Pubdate: Sun, 16 Aug 2015
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: Steven Greenhut


In this week's Back Story, California columnist Steven Greenhut 
discusses his San Diego In Depth article about California's approach 
to coming marijuana legalization ballot measures.

Q: How did the idea for this story come up?

A: The topic is driven by news events. Alaska, Oregon, Washington, 
Colorado and Washington, D.C., have voted to legalize recreational 
marijuana. We're seeing legalization play out with different 
regulatory frameworks - and to varying degrees of success - in 
Colorado and Washington. Voters in California and some other states 
may consider legalization on the 2016 ballot. Recently, California 
legislators have considered a bill to give local governments more 
control over medical-marijuana clinics and state authorities held 
hearings on taxing the marijuana industry. There is a lot going on.

Q: What most interested you about the topic?

A: I've long been fascinated with the issue. It's always seemed odd 
that I can buy my drug of choice - a nice Lodi Zinfandel - at any 
number of local wineries or grocery stores while those who prefer an 
arguably less-addictive drug can face fines or prison time. 
Meanwhile, the medical-marijuana system - though it clearly helps 
people with genuine medical conditions - is rife with hypocrisy, 
given that virtually anyone with "anxiety" and the right doctor can get a card.

Marijuana legalization touches on crucial public-policy issues that 
involve civil liberties, government priorities and criminal-justice 
matters. Some of our state officials have treated this in an 
admirably serious and thorough way. But a lot of people can't discuss 
it without making weed jokes, so my goal was to cover the core issues 
while avoiding any references to Cheech and Chong.

Q: The implication of the story is that marijuana is likely to be 
legalized in California. Why did you take that approach?

A: As a columnist, it's easy to get caught up in the broad political 
squabbles or mired in this question: Is this a good idea or not? But 
those debates aren't that interesting anymore. Public attitudes have 
shifted markedly. The more fascinating storyline is the complicated 
process by which something illegal becomes a legally available 
product. We know about alcohol Prohibition. But we really don't think 
about how a world of rum runners and G-men morphed into one where 
grocery stores feature aisles of nicely packaged liquor products.

This approach let me focus on the things that interest me (and, I 
hope, readers!) such as tax issues, local governmental concerns, 
regulatory matters and law-enforcement priorities.

There also are conflicts between state and federal law. And there are 
debates within the marijuana industry, as different players lobby for 
laws that benefit their piece of the market.

There are still unresolved issues from Proposition 215 legalizing 
medical marijuana in 1996. There's so much there that even this 
longish piece could only scratch the surface.

Q: Do you like writing this step-back kind of story?

A: Yes. I appreciate having the time and space to, well, write in 
depth. I like to take a news hook and then find new angles to explore.

Q: What did you learn in your reporting that surprised you?

A: I was actually surprised the state Blue Ribbon Commission's 
Pathways Report offers such a thorough and useful blueprint for 
legalization. As I mentioned in my piece, these types of reports tend 
to be tepid. But this one grappled with the core issues and in a 
forthright way. I'm also surprised that after so many years of 
medical-marijuana legalization, the state has yet to even figure out 
how to tax marijuana businesses.

Q: Any other thoughts you'd like to share?

A: I like to mention the old Prohibition saying about the "Baptists 
and the Bootleggers." Those were the two groups that wanted to keep 
alcohol sales illegal - the former for moral reasons and the latter 
to protect their market. As marijuana legalization progresses toward 
a ballot battle, look out for some strange coalitions that will form 
on both sides of the issue. It's a reminder that there's far more to 
this issue than meets the eye.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom