Pubdate: Sun, 28 Aug 2016
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Press Democrat
Author: Paul Gullixson


"Santa Rosa wants this industry here. I think this is probably going 
to be the New Age Amsterdam."

- - Larry Schaeffer, owner of Cherry Kola Farms near Penngrove, a 
medical cannabis collective

Really? Says who?

I don't mean to be rude. But who in the world made the decision that 
Santa Rosa wanted to become the new Amsterdam?

Even Amsterdam doesn't even want to be Amsterdam - or at least the 
Amsterdam perceived by hordes of party-minded tourists. Contrary to 
popular belief, the Dutch never legalized marijuana. They've just 
basically tolerated it for years and only for possession of small 
amounts (5 grams or less) sold in official "cannabis cafes." But the 
government in recent years has been tightening the rules for these 
cafes, forcing many to shut down. And forget about growing it. It's 
illegal. You won't go to prison but try to grow as few as five plants 
and you could end up facing heavy fines and eviction.

Here in Sonoma County, however, we appear to be going in the opposite 
direction, quickly. It's not hard to find the evidence.

Headline from Aug. 2: "Santa Rosa opens swath of city to marijuana businesses"

Aug. 14: "SR aims to be epicenter of legal pot industry"

Aug. 18: "County sees pot's economic benefits; Local officials urged 
to 'climb aboard weed train' "

So who exactly is driving this weed train?

Granted, much of these stories concern efforts by Santa Rosa and the 
county to adapt to new state laws that regulate the production and 
sale of medicinal marijuana. Proposition 215 is a mess, and such a 
regulatory framework - passed by the state Legislature in October - 
has long been needed. Under the California Medical Marijuana 
Regulation and Safety Act state and local governments have until 2018 
to set up a new regulations and licensing schemes.

But what's coming is not a process to make it easier for grandma to 
get help for her glaucoma. Let's be honest about that. This is 
especially true if voters on Nov. 8 approve Proposition 64, which 
would legalize the sale and use of recreational marijuana and 
basically toss these new rules for medicinal marijuana into the wind.

All the same, it's one thing to get ready for changes in state law. 
It's another to be rolling out the red carpet in hopes of becoming 
the capital of cannabis.

Do we really want that?

I've heard from more than a few parents who tell me they've been 
keeping some parts of The Press Democrat off the breakfast table out 
of concern for the messages these stories are sending. I can 
sympathize. Pot is already a major problem in our schools. (Yes, so 
is alcohol. But why be so eager to fan the flames of social problems 
consuming our kids? Are our test scores not low enough?)

Let's be honest. We all know too many friends, family members and 
acquaintances whose lives have been put on hold because of prolonged 
and regular use of pot, habits that most often started in high school.

A recent study by UC Davis researchers confirms that the regular use 
of pot is more of an anchor than a flotation device in life. The 
researchers followed nearly 1,000 people from birth up to age 38. 
They found that those who smoked cannabis on a regular basis - 
meaning at least four times a week - "ended up in a lower social 
class than their parents, with lower-paying, less skilled and less 
prestigious jobs than those who were not regular cannabis smokers." 
Moreover, persistent users also suffered "more financial, 
work-related and relationship difficulties, which worsened as the 
number of years of regular cannabis use progressed."

The researchers also found that although both heavy alcohol and 
cannabis use were linked to declines in social class, problems in the 
workplace and relationship difficulties, those dependent on cannabis 
experienced more financial difficulties.

"Cannabis may be safer than alcohol for your health, but not for your 
finances," said Terrie Moffitt, a psychologist with appointments at 
Duke University and the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London.

So somebody tell me why are we're so eager to become a magnet for the 
marijuana industry?

We know why many city and county leaders are on board this train. If 
these cannabis companies can be lured out into the open where they 
can be taxed, it could represent a windfall. It's the new reefer 
madness - the allure of new green pastures of revenue. But are we 
really looking at this from a sober perspective?

"I frequently hear people talk about all of the revenue generated 
from the legalization of marijuana," John A. Jackson of the Colorado 
Association of Chiefs of Police wrote to California public officials 
in June. "I implore you not to become so intoxicated by the projected 
revenue amounts and the promises made by the marijuana industry that 
you lose sight of the inherent community and social costs. We have 
found it to be incredibly expensive to create from scratch a 
regulatory system that can adequately address public health and 
safety and meet the needs of the industry."

Jackson was a member of a statewide task force put together by Gov. 
John Hickenlooper after Colorado voters approved a constitutional 
amendment in November 2012 legalizing the sale of recreational 
marijuana. Their job was to figure out how to implement this law. It 
was uncharted territory.

Marijuana is still considered illegal in the eyes of the federal 
government and, as such, no bank has the ability to accept deposits. 
So it remains an all-cash industry, which creates potential crime issues.

But there are a host of other issues related to cultivation, 
transportation, sale, marketing, land use, environmental degradation, 
water, etc.

In his warning to California lawmakers, Jackson calls particular 
attention to two issues. One concerns potency problems. In other 
words, this is not your father's Maui Wowie we're talking about. Some 
of this stuff packs a major punch, and you don't always know what 
dose you're getting. The result is a range of problems including 
people "overdosing" from taking a bite from the wrong brownie. 
Hospitalizations due to marijuana exposure tripled in the first 18 
months after legalization took effect in Colorado, according to Jackson.

And then there's the issue of driving under the influence. Law 
enforcement as yet has no clear way to tell when a driver is too 
stoned to drive. Because THC, the key active ingredient in pot, 
dissolves in fat not water, simple blood tests don't indicate 
impairment as they do with alcohol. Nevertheless, there are plenty of 
accidents involving people who are found to have THC in their 
systems. Colorado fatalities with drivers testing positive for THC 
increased 44 percent the year after legalization took effect.

Shouldn't we figure out what clearly constitutes impaired driving 
before we do any more to legitimize it?

For the record, no, I don't think it should be on the federal list of 
Schedule I no-no drugs like heroin. I support the decriminalization 
of it, which essentially occurred long ago. And I'm even ready to 
acknowledge that the legalization of recreational use of marijuana is 
probably a done deal (although Proposition 64 is full of pot holes - 
no pun intended - and is not the way to go about it).

But I'm not ready to concede that Santa Rosa or Sonoma County should 
be - or even wants to be - leading the pack on all of this.

Maybe I'm howling in the wind. But given that Amsterdam doesn't even 
want to be this far out front, maybe it's time to rethink what we're 
doing - and where we're going.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom