Pubdate: Sun, 23 Feb 2014
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2014 The Washington Post Company
Author: Marc Fisher

The Push to Legalize Cannabis Has Both Flourished and Floundered Over 
Five Decades, but a Shift in Sentiment Appears to Be Bringing It to Fruition


San Bernardino, Calif. - In the "medication area" of the nation's 
biggest marijuana exposition, scantily clad young women hand out 
marshmallows they've dipped into a rushing fountain of pot-laced 
chocolate. A few steps away, Anthony Ramirez offers free hits from a 
bong filled with the waxy marijuana extract that his family started 
producing when a friend's mother needed relief from the pain of lupus.

Across a vast outdoor plaza lined with hundreds of booths, this 
month's Cannabis Cup gathering in Southern California has attracted 
more than 10,000 visitors at $40 a ticket. By mid afternoon, some of 
them are sprawled on overstuffed couches that merchants have 
thoughtfully provided. Others move from booth to booth, sampling 
wares from businesses that have risen from the underground economy to 
create a burgeoning industry of hazy legality.

Vendors hawk brightly colored candies, chocolate bars, slickly 
designed jars of gourmet peanut butter- all infused with weed. 
Smokers sample e-cigarettes, vaporizers and the latest in bongs and 
glassware. Agricultural firms display industrial-size machinery for 
harvesting plants, electronics firms offer a dazzling array of grow 
lights, and everywhere, growers lovingly explain the virtues of 
dozens of plant strains such as Gorilla Glue, Silver Haze and Crystal Coma.

All in a state where marijuana is not quite yet legal, and all 
without a single police officer to be seen.

America has been at the edge of marijuana legalization several times 
during the past half century, but never as close to mass acceptance 
of the drug as the nation is today.

Since the 1960s, the United States has traveled on a herky-jerky trip 
from hippies and head shops to grass-roots backlash by suburban 
parents, from enthusiastic funding of the war on drugs to a gathering 
consensus that the war had little effect on marijuana use. Now, for 
the first time, marijuana legalization is winning majority support in 
public opinion polls and a drug used by about 6 percent of Americans- 
and one-third of the nation's high school seniors - is starting to 
shake off its counterculture reputation. It is winning acceptance 
even from some police, prosecutors and politicians.

But is this time really different? Why is the current campaign for 
legalization resonating when previous ones did not? Today's leap 
toward legality is entwined with the financial desperation of 
cash-strapped states, an Internet-driven revolution in how Americans 
learn about marijuana and its medicinal uses, and a rising 
libertarian sensibility in which many liberals and conservatives 
alike have grown skeptical of government's role in telling citizens 
how to medicate themselves.

The skies looked bright for legalization at several other points in 
recent decades, and those efforts ultimately went nowhere, as 
campaigns by parents combined with sharp opposition by law 
enforcement and elected officials to keep marijuana on the list of 
substances that can land you in jail.

But in 20 states and the District, the booming medical marijuana 
industry (the drug first became legal to treat ailments in California 
in 1996) has raised expectations of full legalization. In 2012,

legalized marijuana out-polled President Obama in Colorado; the votes 
for pot and Obama in Washington state were almost identical at 56 percent each.

Activists in at least six states and the District are working to put 
legalization initiatives on the ballot this year or in 2016, and 
legislatures in 13 states are considering bills to legalize a plant 
that in 80 years has traveled from widely used patent medicine to 
felony to misdemeanor and now to the cusp of acceptance as one more 
taxed and regulated mind-altering substance, akin to alcohol or tobacco.

The seeds of change

Michael Aldrich remembers the day: Aug. 6, 1963.

He was a kid from South Dakota, a Princeton junior studying at 
Harvard for the summer, out on a date with a beautiful beatnik woman 
he'd met in a class on contemporary British poetry. She was dressed 
all in black. He was smitten. They'd spent the evening at Club 47, a 
legendary folkie spot, and now, as they walked through Harvard Yard, 
she turned to him and asked, "Ever try this?" She showed him a tiny, 
skinny joint. They lit up right there in the Yard. "We were in bed 
within the hour," Aldrich recalls. "I was sold." He began smoking pot 
every day, a practice that would continue for half a century.

