Pubdate: Thu, 27 Feb 2014
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2014 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Marc Fisher, The Washington Post


10,000 Pot Users Gather Without a Cop in Sight

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.

Vendors hawk brightly colored candies, chocolate bars, slickly 
designed jars of gourmet peanut butter all infused with weed. All in 
a state where marijuana is not yet quite 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 of Columbia, the booming medical 
marijuana industry has raised expectations of full legalization. In 
2012, legalized marijuana outpolled President Barack 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 of Columbia are 
working to put legalization initiatives on the ballot this year or 
in2016, and legislatures in13 states are considering bills to 
legalize a plant that in80years has traveled from widely used patent 
medicine to felony to misdemeanor and now to the cusp of acceptance 
as one more taxed and regulated mindaltering substance, akin to 
alcohol or tobacco.

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

He was a kid from South Dakota, a Princeton University junior 
studying at Harvard University 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 of NewYork at 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 organized the first national conference on legalization and 
met the poet Allen Ginsberg, who hired him as his personal assistant 
and launched a NewYork 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, 
Calif. didn't need to reach much beyond their peers to collect enough 
signatures to put a legalization initiative on the ballot in1972. 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.

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 to Washington, 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, Calif., 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.

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

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 NORML 
founder, Keith 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; Sue 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