it is illegal or heavily restricted.

Revenant said...

I'm not arguing against legalizing marijuana per se, but voters should know that:
1. it will NOT stop illegal pot and may actually increase it

That doesn't make any sense.

You need other people to gamble with; you can't be your own bookie. To produce cocaine you need a lot of farmland and a good degree of chemical knowledge. To patronize a prostitute you need to find a woman willing to trade sex for money. But to grow pot you just need a couple dollars' worth of fertilizer, some water, and sunlight. Virtually ALL of the cost of marijuana is cost of the legal risk of dealing it.

2. pot use will increase across the board.

Sure, that pretty much goes without saying.

former law student said...

Blogger Ann Althouse said...

It's not something I'd want in my town, quite aside from whether individuals were using marijuana. If I had something like that near my house, I would be livid.


Hmm... I wonder if Ann knows that medical marijuana is legal in Madison? And legalization was supported by some quite respectable groups.

Generally indoor grow operations use a lot of electricity, and the lights generate a lot of heat. (Remember the case that decided if thermal imaging constituted a search?) Nowhere near as dangerous as a meth lab though.

http://www.madisonnorml.org/blog/archives/2005_03.php

http://www.immly.org/mmmjaw_text.htm

Posted by Gary Storck
March 23, 2005

As Madison voters go to the polls this April 5th, many may not be aware that the date is the 28th anniversary of the day Madison made history by voting to legalize the medical use of marijuana with a doctor's recommendation as well as to decriminalize the personal possession of a specified amount of marijuana on private property.

It was on April 5, 1977, when Madison voters passed Question 6, which became Madison General Ordinance 23.20 click here, by a 60/40 margin. Signatures to put Question 6 on the ballot had actually been gathered and filed in 1976, but the November 1976 ballot was crowded with other initiatives, including two advisory referendums about marijuana, and it was placed on the spring ballot. The November 1976 advisory referendums regarding decriminalization and legalization both passed, with voters narrowly supporting legalization by a less than 300 vote margin and giving the nod to decriminalization by a 63/37% margin with a 20,000+-vote edge.

A Nov. 4, 1976 Wisconsin State Journal news article about the results notes that at the time marijuana decriminalization had the support of groups from "the State Council on Drug Abuse to the League of Women Voters to the State Council on Criminal Justice," as well as the Wisconsin Association on Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse (WAAODA).

Ann Althouse said...

Former Law Student, there are 2 big problems there:

1. It's still a crime under federal law, medical use or not.

2. Those California growers described in the article were going way beyond providing for their own medicinal use -- or the medicinal use of others.

Now, exactly what is your point?

The question continues to be what has the state decided it will not criminalize and quite aside from that there is no question but that it's ALL a crime under federal law.

Even if it were legal to grow marijuana on a large commercial scale, there would still be zoning and it would not be permitted in my neighborhood!

And even if it were entirely legal, I would still be able to be angry about it happening in my town.

funkspiel said...

Prohibition: Didn't work then, doesn't work now.

www.leap.cc

montana urban legend said...

"The question continues to be what has the state decided it will not criminalize and quite aside from that there is no question but that it's ALL a crime under federal law."

My understanding is that Raich's option at this point is to argue medical necessity. The Supreme Court accepted, as a finding of fact, the doctor's testimony that she could die from the spasms she experienced if she were denied the medicine he prescribed. While the country at large might be ok with banning marijuana in the absence of such considerations, I'm very curious to see how they would respond if she were to appeal her case on the grounds of life-saving medical necessity, only to be rejected by the Supreme Court on those grounds specifically.

Also, you are factually incorrect regarding "ALL" use being "a crime under federal law". The federal government has a program where IT SUPPLIES marijuana to patients whom it has deemed in need of the substance. My understanding is that at its height up to twelve to twenty individuals were treated under this program. Although following crackdowns under the Reagan administration, only six surviving patients are still being treated. You can search for details on that under the Compassionate Use IND Program. I have seen tapes of Irvin Rosenfeld, as one example, and it seems difficult to argue anything other than that this is an individual with an extraordinary and dire medical condition who would be in a very different physical state today otherwise, assuming he'd even still be alive.

Troy said...

Rev... as to my point above -- I forgot to put the word "federal". Pot will still be illegal federally and many will not run afoul of the DEA and draconian sentencing.

Sorry to leave that out. I don't think the feds will ever legalize it. There's a social cost that goes with pot too I'd argue, but that's Off topic here.

I've become more of a libertarian on it in the past few years -- not on hard drugs though.

montana urban legend said...

So I'm not sure how to address the zoning issue vis a vis the operation of farms that cultivate cannabis plants, but perhaps we could ask the Federal Government, seeing as how they grow and supply it, for tips on what sort of set-up they would recommend?, how to get around local complaints, keeping the operations away from irate locals, etc., etc.

former law student said...

Hi Ann,

My point was only that likely the same issues you address regarding California and its medical marijuana laws were of concern in Madison, and for quite a bit longer because the ordinance was enacted some thirty years ago. The resolution to announce Medical Marijuana Awareness Week underscores that medical marijuana use still has local government support.

Therefore, marijuana is likely grown in Madison, perhaps even in your neighborhood. And perhaps some that is grown under the pretext of being for pain relief or appetite stimulation is sold and used recreationally. Even without the exemption for medical use, I suspect that marijuana is being grown nearby -- I see that like most towns, Madison has a hydroponics store. It's not all about growing your own salad greens or even orchids any more.

Of course marijuana growing is illegal under Wisconsin state law, and under federal law, and of course you have the right to oppose its growth in your neighborhood. Sorry to have been so vague.

Revenant said...

Rev... as to my point above -- I forgot to put the word "federal". Pot will still be illegal federally and many will not run afoul of the DEA and draconian sentencing.

Ok, that makes more sense then. Yes, if the feds keep cracking down on production and distribution of drugs, organized crime will continue to dominate production and distribution. As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever, amen.

But the long-term trend is pretty clear; support for legalization has been consistently increasing for forty years, and support for anti-marijuana laws has been consistently decreasing. Throw in the facts that (a) the drug war is extremely expensive in money and loss of rights and (b) the government's going to need to come up with trillions of dollars to fund the baby boomer retirement, and I think it is likely marijuana will be legalized sometime in the next ten to twenty years. Especially since medical use is already being legalized at the state level in numerous states; that's a foot in the door.

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