By "Radical" Russ Belville
(The New York Times) SEATTLE — A shooting and a beating death linked to medical marijuana have prompted new calls by law enforcement officials and marijuana advocates for Washington State to change how it regulates the drug and protects those who grow and use it.
The crimes are the most violent that advocates and law enforcement officials said they could recall involving medical marijuana in Washington. In both cases, they said, the victims appear to have been chosen because they were known to have relatively large amounts of marijuana in their homes. They say the crimes underscore conflicts in state policy that have become evident since Washington legalized medical marijuana in 1998.
Though the recent violence has drawn new attention to the issue, robberies have become more common in Washington over the years. Marijuana advocates complain that robberies are underreported because law enforcement officials focus more on confiscating marijuana from the growers than on arresting the thieves. The authorities, in turn, have noted that some growers are exceeding limits on how much of the drug they can possess, and say the circumstances of some robberies are murky.
Mark my words: that “change how it regulates the drug and protects those who grow and use it” is going to mean “that medical marijuana is so dangerous we can’t let you grow your own at home”.
We’ve already seen New Jersey institute the first no-home-grow medical marijuana law. Pennsylvania and New York are moving in the same direction. Arizonans are working on an MPP-sponsored initiative that forbids home growing if you live within a 25-mile “halo” of a dispensary (read: every urban area).
They will tell us that dispensaries provide the safe access patients need, with strong security regulations, so that no patient should ever have to fear an invasion robbery for the plants heshe* is growing at home. (Pay no attention to the $300-$500 per ounce price versus the $30-$50 per ounce it costs you to grow at home. That’s the price of your security.)
Oh, sure, they could just legalize cannabis for all adults and remove most of the threat of invasion robberies altogether. But that would be entirely too logical.
I’m just warning my fellow Pacific Northwesterners, where we’re allowed to grow fifteen (Washington) or twenty-four (Oregon) marijuana plants, that the next changes you’re going to see floated in the legislature will be the establishment of dispensaries in lieu of allowing home growing. I don’t mind the former, so long as we’re allowed to keep the latter, but that’s not the way it is going to be spun by law enforcement. They will say:
“We have the utmost of compassion for the truly sick and disabled who can be helped by medical marijuana… but we cannot let our compassion blind us to the need for public safety. Medical marijuana activists have always asked that marijuana be treated like other medicines, yet we don’t allow patients to manufacture their own Vicodin, Oxycontin, or Percocet in home laboratories, do we?
“These violent home invasions robberies don’t just threaten the patient, but the patient’s family and the patient’s entire neighborhood are at risk from home indoor marijuana farming. This new dispensary system we are proposing will allow us to act on our compassion for the sick while taking the sensible measure of creating safeguards around its manufacture and distribution like we do for all powerful medications.”
(I can just hear people now saying, “Dude, don’t give them any ideas!” Trust me, they’ve already gotten this idea in their minds, though they may not be as clever as me in using our buzzwords “compassion” and “sensible” against us.)
This is why I have long been saying that medical marijuana was a good opening salvo in the war to end marijuana prohibition, but continuing to stick with the medical path is going to lead to pharmaceuticalization of cannabis, with punishments for healthy people’s use of cannabis akin to being caught with prescription pills you don’t have a prescription for. The violence, fraud, and corruption inherent in prohibition will infect the limited medical use frame and rather than properly ascribing that to the prohibition for healthy people, the negatives will be ascribed to the lack of controls in the medical marijuana laws.
If we don’t change the frame of cannabis from “powerful effective medicine” to “safe effective relaxant” soon, we’ll have legal marijuana in all fifty states all right… as legal for your doctor to prescribe to you as cocaine and anabolic steroids, and just as illegal to use without that prescription.
*”heshe” (pronounced “heesh”) is “he or she”, like “himer” is “him or her” and “hiser” is “his or her”. I’m trying to create gender-neutral third person pronouns.