Pubdate: Mon, 5 Oct 2009
Source: CounterPunch (US Web)
Copyright: 2009 CounterPunch
Author: Fred Gardner
Note: Fred Gardner edits O'Shaughnessy's, the journal of cannabis in 
clinical practice.
Cited: National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
Bookmark: (NORML)


Reconciling Medical Pot Use and Legalization

More than 500 devotees of the cannabis plant attended the 38th annual 
NORML convention at the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco September 24-26. 
The crowd was not only larger than in previous years, but people 
seemed to be listening more intently to the speakers, less apt to gab 
outside the auditorium. NORML's goals have been remote and vague for 
decades; now they seem attainable and in need of definition.

Local media coverage centered on the "Regulate, Control, and Tax 
Cannabis Act of 2010" that is likely to be on the California ballot 
in November 2010.  If approved by the voters, it would allow adults 
over 21 to cultivate, possess, and share up to an ounce. Distribution 
would be regulated and taxed by local governments.

The prime mover behind Tax Cannabis 2010 is Richard Lee, an organizer 
with a record of accomplishment --founder of the Bulldog Coffeeshop, 
Cafe Blue Sky (one of Oakland's four permitted cannabis 
dispensaries), and Oaksterdam University (a trade school for the 
burgeoning industry). Lee also helped lead the 2004 campaign for 
Oakland's Measure Z, which made the use of marijuana by adults a 
low-priority matter for the police.

To make the ballot, Lee's team has to get 433,000 registered voters 
to sign petitions over the next five months. A professional 
signature-gathering outfit has been hired to coordinate the efforts 
of paid volunteers.

C.W. Nevius of the Chronicle belittled the initiative's chances of 
winning. "I doubt voters in conservative Orange County will be 
thrilled to vote for the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 
2010," Nevius opined. He was covering sports in 1996 and might not 
know that Proposition 215 carried Orange County with 52% of the vote, 
overcoming opposition by Attorney General Dan Lungren, Governor Gray 
Davis, former Presidents Ford, Carter and Bush, Democratic Senators 
Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, 57 of 58 district attorneys 
(Terence Hallinan being the lone supporter), the sheriffs' lobby, the 
police chiefs', the police officers', and former Surgeon General C. 
Everett Koop.

Some of Rich Lee's former allies are not supporting Tax Cannabis 2010 
because it would penalize smoking in the presence of children and 
stiffen the punishment for providing cannabis to those under 21. 
Dennis Peron is among the detractors.

The Harborside Model

A call for a slower approach to legalization was issued by Steve 
DeAngelo, executive director of Oakland's extremely successful 
Harborside Health Center.  About 70% of the American people support 
legalization for medical use, DeAngelo noted, but fewer than 50% are 
for full legalization. "Why do so many Americans feel comfortable 
with people possessing cannabis but not obtaining it unless they are 
sick?" he asked. "What is the source of their reservations?"

The answer that DeAngelo said he'd gleaned from neighbors, 
bureaucrats, cops, and other sources, is: "their discomfort springs 
from the lack of any positive image of what legal cannabis 
distribution would look like." People envision "armed dealers setting 
up shop and slinging weed on the corners of their suburban 
neighborhoods." They don't want their kids exposed to "glossy ads for 
reefer in the style of Anheuser-Busch."

The way to win the hearts and minds of these swing voters, according 
to DeAngelo, is to establish professionally run dispensaries 
throughout California and other states where they are allowed.  He 
called on NORML (and has been urging the Marijuana Policy Project and 
Drug Policy Alliance) to back dispensary-friendly initiatives in 
states that have yet to enact medical-marijuana laws.

DeAngelo recently formed a consulting firm with the directors of two 
other high-end dispensaries --Don Duncan of the Los Angeles Patients 
Group and Robert Jacob of Sebastopol's Peace in Medicine. They advise 
newcomers to the industry and owners of existing dispensaries who 
want to upgrade their operations. It wouldn't be surprising if this 
group developed a dispensary brand that is franchised nationwide.

DeAngelo, 51, has been a pro-cannabis activist since his early teens. 
A cynic might say that he is now advocating a political strategy to 
advance his business interests. DeAngelo says that he created the 
business to advance his political strategy. They spent $400,000 to 
create a dispensary that Oakland would regard as an asset, not a 
threat. Indeed, Harborside is a secure, clean, well lit, spacious, 
facility. The budtenders are knowledgable and helpful. Members of the 
collective can get acupuncture and other alternative health care, 
free. The seting is a small business park, away from young passersby. 
The inventory is extensive and varied.  All the cannabis that growers 
provide gets tested for pathogenic mold and cannabinoid content at 
the Steep Hill analytic lab, a visionary project that DeAngelo backed 
as an investor. Harborside pays taxes to the state and to the city 
(an obligation that DeAngelo and Rich Lee offered to incur).

