August 19, 2018

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Carl Wellstone

Carl Wellstone is a writer, blogger and civil libertarian.

Longtime Activist John Sajo’s Open Letter to Oregon Governor Kate Brown

 

Oregon politicians are planning on dismantling the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP) and go against the will of voters by passing Senate Bill 964, without any public testimony. Previous to Senate Bill 964 being crafted in the cover of darkness, the precursor bill was Senate Bill 844. Senate Bill 964 could lead to intrusive “seed to sale” tracking that could make it too expensive for compassionate growers to continue providing free or low-cost medical cannabis for patients, especially considering a  letter calling for extensive tracking from Oregon Governor Kate Brown. Under Senate Bill 964, the Oregon Health Authority has unfettered access to force growers to comply with tracking requirements, such as cameras providing a live feed to government agencies and unannounced inspections that can lead to law enforcement being called for any violations.

Longtime activist John Sajo’s open letter to Oregon Governor Kate Brown is very pertinent to the Senate Bill 964 debate as hardly anyone has as much experience with the Oregon cannabis community than Mr. Sajo. The leader of the 1986 legalization attempt, Sajo articulately illustrates the futile nature of trying to curtail the black market with rules and regulations that will only push Oregon growers underground. This letter was first published at www.CannabisAndSocialPolicy.org:

This is an open letter to Governor Kate Brown regarding SB 844, and tracking medical marijuana.

My name is John Sajo and I would like to comment on your May 1, 2015 letter to the Joint Committee on Implementing Measure 91.

I have been an advocate for marijuana reform for over thirty years. I collected my first signatures on a marijuana initiative petition in 1982. I have spoken to legislators about marijuana laws every session since then. I advised the drafters of measure 67 (the OMMA) on the language of that law and worked on that 1998 campaign. I co-founded Voter Power, an Oregon nonprofit which worked on implementing the OMMA and advocated for broader marijuana reform. I co-authored measures 33 and 74 which unsuccessfully attempted to legalize dispensaries in 2004 and 2010. I served on the Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana from 2006-2010. I advised the sponsors of measure 91 on the language of the initiative and contributed financially to the campaign. I served on the Roseburg Advisory Committee on Medical Marijuana in 2014. I am currently the Executive Director of the recently formed Umpqua Cannabis Association.

There is much discussion about eliminating the black market as one of the goals of Measure 91. Breaking the black market down a little bit will help analyze how to reduce it. There are many different aspects of the black market but they are not equally dangerous.

The black market is any sales of marijuana outside the legal, regulated system. After July 1 , when legalization takes effect, there will be many ways marijuana can be transferred between adults that will be legal but outside the regulated market. Any adult will legally be able to give any other adult up to an ounce of marijuana. Anyone holding a medical marijuana card can already legally give any other cardholder up to 24 ounces of marijuana. Thousands of pounds of marijuana will be exchanged legally between adults outside of the regulated market.

An adult selling anyone marijuana anywhere other than in a medical dispensary or rec store will be illegal. Anyone selling marijuana to a minor will be illegal. These transactions constitute the in-state black market. They can range from a friend or neighbor exchanging cash for marijuana at home to someone buying marijuana from a stranger on the street. There have been established criminal networks distributing marijuana illegally for decades.

The out-of-state black market is noteworthy because the Cole memo requires states to maintain a robust regulatory structure to prevent it. Oregon has a long history of exporting marijuana. In 1986, Oregon marijuana legalization activists campaigned with a brochure headlined ” Oregon ‘s Billion Dollar Crop” that was based on NORML’s estimate of the value of Oregon ‘s marijuana crop that year. Marijuana seized in other states has been linked to OMMP gardens in many cases but this must be considered in the context of an underground market that was estimated at a billion dollars thirteen years before the OMMA even existed. The percentage of Oregon marijuana exports related to the OMMP is unclear.

Many marijuana grows linked to Mexican cartels have been busted on public lands in Oregon . The largest seizure a few years ago was over 100,000 plants. Presumably most of this marijuana is exported from Oregon through existing criminal networks. There is also a substantial amount of marijuana “hidden in plain sight” in basements, warehouses and outdoors that is cultivated by Oregonians illegally and shipped out of state. Many out of state marijuana seizures are linked to Oregonians with no ties to the OMMP.

After July, marijuana will illegally “leak” out of Oregon through many different channels. Marijuana will be shipped through the mail and through private carriers. People will drive marijuana out of state in their cars. People will fly to other states with marijuana in their luggage. Millions of cars and millions of airline passengers leave Oregon every year. To put the challenge of stopping leakage in perspective note that Colorado sold 140,000 pounds of marijuana in 2014. If Oregon produces a similar amount it would only take a half dozen semi trucks to carry the entire state’s production. Smugglers are no doubt becoming more sophisticated and shipping more marijuana concentrates. A million dollars worth of “shatter” could easily fit in one car. Stopping leakage from Oregon to other states should be recognized as an unattainable goal in a free society.

SB 844 proposed reporting and potential inspections of small medical marijuana gardens as part of a robust regulatory structure to satisfy the Cole memo. This was called “tracking light” but for the thousands of patients and growers who would be subject to warrantless searches of their homes it is not. You write, “I fear that a self-“reporting system of tracking in not sufficiently reliable.” Please consider the burden more rigorous tracking will place on individual patients and medical marijuana growers who are helping a small number of patients.

There are many OMMA patients who depend on their own garden or a grower because they will never be able to afford to buy marijuana at a dispensary. In 2014, 44% of OMMA patients qualified for low income discounts. Intrusive regulations may drive growers for these patients out of the OMMP system and will leave these patients with a difficult time obtaining medical marijuana.

I support tracking of large commercial marijuana farms, but tracking of small patient gardens is an unwarranted government intrusion into the private lives of patients and people trying to help them. Some people support those provisions because they believe it is necessary to satisfy the Cole memo.

The Cole memo does not specify exactly what is required to continue federal tolerance of Oregon ‘s legalization law. It does not mention tracking. In his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 10, 2013 , James Cole did say, ” As the guidance explains, a jurisdiction’s regulatory scheme must be tough in practice, not just on paper. It must include strong enforcement efforts, backed by adequate funding.” There will never be adequate funding to audit every small garden. Oregon has allowed patients and growers to sell untracked marijuana to dispensaries for over a year and the federal government has shown no interest in shutting this down. Washington has a chaotic medical marijuana market with no tracking and the federal government has not acted to shut that down. In December, Congress passed a budget rider that forbids the U.S. Justice Department from spending money pursuing activity legal under a state medical marijuana law and the significance of this is currently being litigated.

Tracking is appropriate for the commercial marijuana industry because it will raise quality, improve farmers’ best practices, and promote efficiency. It will allow any contaminated product to be traced back to its source to identify the cause and minimize any adverse public health impact. Tracking large producers, backed by audits will minimize leakage where it would be most significant. Tracking all the small gardens is unrealistic. Requiring tracking on small cooperative gardens merely adds a burden on patients and their caregivers. What if a patient growing for other patients fails to report or makes mistakes. Are we going to penalize a struggling sick person for being unable to comply with arbitrary and unnecessary red tape?

Tracking finished products is one thing. Tracking plants is quite another. The quality of information in a plant tracking system is suspect. Potentially millions of events and measurements will be tracked. Who is going to audit all that data? When a farmer reports that a plant was destroyed due to mold or bugs, is an inspector going to come check the compost pile? If cameras are required to audit the tracking system in real time, are they going to include night vision sensors to prevent cheaters from picking and diverting flowers in the dark? Can we be confident that hackers will never be able to modify the online data? How will we insure that OLCC employees are not corrupted the old fashioned way with bribes or threats? Tracking may sound good in the abstract but when applied to the real world situation of monitoring growing plants in diverse environments its effectiveness should be balanced against costs.

The only way to diminish the black market is to create a thriving efficient regulated market that significantly undercuts black market prices and offers wider selection, better quality and a safe comfortable environment. The regulated market can produce marijuana much cheaper by allowing commercial growers to cultivate without arbitrary plant limits. The black market can be defeated by market forces, not by arbitrary rules with lots of unintended consequences.

In your letter, you refer to the “costs of a seed-to-sale tracking system for all licensed or permitted marijuana growers…” First, I argue that the dollar costs of actually providing anything beyond the self-reporting system for all the 35,000 OMMA gardens would be astronomical. I doubt it is even possible. Second there is a huge cost in terms of personal rights. Self-reporting and possible inspections are already violations of the right to unwarranted search and seizure. Beyond that, these provisions are causing discomfort and stress to thousands of patients and the people that care for them. At a time when any Oregon household can possess and cultivate marijuana, why should patients or people assisting them by producing marijuana for them be subject to greater scrutiny.

Oregon can and will greatly diminish the in-state black market. The most important part of this will be much lower prices. The problem with this solution is that it will exacerbate the problem of out of state leakage. As Oregon prices drop, more out of state tourists will be attracted here and some will try to take marijuana home to other states. This highlights the real elephant in the room – federal law. It might be worth pointing out that some of this out of state leakage is desperate medical patients from other states seeking relief in states where their medicine is legal. Last year a Missouri patient traveled to Colorado to see if marijuana would help her. It did. She tried taking some home but was arrested driving through western Kansas , where she died in jail because she was denied access to her prescription drugs. An Oregon patient I know was convicted of a felony for mailing marijuana to herself so she could medicate while visiting family in another state. We might also ask if it isn’t better for Americans in other states to be buying marijuana from Oregon rather than supporting the Mexican drug cartels which represent a clear and present danger to national security?

Oregon must implement Measure 91 to satisfy the Cole memo but there are many ways to do so. We should also be aware that actually succeeding in its goals would have some negative unintended consequences. I suggest that Oregon should also spend time and resources trying to lead the federal government away from a dysfunctional and destructive policy that is unsupported by either the citizens of our country or science.

What are some alternatives to seed to sale tracking to minimize out-of-state leakage? I suggest focus tracking on people and money, not plants and patients. There is a virtual gold rush of out-of-state investors seeking to buy marijuana farms and businesses. The most significant and destructive leakage would be if organized criminal enterprises like Mexican cartels or biker gangs in other states own and control Oregon farms. Regardless of tracking, I believe such organizations would be able to divert large amounts of marijuana into their existing distribution networks. This activity could be minimized by delaying out-of-state ownership of marijuana farms businesses and carefully regulating investment in such business. This would prioritize focusing on the most harmful aspects of leakage and would do so with inexpensive effective tactics.

Again I suggest that the best way to eliminate the black market is to allow the legitimate market to undercut it. Timing is very important. Senator Ferrioli’s suggestion that medical dispensaries should be allowed to sell to adult users on July 1 makes sense. Allowing people to legally possess marijuana but giving them no way to legally obtain it for months -if they grow their own- or a year – if they buy at OLCC licensed stores- is a recipe for stimulating, not eliminating, the black market.

Thank you for considering these ideas. I look forward to communicating further with your administration as Oregon implements legal marijuana.

John Sajo
Director, Umpqua Cannabis Association

Mr. Sajo is right. Oregon will not curtail the black market with extensive rules and regulations. Anyone familiar with the Oregon cannabis community, especially the growers in Southern Oregon, will know that they have strength in numbers and they can all go to the black market and Oregon authorities will not be able to stop the flow of marijuana into the black market, they will only exacerbate the flow. Only by making rules and regulations sensible, will Southern Oregon growers be willing to come into the light of the day.

Cannabis is an Embarrassment of Riches

For many people, the multitude of medical uses of cannabis is too much to take. Since they find it hard to believe that one plant can tackle so many ailments and debilitating conditions, they falsely conclude that all of the medical uses must be hooey. I must admit that I was one of those people as well. It just seemed too good to be true. However, as more and more research is being conducted, science is bringing to light what the cannabis community has known for decades–marijuana is real medicine.

National Geographic has just published a great piece tracking some of the history of of medical marijuana and hemp, touching on the evolution of the plant and demonstrating how far we have come today:

In Siberia charred seeds have been found inside burial mounds dating back to 3000 B.C. The Chinese were using cannabis as a medicine thousands of years ago. Marijuana is deeply American too—as American as George Washington, who grew hemp at Mount Vernon. For most of the country’s history, cannabis was legal, commonly found in tinctures and extracts.

Then came Reefer Madness. Marijuana, the Assassin of Youth. The Killer Weed. The Gateway Drug. For nearly 70 years the plant went into hiding, and medical research largely stopped. In 1970 the federal government made it even harder to study marijuana, classifying it as a Schedule I drug—a dangerous substance with no valid medical purpose and a high potential for abuse, in the same category as heroin. In America most people expanding knowledge about cannabis were by definition criminals.

But now, as more and more people are turning to the drug to treat ailments, the science of cannabis is experiencing a rebirth. We’re finding surprises, and possibly miracles, concealed inside this once forbidden plant. Although marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug, Vivek Murthy, the U.S. surgeon general, recently expressed interest in what science will learn about marijuana, noting that preliminary data show that “for certain medical conditions and symptoms” it can be “helpful.”

The entire National Geographic article is certainly worth reading as Hampton Sides interviews the chemist Raphael Mechoulam, who discovered THC; a botanist; biochemist Manuel Guzmán, who has found THC to reduce and even eliminate tumors in mice; a caregiver and a geneticist to shine a light on the current state of medical marijuana science. From glaucoma to Crohn’s disease to inflammation to potentially even unlocking the cure for cancer, the medical properties of marijuana are clearly astounding. Dr. Mechoulam regrets that he doesn’t “have another lifetime to devote to this field, for we may well discover that cannabinoids are involved in some way in all human diseases.” Manuel Guzmán has a “gut feeling” that cannabis is a real cancer killer. Geneticist Nolan Kane, a researcher at the University of Colorado, states that cannabis “is an embarrassment of riches.”

While it is heartening to learn about the cutting-edge scientific advancements we are making with medical marijuana, it is sad to think about all of the people denied the benefits of this important medicine all of these years, and even across this great nation today. When local politicians in a progressive state like Oregon are allowing the Drug War mentality to seep into their policies  and wannabe presidential candidates like Chris Christie proclaim that they would use federal agents to run roughshod over voters’ will and halt cannabis commerce, it demonstrates how vigilant we must be. While we are winning this war waged upon us, it is literally a matter of life and death that we prevail so we can truly ensure that people are never denied safe access to a safe and important medicine.

D.A.R.E. Thinks Marijuana Can Kill

A recent post on D.A.R.E.’s website claimed that edible marijuana was responsible for the deaths of nine people in Colorado and another twelve people at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California earlier this year. While the headline blames marijuana directly for the deaths of these people, it isn’t until one delves into the article that they discover the same type of propaganda that has been used against marijuana proponents for years.  From the headline alone, it looks like a great article if you’re anti-legalization — the problem is that the article was satire.

That didn’t stop one of the most prominent anti-legalization organizations in the country from spreading the lie that marijuana can kill, however.  This blatant fiction has again and again been parroted all over the country by groups opposed to legalization of cannabis, regardless of the fact that marijuana has never killed anyone, ever.

But, since we seem to be living in an age where people can pick and choose which facts they believe, I’d like to take this time to provide you with the hard scientific facts about marijuana overdose — whether or not you choose to accept them is your choice.

Let’s take a look at median lethal dosage.

From Wikipedia:

In toxicology, the median lethal dose, LD50 (abbreviation for “lethal dose, 50%”), LC50 (lethal concentration, 50%) or LCt50 (lethal concentration and time) of a toxin, radiation, or pathogen is the dose required to kill half the members of a tested population after a specified test duration. LD50 figures are frequently used as a general indicator of a substance’s acute toxicity. A lower LD50 is indicative of increased toxicity.

In a 1988 DEA brief, Judge Francis Young did the math regarding marijuana’s LD50, and determined that

“It is estimated that marijuana’s [median lethal dosage] is around 1:20,000 or 1:40,000. In layman terms this means that in order to induce death a marijuana smoker would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times as much marijuana as is contained in one marijuana cigarette. [National Institute on Drug Abuse]-supplied marijuana cigarettes weigh approximately .9 grams. A smoker would theoretically have to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about fifteen minutes to induce a lethal response. In practical terms, marijuana cannot induce a lethal response as a result of drug-related toxicity.

That’s right, 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about 15 minutes to induce a lethal response.  It is physically impossible to consume that much marijuana, period. In fact, in the same DEA Brief, Judge Francis Young found that

“Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.”

When Dr. Ron Schwerzler mentioned five infant deaths in Colorado as a result of edibles at last years “Great Cannabis Debate” for Measure 91 in Oregon, the crowd shouted back “lies” and “source.”

The next time you read or hear about deaths as a result of marijuana use – take a cue from that audience – call out those responsible on their lie.

No Fun League: NFL Behind the Times on Marijuana

The National Football League finished up the 2015 draft, bringing in new players that will go on to make millions of dollars and win Super Bowls while others will fade out of the league or never make a roster at all. Some of these players are big and strong, others quick, some fast, some with the right combination to win MVPs and potentially a bust in the NFL Hall of Fame. But of all the traits that will determine future Pro Bowlers versus washouts, marijuana usage doesn’t matter any more than alcohol or video games on how well they will perform on the field.

Unfortunately, however, marijuana use could cost some of these athletes millions of dollars and potentially their entire career. Following a minor marijuana citation, the Missouri Tigers’ Shane Ray, one of the most feared pass rushers in the draft fell out of the first 10 draft picks, past number twenty, into the arms of the Denver Broncos, who traded up into the #23 spot to take the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year. Thanks to the citation, Ray will be subjective to extra scrutiny and random drug tests for the first part of his career. Of course, not lost on anyone is that Ray was drafted into a state that has legalized marijuana, into a city that is certainly on the short list for cannabis capital of the world.

The Denver Post’s Mark Kiszla comments on the absurdity of it all:

So riddle me this: How many of the 31 other first-round picks in the 2015 NFL draft do you think have smoked marijuana? Fifty years ago, it was smuggling cases of Coors out of the Rocky Mountains under a blanket in the back of a pick-up truck. Now, the rest of the USA can blame Colorado for spreading sticky icky throughout the country.

During the past 12 months, thanks to everybody from Ray Rice to Aaron Hernandez, pro football has given America a chance to have gut-wrenching discussions on social issues from domestic violence to the entitlement that can cause an athlete to believe it’s possible to get away with murder.

But, for more than a year, forward-thinking NFL leaders such as Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll have been advocating that marijuana be studied by the league for its potential benefits as a natural medicine rather than reefer madness to be punished with a suspension for repeat offenders.

Medical marijuana has been mainstream for easily over a decade and legalized cannabis not only enjoys strong majority support, but even naysayers admit that legalization is inevitable. The NFL, sometimes lampooned as the “No Fun League” for clamping down on on-the-field celebrations, when it has a dark history of violence, drug addiction and traumatic brain injuries. NFL Pro Bowler and Super Bowl Champion, Mark Stepnoski and rushing champion Ricky Williams have demonstrated that cannabis use isn’t detrimental to performance while Olympic champion Michael Phelps has shown that a marijuana user can be the greatest athlete in his or her field. I love the NFL, American loves the NFL, but it is time that the No Fun League represents a majority of the country and recognize the legitimate medicinal benefits of cannabis.

420 Events Nationwide

Happy April 20th!

The unofficial marijuana holiday is being celebrated with rallies and smoke-outs all over the world, with the largest events being held in Canada, The United Kingdom, and The United States. Over the weekend, an estimated 125,000 people attended a 4/20 two-day celebration in Denver’s Civic Center Park – and reports from earlier in the day  estimate that thousands gathered at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco for a smoke-out, openly defying the law in California where recreational use of marijuana remains illegal.

While Coloradans celebrated mostly over the weekend, the annual smoke-out celebration at Civic Center Park scheduled for today did not go as swimmingly as planned. Organizers were unable to obtain a permit for the celebration, and by the end of the festivities, Denver Police issued approximately 100 citations. While this may seem like a lot of citations, let’s take a moment to remember the victory that each one of those citations represents. With legalization of marijuana in Colorado, each citation issued today replaced a potential arrest of a non-violent cannabis user, saving the state thousands in sunk incarceration costs. Instead of wasting money, legalization allowed the state to generate new revenue through these tickets.

Holiday festivities around the country went well for the most part, New Yorkers hosted a Reefer Madness Reunion Concert, Oregonians had a cannabis-awareness walk at the state’s capitol in Salem, and in Philadelphia, the largest city in the U.S. where marijuana is decriminalized, organizers held a fundraiser march at Independence Hall.

It’s safe to say that the 4/20 festivities this year were larger than ever before, and definitely drew more attention in the media than in previous years. The reality that four states and the capitol that have fully legalized marijuana and twenty-three others have legal medical marijuana is (seemingly) setting in. The festivities in 2016 are sure to draw even more people and media attention, especially with legalization of marijuana being such a hot-button political issue in a presidential campaign year.

