(MintPress) – On Oct. 1, a law legalizing medicinal use of marijuana went into effect in Connecticut, allowing patients suffering from debilitating diseases in the state to qualify for a medical marijuana registration certificate. While the passage of the law was highly controversial, legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has been in the shadows as many have focused their attention on the recreational legalization initiatives in three states: Colorado, Oregon and Washington.
If passed, the legalization efforts would be the first in the U.S. and would regulate and tax marijuana similar to alcohol. Users would have to be at least 21 years of age to purchase and recreationally use about one ounce of marijuana, and there would be restrictions similar to alcohol on how much a person could have in their system if they were going to drive a car.
Allen St. Pierre, Executive Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told MintPress that since the mid-1990s, almost all reform in the U.S. has been funded by three billionaires: Peter Lewis, George Soros and John Sperling. “The fact that there has been any sort of marijuana law reform at all is remarkable since it’s been done by grasstops and not grassroots action.”
But a lack of involvement from the general public may be changing. St. Pierre pointed out that in Washington state there has been a mainstream effort to get marijuana legalized, and supporters of the legislation include former judges, former federal prosecutors, city council members, editorial teams of large newspapers and Rick Steves, a best-selling, travel author and Travel Channel host. “The level of support [we’re seeing] in Washington is something that took NORML 40 years to build,” he says.
Fighting for legalization
The campaigns to legalize marijuana in Colorado and Washington are very similar as they are both largely funded by Peter Lewis, Progressive Insurance’s Ohio-based chairman. Lewis is a long time supporter and largest donor of marijuana law reform. Since the mid-90s, Lewis has donated between $50 million and $60 million to medical marijuana, legalization and decriminalization efforts.
A poll taken in June found that 61 percent of the voters in Colorado would vote in favor of legalization. Part of the increase in public support for legalization is tied to the economic downturn in the U.S., which began in the mid-2000s. Legalization has been proposed as a way to collect additional tax revenue for states. Colorado alone has estimated that the taxes collected on marijuana, if the amendment passes this fall, would amount to at least $32 million in new revenue by the year 2017 - and save state and local law enforcement $12 million.
Despite these anticipated economic benefits, a recent poll taken at the beginning of September found the amount of supporters dropped to 47 percent. The reason for the drop in public support for the legislation is not specifically known, but it’s likely voters have been swayed by messages from anti-prohibitionists opposing legalization.
Like California’s Proposition 19, those lobbying against Washington’s Initiative 502 (I-502) and Colorado’s Amendment 64 are largely from the same groups: conservatives, cops and pot activists – mainly from the medical marijuana industry.
In Washington, anti-prohibitionists campaigning to kill I-502, are largely made up of dispensary owners, medical marijuana lawyers, medical marijuana patients, medical pot trade magazines and doctors giving medical marijuana authorizations. Their main reason for voting against the legislation is that DUI provision of the law would potentially penalize medical marijuana patients for having too much Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their system.
The legislation would make it illegal to drive with 5 ng/ml of active THC in a person’s bloodstream. Opponents argue individuals, especially medical marijuana patients, may fail the test hours or days after last consuming marijuana, which would lead to criminal convictions.
In response to the concerns about the DUI clause, Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, who has testified as an expert witness in more than 50 marijuana DUI cases across the U.S., said there has never been a comprehensive study examining whether marijuana DUIs increase or decrease after a state enacts THC blood limits.
The Seattle Times also reported that the impact on users after Pennsylvania dropped its marijuana DUI regulations from 5 ng/ml to 1 ng/ml has been negligible. Michael Worgul, a Pittsburgh criminal-defense attorney specializing in DUI and marijuana cases, said despite the reduction in THC blood limits, he hardly sees marijuana DUIs. “Of the DUI cases I’ve handled here in Pennsylvania, 99.9 percent are alcohol-related. Marijuana might fall into that one-tenth of a percent.”
But many medicinal users advocating against I-502 cite Arizona as an example of how the legislation could prove damaging to the masses. In Arizona it is unlawful for a person to drive a vehicle under the influence of any drug or a combination of liquor and drugs. Medical marijuana is legal in the state, but not all government officials follow the state law, simply because they don’t agree with it. So if a driver admits to using marijuana even if it was more than a week ago for medicinal purposes, it’s likely they will have their driving privileges revoked.
Much like those against Proposition 19 who were not supposed to focus on the reduction in profit to the growers, not every medical marijuana advocate has focused on regurgitating the DUI argument.
Michael Lick, owner of Urban Roots dispensary, is an opponent of I-502 because he believes the legislation would damage the medical marijuana industry and believes marijuana is not for recreational users. “I feel that cannabis is a medicine. If people are using cannabis without a doctor’s recommendation, the same thing should happen as if you were using any medication without prescription … you get arrested for possession.”
“For every nine marijuana smokers, one has a legitimate need for a medical disease. The other eight [smokers] use marijuana for nonmedical reasons,” said St. Pierre. “NORML was founded not to protect monopolies of growers and sellers, but consumers, specifically nonmedical consumers.”
In Colorado, a Facebook group called Coloradans 4 Cannabis Patient Rights (C4CPR) was formed to give residents a place to discuss both sides of the legalization issue. Activists in the Rocky Mountain state argue that marijuana is safer than alcohol and would be regulated like alcohol.
Still, groups against the amendment, such as Smart Colorado, take issue with children having access to marijuana and believe the law promotes increased use of a drug that is still federally illegal. Those opposed to the amendment but not legalization have largely taken an issue with the language of the legislation.
Audrey Hatfield, president of C4CPR says that while many people believe the amendment is a chance for Colorado to be a part of an historic marijuana reform movement, she takes issue with the legislation. “A lot of people on the ‘Yes’ side are touting this as legalization, and it’s not. My feeling is, if marijuana is going to stay on Schedule 1 and if you’re going to have limits on how much you can have, that, to me, is still prohibition.”
All the usual suspects
Growers may be an unlikely opponent to recreational legalization, but there are some groups that oppose legalization because they directly benefit from marijuana’s illegal status.
Police unions are at the top of the list for lobby groups against marijuana legalization because as long as marijuana is illegal, police departments are able to collect millions of dollars in federal grants given specifically for cracking down on marijuana use. Defeats to legislation like Proposition 19 allow groups like the California Police Chiefs Association to continue to receive millions of dollars in federal funding each year for their efforts on the War on Drugs programs.
Private for-profit prisons and prison guard unions are also interested in keeping cannabis illegal as catching users leads to hefty profits for the prisons and the drug programs they offer. It’s estimated there are more than 850,000 marijuana-related arrests each year in the U.S., amounting to about one “pot bust” every 37 seconds. Most concerning to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other minority groups, marijuana drug enforcement falls disproportionately on African-Americans and Latinos, even though white people use marijuana at the same rate.
The fact that minorities are targeted more than white people is the reason why organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have called legalization efforts social-justice issues and endorsed Colorado’s Amendment 64.
Rosemary Harris Lytle, communications director for the Colorado-Montana-Wyoming chapter of NAACP, said, “People of color are much more likely to be searched, much more likely to be arrested, much more likely to be prosecuted, much more likely to be convicted, and much more likely to be incarcerated for a drug-related offense than non-African-Americans or Latinos.”
Alcohol and beer companies are against legalization as they fear easier access to marijuana would take away customers who were hesitant to use an illegal substance. Prohibitionists and rehabilitation centers are also in support of halting legalization.
Pharmaceutical companies are often thought to be a top donor to the anti-legalization lobby as marijuana may be used as a replacement for some over-the-counter medications, including basic painkillers. “John,” an insider wishing to remain anonymous from the State of California’s Department of Food and Agriculture, told MintPress that pharmaceutical companies are actually in-favor of legalization since marijuana commonly alleviates negative side effects of medications.
“John” told MintPress that pharmaceutical companies are not overly concerned about losing money on $5 bottles of Tylenol when they have the potential to make hundreds from medicines that are more expensive and have negative side effects that are easily combated by the use of marijuana.
He also shared that the amount of pesticides used on marijuana plants is much more frequent than the public knows, as is the amount of harm the pesticides cause when ingested by users. Growers often use pesticides to ensure the survival of a plant and to make them bloom faster. If legalization initiatives pass, the government would regulate the pesticides used and growers would no longer be able to rely on this technique to increase their supply.
Only a matter of time
When Proposition 19 failed in California in 2010, many marijuana users believed it was a step-backward in ending marijuana prohibition. But legalization advocates like NORML said the amount of support for the legislation and the fact that there even was such legislation, was a sign of progress.
Print This Story