One observer impressed by the Harborside model was Roger Parloff of 
Fortune Magazine, who writes in the current issue, "Medical 
marijuana... has given legalization advocates in California a 
first-ever opportunity to devise and showcase a business prototype. 
They've been afforded the chance to show a skeptical public that a 
safe, seemly, and responsible system for distributing marijuana is 
possible. If they succeed, they'll convince the fence sitters and 
lead the way to a nationwide metamorphosis. If they fail, the 
backlash will be savage. If communities cannot adequately regulate 
the dispensaries, they'll descend into unsightly, youth-seducing, 
crime-ridden playgrounds for gang-bangers, and this flirtation with 
legalization will conclude the way the last one did: with a swift and 
merciless swing of the pendulum."

In his talk to NORML, DeAngelo quoted Parloff"s summary of the 
current situation, adding, "As one of those with his head on the 
chopping block, I am very concerned about that pendulum." Then he 
laid out his what-is-to-be-done:

"We must demand the effective licensing and regulation of 
dispensaries... Today, 50% of California jurisdictions still prohibit 
dispensary operations, and many others unnecessarily restrict their 
operations. We must do the sustained political footwork needed to 
move them to effective licensing and regulation.

"We must embrace the not-for-profit, community-service model of 
cannabis distribution. When you boil down the fear of our 25% of 
swing voters, I would submit that it likely comes down to them not 
wanting us as a society to make the same mistakes with cannabis that 
we made with alcohol and tobacco: glamorization, excessive 
advertising driving inappropriate use, profit-making corporations 
enticing their children into lifetimes of dependency."

DeAngelo does not support Tax Cannabis 2010. "If legalization 
initiatives lack effective distribution regulations," he argued, 
"they will likely manifest the worst fears of the key swing voters. A 
legal but unregulated cannabis market would turn into a free-for-all, 
leading to a public-relations mess."

Looking beyond California, DeAngelo called for legislation and voter 
initiatives that "contain provisions that will enable the creation of 
an effective distribution system. All too often our movement has 
traded easy victory for laws that fail to adequately protect us... We 
have accepted medical cannabis laws that severely restrict the 
ability of doctors to write recommendations, which is the first step 
in creating a market large enough to sustain dispensaries.... We have 
accepted severe restrictions on the quantity of medicine patients may 
cultivate, or on their right to collective gardens-which are the 
first steps in creating a sufficient supply of medicine-another 
pre-requisite of an effective marketplace... We have accepted bans or 
restrictions on the right of patients to trade and distribute 
medicine amongst themselves, with obvious implications for developing 
a positive image of cannabis distribution.

"These self-defeating half steps must end. If we accept these kinds 
of restrictions, we will never be able to place positive images of 
cannabis distribution in front of our fellow citizens. We will blow 
this historic opportunity to win them over.

"Flip the Switch"

DeAngelo told his NORML audience to fast forward five or six years to 
a time when, if events follow his scenario, "tens of millions of 
Americans have become legal cannabis consumers. Almost everybody has 
a friend or a relative with a recommendation, and knows that it has 
done them no harm, and indeed probably a whole lot of good. Fears and 
reservations about the distribution of cannabis have been allayed, 
and replaced with acceptance. Scientific research has solidly 
established both the safety and the medical efficacy of cannabis for 
a wide range of ailments, including everyday ailments.

"Across the nation, thousands of not-for-profit, community service 
dispensaries have created a positive model of cannabis distribution. 
There's no reefer in the 7-11; kids aren't being subject to the 
machinations of a created market, and communities are benefiting from 
tax revenue, charitable donations, and community services. In short, 
a safe, seemly, and reliable distribution system will already be in existence."

At this point DeAngelo would have the reform movement push for 
legalization by advocating reclassification of cannabis as an 
over-the-counter drug. "At dispensaries all across the country," he 
concluded with a flourish, "we will stop asking for medical cannabis 
identification, and simply ask for adult identification. We will flip 
the switch at the dispensary door, and all adult Americans will have 
what hundreds of thousands of Californians now have: free, safe, and 
affordable access to cannabis."

Say what you will about Steve DeAngelo, the man does not have a hidden agenda.
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