President Skirts US Policy’s Role in International Drug Trade

Last week the President visited Jamaica, the first time a sitting President of the United States has been there since Ronald Reagan visited the island nation in 1982. While in the country, the president held a townhall Q&A session in which a man named Miguel ‘Steppa’ Williams asked Obama the question that is on everyone’s mind: what is the United State’s policy regarding the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana?

“How did I anticipate this question?” the President joked. Once again, the President made light the topic of the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana, a plant that he has admitted himself has medical use, not to mention, has used infamously as a member of the “Choom Gang” in his youth. Though the president himself openly admits that marijuana has medicinal benefit, it remains classified federally as a Schedule I drug – the same classification in which one can find drugs like heroin, LSD, and mescaline.

To refresh your memory, for a drug to be classified as Schedule I, it needs to meet the following criteria.

  • The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.
  • The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.
  • There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision

As we all know, and the President himself admits – marijuana has medicinal value. Right there is the justification one would need to delist marijuana from its current Schedule I classification. But, in the age of spin and science-denial from both the right and left, we’ve seemingly come to accept this sort of doublespeak and contradiction from our elected officials.

Though Obama acknowledged the epidemic of non-violent drug offenders filling our prisons and fact that four states and the capital have legalized marijuana, he falls flat when he mentions the international aspect of marijuana prohibition. What the President believes about marijuana contradicts the official federal scheduling of the drug, yet he is reticent to push for rescheduling. He admits marijuana has medical benefit and yields that states are free to experiment with legalization, but fails to acknowledge the harmful aspects of prohibition and the classification of marijuana as Schedule I internationally. Nowhere has the president mentioned that the federal policy of prohibition and classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug artificially increases the revenues of black market dealers, and sustains black market demand of marijuana globally.

Rescheduling Marijuana would allow for more relaxed penalties for non-violent drug users at home and would severely impact the black markets that the policy of prohibition has created. With the upcoming UN General Assembly Special Summit on Drugs happening in 2016 – now is the time for Obama to take an active stance and be a leader on the issue of marijuana legalization worldwide. Former US Presidents, the former UN Secretary General, and former Presidents of Mexico and Columbia, all openly endorse the failure of the war on drugs. Will we have to wait for Obama to finish his term to openly claim that the War on Drugs and marijuana specifically has failed? Or should we expect him to be a leader on this issue both at home and internationally?

President Obama Continues to Ignore Marijuana and Hemp Legalization

“How did I anticipate this question?” President Barack Obama jokes when asked about US marijuana policy while in Jamaica. The person posing the question mentioned that cannabis and hemp provided economic opportunities for Jamaica. After his initial joking, President Obama mentioned that two states had already implemented marijuana legalization and that positive results in future states would “spur on a national debate, but that is going to be some time off.” Excuse me, Mr. President, but the national debate is here and now and unfortunately, you seem to be ducking the issue, when you should be showing true leadership.

The legalization of cannabis is a question that has been repeatedly posed to President Obama, particularly by young Americans. In a recent VICE News interview with the President, Obama was again asked on his views about legal marijuana by VICE CEO Shane Smith. His thoughts? “It shouldn’t be young people’s biggest priority. Let’s put it in perspective: Young people, I understand this is important to you, but you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs, war and peace. Maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana.”

You’ve gotta hand it to the President, as someone who owes his two terms in the Oval Office to the youth vote, he’s masterful at shutting down their most frequently asked questions about federal drug policy. As you may recall, back in 2009 the President held an online town hall Q&A session: citizens were asked to vote on questions that the President would then answer, in the first Internet-facilitated townhall of its kind. Over 193,000 people submitted questions, more than 3.5 million people voted on these questions, and of the first 200 highest rated questions, 198 had to do with drug policy. Instead of taking the opportunity to address our nation’s failed drug policy and answer these questions seriously , the President took this opportunity to crack a joke. “I have to say that there was one question that was voted on that ranked fairly high, and that was whether legalizing marijuana would improve the economy and job creation – I don’t know what this says about the online audience [cue laughter] – but…this was a fairly popular question, we wanted to make sure it was answered. The answer is no, I don’t think that is a good strategy to grow our economy.”

What legalization in Colorado and Washington have shown, is that YES, legalization is a good strategy to grow our economy. Thousands of jobs have been created in the first two states to legalize marijuana, and this growth is forecasted to continue in Oregon, and Alaska, the first four states to legalize marijuana. These jobs mean more people paying taxes, and the taxes that are levied on growers, retailers and consumers are new sources of revenue that are going into the system and not into underground markets that could fund cartels and other criminal enterprises.

Young people are thinking about the economy, about jobs, about climate change and about war and peace. The criminalization of a plant that has never killed a single human being as a result of its use and the policy of prohibition that stems primarily from racism in the 1930’s is hurting the younger generation, which is why these questions are consistently asked.

Legalization of marijuana would create jobs, does create jobs – it allows for tax dollars to go to schools, roads, and government projects. Hemp production would allow us to create sustainable biofuels, plastics, food, and even building materials, allowing us to fight against climate change by replacing or supplementing the fossil fuels we currently rely on.

War and peace? The War on Drugs hits us closer to home, 1.5 million people were arrested for non-violent drug offenses in 2013, not to mention the the turmoil and violence that prohibition has caused our southern neighbor, border, and states.

And yet, despite all of the benefits of ending prohibition, President Obama continues to ignore marijuana and hemp legalization as legitimate policy choices. When he, of all people, as a former Choom Gang member, should understand just how lucky he is that a marijuana arrest didn’t derail his future. If he would have been unlucky enough to be arrested, he could have experienced 8 years in the big house instead of the White House. Maybe, President Obama, it’s you and not the young people (to whom you owe your stay in the White House in the first place), who has their priorities out of order.

Stoner Culture Goes Mainstream

Legal in four states and the nation’s capital, positioned to be made legal in several states in 2016, and now seemingly as American as apple pie and baseball. It’s plain to see there has been a sea change in public opinion about cannabis use. Cannabis, ganja, marijuana, — it’s everywhere we go — we see the familiar leaf emblazoned on clothing, it’s used in major films, we hear about it in music, and in the political realm, the president is hounded by questions of legalization. What was once a symbol of the counterculture in the United States seems to have become a part of mainstream culture.

We have seen this shift reflected in film, with the most obvious shift happening with the resurrection of “stoner-buddy” type comedies – a genre that was arguably created in 1978 with the release of Cheech and Chong’s “Up and Smoke.” Throughout the past two decades, we’ve seen majorly successful films with marijuana use and “stoner culture” at their core. “How High,” “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle,” “Pineapple Express,” the list goes on. With half the country supporting legalization, and it’s recreational use so prevalent in film and media, it’s safe to say that marijuana is not going away anytime soon.

What does the shift in mainstream opinion about marijuana use mean for “stoner culture” itself? Is the “stoner culture” that accompanies marijuana use now mainstream? Can we expect a large majority of the population to understand “420” or “710” references? Time will tell, but it seems like, at least in film, that YES, we can. A bit of a strange feeling, isn’t it? It seems like that scene from Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay where our beloved protagonists smoke marijuana with President Bush might not be too far off from reality.

Oregon State Sen. Ted Ferrioli Questions OLCC’s Marijuana Role

Determining which government agency should regulate marijuana is certainly an important choice for every state that legalizes cannabis. Colorado chose the state revenue department while Washington, Alaska and Oregon went with the respective states’ liquor control commissions. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) has undergone recent turmoil with the firing of their Director of Marijuana Programs, Tom Burns, often referred to as the state’s Marijuana Czar.

Just under a week after the firing of Burns, Oregon State Senator Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day) asked the Measure 91 Implementation Committee’s Administrator, Adam Crawford, whether any state had a stand-alone state “cannabis commission” regulating a state’s marijuana industry. Mr. Crawford stated that he was unaware of any cannabis-only regulatory body, but that he would research the matter. Senator Ferrioli, the Senate Republican Leader, then went on to state that, “notwithstanding the heroic efforts of the OLCC staff, my confidence in their ability to manage this program is rapidly diminishing.”

The conservative Republican went on to wonder if the state wasn’t missing an opportunity to utilize experienced cannabis industry participants. The senator’s statements caused quite a stir among the attendees of the hearing as well as among the members of the committee. One lobbyist was overheard stating that Ferrioli “just dropped a bomb.” It looks like controversial times may not be over for the OLCC. Those interested in the rollout of the Measure 91 legalization implementation, stay tuned to Marijuana Politics for updates.

Senator Ferrioli’s questions about the stand-along cannabis commission and his statement about his diminishing confidence in the OLCC start just after the 1:56 mark: