Weblog of Leland Rucker
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Toking in the New Year in Colorado

Governor John Hickenlooper signed Colorado Amendment 64 less than a month ago, and as 2013 begins, two marijuana social clubs, one in Denver and another in Del Norte, have opened, member’s-only places where adults can consumer marijuana with other like-minded individuals.

Details on private clubs – the amendment is quite specific in not allowing public consumption – will be forthcoming as the legislature takes up rules and regulations of marijuana this year. But until then Robert Corry, an attorney who is credited with helping push the legislation through, and Paul Lovato, who owns the White Horse Inn in Del Norte, assume that as long as it’s private and no sales are taking place, for now it’s legal. Details at the Denver Post.

In other news, the Dacono City Council shut down its dispensaries and forced owners to mulch their product, but it will take up the issue in its meeting Wednesday. The council might decide to rescind the ban or put the reopening issue to a public vote. More here.

UPDATE: The White Horse Inn in Del Norte closed after opening on Dec. 31 for a couple of hours to enjoy the distinction (especially in the media) of being the first pot shop to open. His landlord didn’t approve — the lease began Jan. 1 — and  owner Paul Lovato was forced to close. He told media that he might open again after the rules for shops are in place. Full story here.

January 1, 2013   No Comments

About Pot, the Feds Have a Scheduling Problem

4-20-11, CU campus Smoke-Out. CU spent $278,000 to try and end it in 2012.

Much of the problem with marijuana is its current designation as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government. The government’s persecution of marijuana goes back at least to 1935, when the newly created Bureau of Narcotics, needing some narcotic to fight, created a campaign of disinformation intended to make people believe that pot was directly related to crime, violent behavior, insanity and sexual deviance. Which led to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, which considerably restricted the usage, distribution and production of cannabis products. (For much more on the government vs. marijuana back in the 1930s, here’s John Lupien’s master’s thesis on that subject.)

But it was the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 that codified the War on Drugs, President Richard Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell’s misguided plan to stamp out psychotropic drugs in the United States.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy says that the government will spend about $15 billion this year trying to keep people from smoking marijuana. 15 billion dollars. Multiply that by 40 years, take into account that marijuana is easily available to anyone in America who wants it, and you have a policy of utter failure. (I get these numbers from the Drug War Clock, which uses government figures.)

According to the act, Schedule I substances must include the following characteristics:

1) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.

2) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.

3) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

I won’t argue point one today except to say that any drug has a potential for abuse. Marijuana’s is less than most. How about another cup of coffee? And “high potential” is completely subjective. No one has ever overdosed on pot.

But with a host of studies suggesting marijuana’s medical benefits and 19 states (including the District of Columbia, which proves that Congress and the Justice Department can’t even control it in their own district) allowing medical patients to purchase and consume cannabis for pain or symptom relief, marijuana’s current status seems ready, if nothing else, for a second look.

This story has been told before, but let’s not forget the circumstances of marijuana’s Schedule 1 status. The Controlled Substances Act was aimed at the marijuana/LSD menaces Nixon and Mitchell perceived, much as the Bureau of Narcotics had 35 years earlier. Remember, the hippies were running wild and naked and fornicating all across America with blunts of the dreaded reefer sticking out of their mouths.

Anyway, Nixon dispatched a former Pennsylvania governor, Raymond Shafer, to study pot abuse in America and come up with some “wink, wink” proposals. Shafer’s National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse took the charge seriously and recommended the decriminalization of marijuana for adults in small amounts. It’s a document worth perusing. Here’s one paragraph that, given all the surveillance over citizens these days, all Americans should ponder. “The criminal law is too harsh a tool to apply to personal possession even in the effort to discourage use. It implies an overwhelming indictment of the behavior which we believe is not appropriate,” the report states. “The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior, a step which our society takes only with the greatest reluctance.”

Nixon and Mitchell roundly rejected the findings and put pot in Schedule 1, right up there with heroin, LSD, Ecstasy, mescaline, Quaaludes, peyote and psilocybin. Cocaine, because of its limited medical use, got a Schedule 2 classification, considered by the federal government to be safer than marijuana. Even before the commission’s report was released, Nixon told Shafer he would only embarrass himself and that they would pay it no heed. Read about this and other hallucinatory Nixon conspiracy theories involving marijuana, homosexuality, communism and Jews in this Gene Weingarten Washington Post column.

Now, 42 years later, two states, for starters, in November called the Justice Department on its bullshit hypocrisy. Given the mood of the electorate and, happily, the lack of concern today’s younger generation has for legalization, we won’t be the last.

So instead of Gov. Hickenlooper seeking “clarity” on marijuana from Justice – a truly laughable notion in itself — he should be asking why marijuana continues to be listed as a Schedule 1 drug when cannabis is grown and sold for medical uses in almost forty percent of states, including his own and the District of Columbia.

December 14, 2012   No Comments

On the Day Pot Becomes Legal, It’s Reefer Madness Again in Boulder

Bike rack, Table Mesa and 40th Bus Stop, Boulder, Colorado. (Leland Rucker)

Bruce Springsteen put it aptly at his Denver concert last month. “I understand that Colorado just underlined its Rocky Mountain High.” The word’s getting around about our state, the budding Amsterdam of the American West.

On Nov. 6. about 55 percent of Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which allows anyone over 21 years of age the right to have an ounce or six plants of marijuana for personal use.   Even glowing-red El Paso County came out for decriminalization, though just barely. Voters in Denver and Boulder overwhelmingly supported the amendment and were mostly responsible for its passage. Today, December 10, 2012, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed the amendment into law.

Colorado voters in 2000 approved a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana for patients with approved cards in Colorado. But it wasn’t until the spring of 2009, following a Justice Department edict that said that the federal government wouldn’t interfere with state marijuana laws, that Colorado erupted in a crescendo of craziness and reefer madness.

Under a volcano of optimism, entrepreneurs – old pot dealers, mom-and-pop businesspeople, everybody, it seemed  – got into the legal medical business. Legislators, caught off guard, for whatever reasons, didn’t deal with state regulations for months, leaving it to local jurisdictions to deal with an onslaught of dispensaries, grow operations and card-carrying patients. Cities reacted in various ways. Some banned dispensaries outright; others, like Breckenridge, completely decriminalized pot within its boundaries.

That crazy period is well documented in Pot, Inc.: Inside Medical Marijuana, America’s Most Outlaw Industry, a great book by Greg Campbell, a Ft. Collins journalist who writes of getting a medical marijuana card and growing six plants in hopes of selling to dispensaries amidst the craziness.

Now Colorado has legalized pot, which brings up more than a few grams of questions and even more reefer madness. First, it puts the federal government on notice that more and more of its citizens, even those who don’t smoke pot, are sick and tired of the hypocritical Drug War rat hole down which billions of our tax dollars plunge each year criminalizing the act of smoking a plant anyone can grow and Grandma now uses to ease her chronic pain. Unless President Obama’s Justice Department decides to revisit marijuana’s current Schedule 1 status, the passage of Amendment 64 might ignite a hell of a states’ right battle.

The Obama administration has followed its predecessors, waffling on its pledge not to interfere in states that have approved medical marijuana. Locally it has issued cease-and-desist orders to dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a school, even if they were in local compliance. It recently reminded Washington state, which also legalized pot in November, of its Schedule 1 status.

Attorney General Eric Holder has not replied to requests from Colorado congresspeople or Gov. John Hickenlooper, for clarity, perhaps because, when it comes to the Feds and marijuana, there is no clarity, no common sense and no science involved in its decision-making process. For seventy-five years marijuana has been demonized by its Schedule One classification, and for forty of those years the federal government has waged a so-called drug war, with our tax dollars, incarcerating mostly poor and minority pot smokers while allowing the marijuana market in the United States to grow into perhaps the nation’s largest agricultural product. Make no mistake; pot is far more ubiquitous and easy-to-find today than it was in when the government began waging war on it.

Locally, Stan Garnett and Mitch Morrissey, district attorneys for Boulder and Denver counties, announced they would drop all pending marijuana possession cases, while Weld County D.A. (and fierce opponent of Amendment 64) Ken Buck said he would prosecute people up until, well, today.

Boulder’s city attorney, Tom Carr, who was voted out of the same office in Seattle at least in part because of his anti-marijuana policies, recommended the city not allow dispensaries because the window for the state to write its regulations and the city to start issuing business licenses is only a few months away and asked a two-year moratorium before revisiting the situation. No less than Nobel laureate Eric Cornell denounced Carr’s actions, quickly seconded by former City Council member and County Commissioner Paul Danish. Wisely, current council members reminded Carr that 2/3 of the voters in Boulder approved Amendment 64 and that perhaps he should revisit his current thinking.

And then, University of Colorado President Bruce Benson, in a bizarre email sent to alumni late Friday night, wrote that he personally had worked to oppose the passage of Amendment 64 and suggested that the university might lose a billion dollars a year in funding because of its passage, an astounding claim. “The glaring practical problem is that we stand to lose significant federal funding,” Benson wrote. “CU must comply with the federal Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act, which compels us to ban illicit drugs from campus.”

Benson generally keeps his opinions to himself, but he is the guy who authorized CU to spend more than $278,000 to try to stop the 4-20 Smokeout at CU in April. Congressman Jared Polis, in effect calling Benson a liar, pointed out that the university already has banned illicit drugs from the campus and that the amendment’s passage has nothing to do with CU funding. Local entrepreneur and CU donor Brad Feld called for Benson to retract his comments and leave his personal agenda out of CU-alumni communications.

There is more of this kind of lunacy ahead. Even Hickenlooper opposed Amendment 64 before its passage. Who knows what mischief our Republican friends in the state House of Representatives might already be cooking up to subvert Amendment 64 in the legislature’s next session?

All of this is just a reminder that, even here in our broad-minded enclave next to the Flatirons, a significant minority of people with significant power, for whatever reasons, don’t want to see marijuana regulated like alcohol in Colorado. Look for more insanity as reefer madness gives way to the fear of a stoned planet.

December 10, 2012

December 10, 2012   No Comments

And at 4:20, a Great Smoke Arose Over CU

Norlin Quadrangle, CU campus, 4:10 p.m. April 20, 2009.

Norlin Quadrangle, CU campus, 4:10 p.m. April 20, 2009.

I started a little before four on my bike for the 4/20 4:20 Smokeout up at CU. I had never attended this event, which has been held for umpteen years on this particular day each year. A few minutes later, crossing under U.S. 36 along Bear Creek, I noticed that traffic was backed up to the bike path. Smoke-out traffic from out of town.

I thought it was being held at Farrand Field, but when I stopped there, it was completely empty, so I just followed the crowds and my nose to Norlin Quadrangle.

By the time I got there a little after four, the Quad was jammed ass to elbow, so I locked my bike and waded into the crowd to take some photographs and soak up the atmosphere, so to speak.

Norlin Quadrangle, CU campus, 4:20 p.m., April 20, 2009.

Norlin Quadrangle, CU campus, 4:20 p.m., April 20, 2009.

A literal sea of people took up every available square foot of the entire quad. Looking across at Old Main, where students were standing on the south steps cheering, I thought of the iconic photos of student protests in the 1960s. At 4:18 great cheers went up for a guy who made it almost to the top of a tree in the middle of the Quad. Another guy near me tried to maneuver his way into another tree with a large drum. Some young girls walked by dressed as a large set of headphones.

There were a lot of smiles, and beginning just before 4:20, a great cloud of smoke arose over the quadrangle, and the masses cheered and coughed their approval. Three or four vintage airplanes were circling low enough that they might have gotten a contact high during the five minutes of intense puffing.

What I didn’t see a lot of were police. As I walked back to my bike, I found a couple of Boulder officers standing along a rail and laughing, looking more curious than authoritative. I asked how many people they thought were jammed into the Quad, and they said it was 10,000 last year, and this year it looked like more. After hosting a well-received conference over the weekend about marijuana, what were school officials smoking when they put out an e-mail asking students not to attend?

What would the Smokeout be without treehuggers with drums?

What would the Smokeout be without treehuggers with drums?

But the real point I got watching this is that, after decades and billions of dollars spent each year to stop it and half a million people imprisoned, here and at many other places around the country, thousands of people, most apparently with their own stash, gathered and smoked marijuana. I’m only half joking when I say that given the size of the cloud, perhaps the government should consider how much money it can make by controlling it like alcohol.

Since Congress isn’t known for its common sense, I’m not expecting that to happen. But the complete hypocrisy of the drug war and everything it represents was on display this afternoon.

April 20, 2009   3 Comments