In short order, Aldrich began his life's work. His campaign for 
legalization seemed in its first years like a blend of academic 
exercise and cultural rebellion, but it contained the seeds of 
arguments that would gradually shift social attitudes toward the drug.

As a graduate student traveling abroad, Aldrich explored marijuana's 
role in the mythology of India. As a doctoral student at the state 
university in Buffalo, in 1967, he founded the nation's first campus 
group advocating for legalized pot, LEMAR, as in LEgalize MARijuana. 
They were 15 longhaired hippies who thought they could change the world.

Aldrich challenged the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Henry 
Giordano, to a debate. Giordano argued that marijuana was worse than 
heroin and that efforts to legalize the weed were "just another 
effort to break down our whole American system." Aldrich answered 
with a history of pot's use as a relaxant, sedative, painkiller and 
inspirational aid.

Aldrich organized the first national on legalization and met the poet 
Allen Ginsberg, who hired him as his personal assistant and launched 
a New York City chapter of LEMAR. In 1969, Aldrich moved to 
California to teach and joined other activists there to create 
Amorphia, which made and sold Acapulco Gold brand rolling papers and 
used the proceeds to fund a drive for "free, legal backyard marijuana."

Marijuana by that time was a symbol of the anti-Vietnam War movement 
and the hippie counterculture; only 12 percent of Americans favored 
legalizing pot. Amorphia- a core group of 30 hippies, many of whom 
lived communally in a house north of San Francisco in Marin County- 
didn't need to reach much beyond their peers to collect enough 
signatures to put a legalization initiative on the ballot in 1972. In 
the face of a wall of opposition from politicians, police and 
parents, the hippies had forced the issue.

California would vote on making pot legal.

A bridge over ideology

Back in Washington, from the perspective of the Nixon White House, 
marijuana was at the core of the nation's deepening generational, 
social and political divide. Young people seemed out of control, 
detached from institutions and traditions, determined to smash the 
rules and go their own way.

One of Nixon's youngest advisers, Gordon Brownell, was a native 
Washingtonian who came to the White House fresh out of college. He 
had founded Colgate University's first conservative club, and in law 
school he had remained a loyal conservative but secretly smoked pot 
with a friend who later became a federal drug prosecutor.

By the time he returned toWashington, Brownell had put marijuana out 
of his mind. He was profoundly alienated by longhaired radicals. When 
they surrounded the White House to protest the war, he walked through 
the crowd to get to his car and saw that "I was on the other side of 
a cultural divide. I was not one of them."

In 1969, when the daughter of TV host Art Linkletter killed herself 
and her father blamed the death on her use of LSD, Brownell wrote a 
memo urging that Nixon come out in favor of a national crusade 
against the "social evil" of drugs.

A year later, Brownell, then 26, left Washington to take a top post 
in California Gov. Ronald Reagan's reelection campaign. Living in Los 
Angeles, Brownell dated a woman who reintroduced him to marijuana and 
also shared mescaline- a drug with effects similar to LSD. Thrilled 
by the psychedelic journey, he nonetheless felt like a criminal.

"Possession of marijuana was a felony in California," he says. "I 
still supported Reagan, but I felt for the first time the tension 
with being a Republican as Nixon and Reagan waged war on drugs."

After the campaign, Brownell moved to Mendocino, rented a cabin by 
the sea, let his hair grow, and spent nine months writing a novel 
about a conservative young woman whose life pivots when she discovers 
drugs. He met and hung out with hippies who smoked a lot of dope, and 
he never let on that he'd worked for Nixon and Reagan.

A few miles away, the hippies of Amorphia realized they had no clue 
how to run a statewide campaign. They needed professional help, a 
bridge to the 90-plus percent of Californians who were not 
pot-smoking radicals.

Brownell had taken a job in Washington to write for a conservative 
newsletter, but a newspaper story about the National Organization for 
the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the marijuana legalization 
lobby, changed his direction. "Reform was stalled because it was 
associated with hippies, antiwar activists and radicals," he says. "I 
could put a different face on marijuana."

Brownell moved back west to become political coordinator of the 
California Marijuana Initiative. Many of the hippies thought he had 
to be a narc. His friends from the Reagan campaign thought he'd gone 
mad. "A lot of doors just closed on me," Brownell says.

The message he crafted for middle class Californians was basic 
libertarianism: "I'd tell my Republican friends, 'What you do in your 
own home is none of the government's business, and that was central 
to Barry Goldwater's message,' " Brownell recalls, sipping coffee 
from an Obama for President mug.

Nixon crushed George McGovern, 55 percent to 42 percent, in 
California that year. The marijuana initiative won 35 percent of the 
vote, well more than opponents had predicted, but the result was 
still a clear message that, as Brownell says, "it just wasn't 
mainstream yet. We couldn't counter that stereotype of who used marijuana."

A push to decriminalize

In 1970, Nixon signed into law a measure that eliminated mandatory 
prison sentences for marijuana possession and required him to set up 
a commission looking into the dangers of marijuana.

Michael Aldrich and Allen Ginsberg cut their hair, shaved off their 
beards and donned neckties to testify before the commission. "'Get 
straight and infiltrate' was the idea," said Aldrich's wife, 
Michelle, who supported her husband's ventures in pot politics by 
working as a stockbroker.

But the commission had little patience for those who portrayed 
marijuana as harmless or even a social good.

"It was an insane position then and given our understanding of 
smoking and health," says Michael Sonnenreich, a former drug 
prosecutor who was staff director of the National Commission on 
Marijuana and Drug Abuse. "I'm a conservative guy, but it made no 
sense to overburden the police and the jails. The system was out of 
kilter. This never meant we were in favor of people smoking the crap."

In 1972, too late to have an impact on the California initiative, the 
commission unanimously recommended that marijuana be decriminalized.

The administration was appalled. Nixon's aides "believed that bad 
people smoked this," Sonnenreich says. "The whole world was going 
upside down-the pill, assassinations, LSD, Vietnam. So certain people 
in the White House tried to convince me not to come out for decriminalizing."

The report was one of three that year-the others were from Canada's 
government and Consumers Union - to determine that marijuana was less 
harmful than other illegal drugs and to recommend decriminalization. 
In 11 state legislatures across the country between 1973 and 1979, 
penalties for possession were greatly reduced or eliminated.

Marijuana seemed to have made the jump from the counterculture into 
the mainstream. "I thought there was no turning back," says NORML's 
founder, Keith Stroup. In Washington, Stroup smoked pot with 
President Jimmy Carter's son Chip while Secret Service agents stood 
outside the door.

Stroup drafted the statement the president sent Congress in 1977 
arguing that "penalties against possession of a drug should not be 
more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself." 
Carter urged Congress to accept the commission's findings and 
decriminalize marijuana.

"Use was extremely widespread and there were clearly very few medical 
consequences," says Peter Bourne, who was Carter's drug czar. But 
Bourne and Carter couldn't move the needle on decriminalization. 
Forty-five million Americans had tried marijuana, but as California's 
commission on pot concluded, "progress is rarely linear." To many 
parents, pot was a sign that they were losing their children.

Parents turn the tide

For Carla Lowe, it was the calls she got as PTA president of her 
children's high school in Sacramento. The school's neighbors saw 
students smoking, and it didn't smell like tobacco.

For Sue Rusche, it was a group of parents in Georgia who gathered 
after several middle school children were discovered smoking pot at a party.

 From the late 1970s into the '80s, Lowe, Rusche and many other 
mothers created a parents' movement that halted, then reversed, 
momentum toward decriminalization. Starting in suburbs where 
teenagers turned to pot and turned head shops into hangouts, the 
movement compelled state and federal lawmakers to slam the brakes on 
Carter's push for decriminalization and then feed the Reagan 
administration's appetite for tougher enforcement.

"My son was a super athlete," Lowe says, "and then, all of a sudden, 
he'd seem silly and inattentive. I didn't know that it was marijuana. 
Then I was called into school because they found what I heard as a ' 
bomb' in his locker." At school, Lowe learned that what her son had 
in his locker was a bong made from a tennis-ball can.

She devoted the next three years of her life to ridding her city of 
paraphernalia- and the next 35 years to fighting liberalized drug 
laws. She got a bong of her own - and a buzzbee, a Frisbee rigged up 
with a pipe in the center - and brought it to PTA and church groups 
to let parents know that "your children are smoking pot and these are 
the toys and tools that are being marketed to them."

The comedian Carol Burnett called Lowe and offered to help. Rep. 
Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) enlisted Lowe to join her campaign against 
paraphernalia. First lady Nancy Reagan joined the bandwagon with her 
"Just SayNo to Drugs" campaign. Attorney General Edwin Meese III saw 
a tough stand against marijuana as away to push back against a 
counterculture that was undermining society.

The legalization movement entered an 18-year freeze.

"We were caught flatfooted," Stroup says. "I thought nobody would 
take these moms seriously. Oh, was I wrong. There was a feeling that 
the country was getting out of control. I wasn't sure we'd ever 
regain the momentum."

The mothers didn't do it alone. The rise of cocaine brought a 
constant supply of frightening stories that reinforced support for 
harsher enforcement: gun battles among powerful drug dealers, the 
rising power of cartels creating geopolitical strain between the 
United States and Latin American countries, the devastating impact of 
crack on cities, the overdose death of basketball star Len Bias, 
comedian Richard Pryor lighting himself on fire while he was using cocaine.

Lowe finally got her son to stop smoking pot when she "gave him three 
months to get cleaned out, or no college," she says.

But she saw that stepped-up enforcement made little headway against 
marijuana's popularity, and the parents' movement could never raise 
significant funds.

"We basically died out in the early '90s," Rusche says. "We've never 
been able to find a single foundation willing to support this cause."

By the mid-'90s, most parent groups had dissolved. Those that 
remained saw the tide turn against them once again. Rusche recalls 
Stroup telling her at a debate that although the reform movement 
appeared to be defeated, it would be back with a new strategy - 
positioning marijuana as medicine.

A shift in strategy

Gen. Barry McCaffrey never saw marijuana in high school or at West 
Point, from which he graduated in 1964. "Pre-pot," he says. "My 
generation was a lot of alcohol abuse and everybody smoked 
cigarettes." But when he got to Vietnam as an Army first lieutenant, 
McCaffrey saw pot having "a huge, pernicious effect on the armed 
forces" and beyond. "Bus drivers were stoned, students were stoned, 
reporters were stoned."

By the time McCaffrey became the nation's drug czar in 1996, he had 
launched a crusade against drug abuse. He saw pot as a crucial 
battleground because, he says, "marijuana's a stalking horse for 
Darwinian, libertarian acceptance of drug use of all kinds."

In those years, McCaffrey could depend on audience applause as he 
belittled those who would ease restrictions on marijuana.

"Woody Harrelson, the noted agronomist, is going to save America with 
a crop of marijuana," the general would say of the film star and pot 
proponent. "But the American people, mothers and fathers, aren't 
stupid enough to do that." Whereupon audiences would cheer.

But in San Francisco during the '90s, the 30-year culture war over 
marijuana had gone silent, replaced by a new urgency. In the city's 
devastated gay neighborhoods, AIDS powerfully shifted the debate.

Dennis Peron was about the least likely person to become the symbol 
of a drive to redefine marijuana as a symbol of compassion and care. 
Peron, an insistent, rough-edged guy from the Bronx, was a pot dealer 
who'd been arrested more than 20 times. He'd been selling ever since 
he came home from Vietnam with a pound of pot and a habit acquired 
while working 16-hour days in an Air Force morgue, bagging and 
shipping bodies of fallen comrades.

Peron is gay, and his longtime lover, Jonathan West, had AIDS and was 
dying. Peron supplied West and other AIDS patients with marijuana to 
ease the side effects of their medications.

"It gave them the munchies so they'd eat something," Peron says. "I 
could help these people, sell them marijuana and make a little money."

He says he required customers to show physicians' letters confirming 
their diagnoses; this, he hoped, might protect him from prosecution.

It didn't. In 1990, San Francisco police raided Peron's apartment, 
which for years had been a place where gay men could hang out and get 
high. They arrested him for selling marijuana. Later that year, two 
weeks after testifying on Peron's behalf, West died. Peron then 
resolved to find a way to supply pot to anyone suffering from AIDS.

He launched the Cannabis Buyers Club in a prominent storefront and 
invited TV stations to interview his customers. He wanted to force 
lawmakers to confront marijuana use as medical care. He won enough 
attention and support that, in 1991, a nonbinding resolution he wrote 
asking the state to make marijuana legal for medical purposes won a 
citywide vote by a 79 to 21 percent margin.

City police left him alone after that, but once Peron's club 
attracted more than 4,000 members and had 90 employees, state 
officials decided they could no longer ignore such a flagrant 
violation. They raided the club in 1996, arresting Peron once more. 
Again, he took his case to the people.

"I'd lost my lover, my friends were dead, I had nothing to lose," 
Peron says. "I wasn't the right symbol - a gay guy, busted for pot - 
but no one else wanted to do it. So we went statewide." The 1996 
campaign for medical marijuana in California pushed aside groovy 
graphics and hippie rhetoric and repositioned weed as a tonic for 
cancer, glaucoma and AIDS patients. Grandmothers took to TV to 
explain how marijuana eased their pain, and Peron enlisted doctors in 
a campaign that asked: "If it's helping people, how can we keep it illegal?"

Back in Washington, strategists at NORML were skeptical of using 
medical benefits to back-door marijuana into legal status.

Peron insists there was no subterfuge. "All use is medicinal," he 
says. "All people, even those who say they're using it 
recreationally, have clouds in their lives. Marijuana makes you see 
the silver lining in those clouds. That is a medical use."

That argument was not going to win an election. With the campaign 
running behind, even true believers saw they needed a different way. 
Enter billionaires George Soros and Peter Lewis, who each pumped half 
a million dollars into the medical marijuana effort. Peron never 
spoke to his campaign's benefactors. "Soros doesn't understand 
marijuana's true benefits," Peron says. "He's just against the war on drugs."

The initiative won 56 percent of the vote, opening the door.

During the next decade, 20 states and the District followed the same 
path, but with extremely different results. In California, where 
medical marijuana permits are as easy to get as a bottle of scotch, 
more than half a million people have cards letting them shop in 
hundreds of dispensaries. In the District, where the law requires a 
14-page application and recognizes only four diseases as warranting 
treatment with marijuana, just 120 people have been approved to 
purchase it since the first dispensary opened last July.

Peron, now 67, closed his cannabis club and says he stopped selling 
pot in 2001. "I was glad I didn't have to sell pot anymore - too much 
stress," he says. "I'd rather Walgreens did it."

Accepting drug abuse?

Today, Boulder, Colo., is a city of 100,000 that has three Walgreens- 
none of which sell marijuana- and more than 100 medical marijuana 
dispensaries, even before licensing commences for shops that seek to 
sell weed for recreational use. Major national chain stores are not 
yet applying to sell pot, but at the Cannabis Cup convention and on 
hundreds of Web sites of marijuana-related businesses, the battle 
against liberalizing pot laws seems lost.

"The momentum to treat marijuana as a legal drug is irreversible," 
says McCaffrey, the former drug czar. He no longer accepts 
invitations to appear on television to debate the issue because he 
says the networks "only wanted a rented idiot general who didn't 
understand that marijuana was harmless and filling America's jails. 
The opposition has gone silent. The politicians, police, judges know 
this is bad policy but they don't make a peep. So we're going to end 
up with impaired surgeons and air pilots. We're just accepting 
another drug of abuse."

After half a century of advocacy, Aldrich now predicts that 
"marijuana's going to be legal in the United States in 10 years. Of 
course, I first said that in 1967." He laughs. But this time, he 
says, it's unstoppable: "It's taken 40 years to reach a point where 
our national leaders have smoked. The last three presidents have admitted it."

If legalization spreads beyond Colorado and Washington state, it 
likely will be because of a confluence of forces that have gathered 
steam during the past decade: Big money is backing the new, 
aboveground marijuana industry, the Internet has altered the kind of 
messages that Americans hear about pot, Americans have grown more 
libertarian in their perspective on personal freedoms, the most 
anti-marijuana generation has passed on, and people across the 
ideological spectrum have grown frustrated with the cost, both 
financial and social, of decades of arrests and imprisonments.

Legalization drives are underway mainly in states facing tough budget 
problems. Just as casino gambling spread first among states hungry 
for new tax revenues, so too are hard-up states now realizing, as 
Stroup says, that "big money can be made and suddenly the sin doesn't 
matter that much."

The burgeoning marijuana industry has flourished on the Internet, 
where back channels filled with anecdotal accounts of marijuana's 
medicinal benefits have fed consumer appetites for everything from 
seeds to growing equipment to edibles.

Angelo Capozi, 45, spent decades as a chef, even appearing on TV's 
"Iron Chef America," before starting, which makes 
marijuana-laced peanut butter and honey. He made the switch after 
experimenting with recipes on behalf of his father, a cancer patient 
looking for relief from pain.

Capozi believes the doorway to legal status opened as his parents' 
peers began to die.

"Once that generation's out of here, it's going to really open up," 
he says. "Within a few years, I expect to be able to put my product 
on a supermarket shelf with a bar code."

The passing of the baby boomers' parents has created the first 
cross-generational consensus in favor of liberalized laws, says 
Stroup, now 70. "We knew we were going to win demographically, 
eventually," he says. "I just wasn't sure I'd see it in my lifetime."

The generational shift change has greatly diminished the organized 
opposition. Few parent groups remain active; Rusche's National 
Families in Action still exists, but its founder now supports 
decriminalization. Rusche, 75, still believes marijuana is harmful, 
but she has concluded that the parents' movement erred in failing to 
present alcohol and tobacco as the same sort of gateway drugs as marijuana.

"There are a whole lot of arrests that shouldn't be happening," 
Rusche says. "We don't want to see laws unfairly applied with people 
of color overwhelmingly being the ones arrested."

Her longtime ally is startled to hear of Rusche's altered stance.

"I'm just stunned," Carla Lowe says. "Decriminalization is just a 
step to legalization. What we're seeing today is a grab for taxes and 
a power play by a fast-growing industry."

Even with a diminished opposition, the path to legalization faces 
considerable obstacles, especially from parents who don't want their 
teens to be too easily tempted by the drug, city residents who 
envision street corners teeming with kids getting high, and sheriffs 
and police chiefs who say marijuana arrests remain a powerful tool 
against drug abuse and other crimes.

Diane Goldstein, a retired police lieutenant in Redondo Beach, 
Calif., went from busting drug users to working for Law Enforcement 
Against Prohibition, a nonprofit group critical of "the failures of 
our existing drug policies." Some ex-colleagues tell her she's 
dishonoring officers who died enforcing drug laws, but Goldstein, a 
Republican and a grandmother, says her audiences at Rotary clubs and 
Republican women's groups increasingly support taxing and regulating marijuana.

"We're never going to be drug-free," says Goldstein, who says she 
hasn't used pot since high school. "But we can make it less available 
to kids by making it legal and restricting access. And we can stop 
marginalizing people because they've been arrested for pot and can't 
get student loans or jobs."

As the rhetorical battle continues and politicians remain cautious 
about speaking out on marijuana, the facts on the ground are changing 
fast. The Cannabis Cup, an open-air marketplace the size of two 
football fields in the San Bernardino Valley, featured open 
consumption of pot-infused sodas, candies and cookies and displays of 
whole marijuana plants - staged with virtually no controversy.

"Generations coming up now don't see what the big deal is," says 
Brian Wansolich, 39, wearing a white coat emblazoned with the logo of 
his online cannabis ratings service, Leafly. "My parents still have 
moral problems with it, but now they see we can tax this and get 
states out of trouble. It's the American way."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom