Pubdate: Wed, 29 Jan 2014
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Jon Carroll
Page: F10


The pushback is beginning. As Washington and Colorado have legalized
the sale of marijuana, certain localities, many of them outside the
urban centers of Denver and Seattle, have moved to ban marijuana sales
in their towns or counties.

There are concerns about crime, concerns about children having ready
access to the drug, concerns about driving - and all the other things
there are to be concerned with, and that apply equally to alcohol. But
it's also another station on the culture wars route, as the divide
over a wide variety of issues, from gay rights to immigration, increases.

Of course, the No. 1 problem associated with marijuana today is not
the inconvenience of millions of pot smokers. It's the unfair
incarceration of millions of people, most of them black or Latino, for
simple possession - something that would still be legal in Colorado
and Washington, even if the bans on sales were enforced.

These bans would not address that problem one way or another. We need
a comprehensive federal policy for that, and all we have is wavering
and waffling. Attorney General Eric Holder seemed to promise an end to
the government's harassment of legal marijuana retailers by putting
pressure on banks to not do business with them.

(This has meant great mounds of cash piling up in marijuana
dispensaries, with the obvious public safety risk. If the dealers
could accept credit and bank cards, the cash problem would be
substantially ameliorated.)

One problem is revenue enhancement. Legalizing marijuana sales was
touted as a way of getting the government its fair share of taxes on
the sales of joints, cookies and precious little buds rich in resin.
If communities opt out, the revenue goes down, and the net financial
benefits of marijuana sales are lessened.

The communities lose money too - but it's apparently something they're
willing to risk, so great is their fear. It's a kind of NIMBYism - you
can smoke it here, but you can't buy it here. Meaning people may have
to drive to more tolerant locales.

Any public policy that forces marijuana users and automobiles together
is probably not the best idea available. But as long as the decisions
are being made piecemeal, all sorts of unanticipated consequences
might follow. Clearly, too much human capital has been lost, and too
much government money spent, controlling a substance that, reams of
anecdotal evidence suggest, is probably the least dangerous
mind-altering drug around.

There should be more studies. It's hard to get any findings for
marijuana studies, though - neither the medical establishment nor the
government is interested in the science here. Claims of the benign
effects of marijuana should be investigated, too.

Let's get the whole thing out in the open; let's give the
municipalities the data they need to make an informed choice. If I
believe that reason is on the side of legalizing marijuana, then the
more information the better. That's probably what the powers that be
are afraid of - evidence instead of superstition.

Meanwhile, we have a nice little lab right here in the Bay Area, where
medical marijuana sales have been going on for some time. Is there a
rise in the crime rate or the accident rate? Are children being
abandoned in greater numbers? Are civilians being robbed to pay for
marijuana drug cravings? God, I hope somebody is studying this. In
other news: Uber, the taxi service, and Airbnb, the hospitality
company, have both been in the news lately. They are running up
against the old models, and the results are interesting to watch.

In both cases, cities are trying to figure out a way to regulate the
services more closely. It may be that Airbnb's accommodations do not
meet various city codes that hotels and motels must follow; it may be
that Uber drivers do not follow all the licensing procedures followed
by the other cab companies.

Those regulations are designed to protect the customer. The services
argue that they pay close attention to feedback and always put the
customer first. And that may be true. But both companies could be
purchased at any moment by a larger and less committed company, and
then things decline without outside oversight.

Lots of Internet companies start with the assumption of good will.
They work fine as long as they're used mainly by early adopters,
people who share certain cultural values. But then things get bigger
and more impersonal, people with a bottom-line mentality move in, and
before you know it, you've got Microsoft.

Personally, I hope there's a way of keeping Uber and Airbnb around.
They have found a need and filled it; they have done what the market
encourages them to do. I hate to see their baby thrown out with all
the antitech bathwater.

"What can all that green stuff be?" said Alice. "And where have my
shoulders got to? And oh, my poor hands, how is it I can't  ---
MAP posted-by: Matt