Cimarron, a ranching town of 1,000 in New Mexico, says it does not want a marijuana store. Residents cite the seaside town of Arcata in California where the Arcata Eye says people have finally had it because over 1,000 homes there have turned into "grow houses." Crime has spiked, newcomers are protecting their stash with pit bulls and guns, and some of those grow houses in Arcata have caught fire because of inadequate wiring.
Meanwhile, Whitefish, an upscale Montana town, is being sued because it refuses to allow a pot store. Then there's Ophir, a tiny Colorado town that wants to pump up its economy by using old greenhouses to produce enough marijuana to supply all of Colorado. Windsor, on the Colorado Front Range, has applications for five stores, Nederland, in the mountains west of Boulder, has six stores open and already doing business, and liberal Boulder has about 30, at least. Pot, it seems, is having a heyday -- especially if you include Los Angeles, which reportedly has more marijuana outlets than it has Starbucks franchises.
I, for one, have supported legalizing marijuana for decades on the grounds that it is not a Schedule 1 drug like heroin or cocaine, and its illegal sales fuel the cartels that corrupt and kill elected officials, judges, the police and innocent people in Mexico.
But the problem marijuana has presented all along is that it is both a recreational drug and a source of medicine, and cities in the West can't decide how to treat it. One bunch says stores should not be within 1,000 feet of a school or a church. Another bunch wants it to be handled by pharmacies. All of them agree that they want the money that would come from selling it to go to city or state coffers.
Cannabis sativa is a complicated plant. There are at least 66 different cannabinoids found in it along with a grab bag of other substances. Only a few are known for what they do to us. THC (delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol) gives you a buzz, while CBD (cannabidiol) takes that buzz away but does good things for convulsions and nausea. Some of the cannabinoids cause the munchies, some reduce the pressure in your eyeballs, and others act like aspirin and reduce inflammation.
As a recreational drug, marijuana is much safer than alcohol. An overdose causes the user to fall asleep, there is no fatal dose, being high does not lead to violent behavior and withdrawal does not provoke lethal convulsions. Of course, the plant packs as many tars and other nasty chemicals as a tobacco plant, and holding its unfiltered smoke in the lungs might be as carcinogenic as cigarette smoke. We won't know the consequences of widespread regular use of pot until enough human guinea pigs do it long enough for lung complications to manifest themselves.
In any case, in January of 2000, 54 percent of Colorado's voters approved Amendment 20 to the state Constitution authorizing the use of medical marijuana in small amounts for medically sick people. In Colorado, at least, it is clear that it is to be used medically, not recreationally. It strikes me that if this is the voter's intent, then it should be connected with a pharmacy rather than a ganja café or a massage parlor. There is still, however, the problem that a marijuana bust by a federal law enforcement agent can lead to a felony conviction.
So there are three things you can do with marijuana: legalize it, decriminalize it or ignore it. Colorado decriminalized weed so having less than a half-ounce was a misdemeanor and got you a ticket. Very few people ever got tickets so I guess it means the law was ignored. What's causing the uproar now is having marijuana sold publicly.
Here's my take on tokes: I have no problem with marijuana being used as a recreational drug so long as nobody drives while under the influence. I also have no problem with it being considered a medicine. People are already gobbling up huge amounts of dietary supplements, and there's no guarantee these supplements contain what they say they do or can fix what they claim to fix. And I have no problem with cities, states or proprietors of marijuana stores making some money selling it.
Pot is a fact of life and we might as well tax it to death.
Rob Pudim is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He writes in Boulder, Colorado.
Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at email@example.com.