I just returned from the High Times Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, and thought I might share some thoughts about the state of the legalization efforts in the Netherlands, as contrasted to the US.
The Coffee Shops
Amsterdam is famous for its coffee shops, where those over 18 are permitted to purchase and enjoy marijuana. But in recent years the Dutch government has taken steps to close a few of the shops, and limit the amount which one can purchase to five grams from any one shop. Yet, despite these changes, coffee shops remain plentiful and high quality marijuana remains convenient to anyone in Amsterdam.
Importantly for us Americans, contrary to the public statements issued by government officials in recent months declaring the coffee shops are off-limits to foreigners, fear not; there are coffee shops in nearly every block in downtown Amsterdam and I visited at least eight of them during my five days in the country, and never once did anyone ask if I were a citizen of the Netherlands. And in many of the coffee shops I visited, there were several other American tourists also enjoying this unique experience, along with plenty of locals as well.
To read the balance of this column, please go to Marijuana.com.
One of the policy areas in greatest need of reform involves the typical response of our child custody system in this country when they learn that a parent smokes marijuana; in all states today, including those that have legalized marijuana either for medical use or for all adults, the child custody agency stubbornly maintains an unfair bias against parents who smoke marijuana.
I suspect most of us have personally witnessed the disruption to someone’s life that results when, for any of a number of possible reasons, a parent’s marijuana smoking becomes known to the state’s child welfare agency. Sometimes it is because the couple are going through a hostile separation or divorce, and one parent attempts to use the other’s use of marijuana to gain advantage, either to limit that parent’s access to the children or to get a more favorable financial arrangement. Other times it begins with the complaint of a nosy neighbor who claims to have smelled marijuana (or to have seen someone smoking it), and who calls the authorities.
Regardless of the origin of the complaint or the motivation of the complaintant, once the state’s child welfare agency is called into the dispute, a legal process is begun that will all too often be disruptive to the health and welfare of the child, the very opposite of the stated intent of the inquiry. It is also an expensive and heartbreaking experience to a parent or parents who have to hire lawyers and focus their life for months on end jumping through any number of legal hoops to demonstrate that, despite their marijuana smoking, they remain loving parents who provide a safe and healthy environment for their minor children.
To understand this awkward legal squeeze all too many parents find themselves facing, it is important to realize we have parallel legal systems in effect in these states: one deals with what conduct is or is not criminal; the other focuses only on what is in the best interests of the child. And even as we continue to make progress removing the responsible use of marijuana from the criminal code, either for medical use or for all adults, the child custody courts in those same states continue to begin any inquiry with the presumption that marijuana smokers are not fit parents, and marijuana smoking by adults, even when it is protected conduct under that state’s laws, is dangerous to any children and evidence of an unhealthy environment in which to raise a child.
Dear NORML Members and Supporters:
Please allow me to wax nostalgic for a moment or two about the wonderful progress we have all seen in recent years, with a majority of the country now supporting and end to prohibition, and the adoption of various forms of marijuana legalization in many states. The political environment was not always so favorable.
When we started NORML in 1970, only 12% of the population supported legalization; 88% supported prohibition. It has been a long, slow and sometimes arduous effort, but we have finally won the hearts and minds of most is our citizens, despite the fact that only 14% are marijuana smokers. They have concluded that prohibition causes far more harm to society than the use of marijuana, and that regulating the sale of marijuana is the better policy.
With our recent spate of victories at the state level, currently 17 states and the District of Columbia (and several major cities) have stopped treating marijuana smokers like criminals; 23 states and the District of Columbia offer legal medical marijuana; and four states have fully legalized marijuana with state-licensed dispensaries. We have reached a tipping point in the decades-long drive to legalize marijuana, and with your continued support, there is no turning back!
And we can already see the benefits: for the fourth year in a row the number of Americans arrested on marijuana charges has declined. And these declines will only increase as we move forward with victories in additional states. We expect full legalization voter initiatives to be approved in 2016 in California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine (and perhaps a few others that are only now being organized).
NORML’s Work Has Just Begun
In each of these legalized states, the real job of NORML is just getting started. When I founded NORML it was the result of some work I had done with consumer-advocate Ralph Nader, and I envisioned the organization as a Consumers’ Union for marijuana smokers. As a consumer lobby, we must work to assure the smokers have access to legal marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable. We must demand that the marijuana be tested to assure there are no molds or pesticides, and we need to know the strength of the THC and the CBD, and to know what terpenoids are present. These are basic consumer rights that we could not get when marijuana was only available on the black market, but which we have every right to expect in a legal market.
And to encourage the newly legal marijuana industry to abide by a set of “best practices”, we have established the NORML Business Network, to help consumers recognize “consumer-friendly” companies. As in any new industry, there are some whose only interest is to maximize their profits, but many of these new companies feel a responsibility to adopt higher standards. The NORML Business Network will help consumers distinguish between the two.
4 Down – 46 To Go!
We obviously have much work to be done before we totally end marijuana prohibition and stop the arrest of responsible marijuana smokers all across America. But we have made a substantial start, and the public support and political momentum is clearly on our side. With your continued support, we will see this fight through to a successful conclusion, and set a standard for the rest of the world to follow.
Please make a generous contribution to NORML today of $50 or $100 or $1,000 or whatever you can afford. If you wish to make a tax-exempt contribution, make your donation to the NORML Foundation. But please do your part to recognize the tremendous progress we have made over these last four decades, and to assure we continue that progress in the months and years ahead. Donate $50 or more and receive the new documentary DVD called ‘EVERGREEN: The road to marijuana legalization in Washington State’.
NORML Founder and Legal Counsel
After several decades of Reefer Madness propaganda dominating the discussion of marijuana in the media, it should be no surprise that many Americans, especially older Americans who are not personally familiar with marijuana, believe that “getting high” is somehow a bad experience, something to be avoided by responsible citizens. It is assumed that this experience is a waste of time, or even worse, that it somehow damages the healthy individual.
Yet, I have found that marijuana smoking has been a positive experience in my life, allowing me, when I am high, to stand back half-a-step and see my life in a clearer perspective. Yes, we all know that getting high is fun: food tastes better when one is high, and music sounds better and sex is even more enjoyable. But getting high is more than just pleasurable; in the right situation, it is an enriching experience.
Specifically, if I have something I need to write, whether an article for publication or the outline for a talk I am scheduled to deliver, I find it extraordinarily helpful to isolate myself in my home office for a few hours and get stoned, allowing my mind to freely wander, making notes of any seemingly insightful thoughts that result, jotting down whatever free-associations arise, and frequently discovering issues and new ways to analyze a topic that should have been obvious to me all along, but had not come to mind until I was high.
It’s as if the marijuana high eliminates some of the barriers we otherwise construct on our imagination and our creativity. Somehow, we appear to protect ourselves from the perceived risk of thinking out of the mainstream, by closing off some creative pathways. Marijuana can reopen those pathways, and give us new understanding.
NORML is pleased to announce 420 Food Safety as the newest member of the NORML Business Network. 420 Food Safety works to help businesses produce safe wholesome products from the farm to the customer. The marijuana industry is fraught with risk and regulations, especially when it comes to edibles and other food products. This company works to help reduce that risk and increase education by implementing science-based techniques from good agricultural practices to food safety plans. It’s a multi-layered program summed up by the company slogan “seed to sale safety.” Consumers need to know that growers and manufacturers understand how to preclude physical, chemical and microbiological hazards from their products, and this company is perfectly positioned to do just that. When it comes to food safety, self regulation is a crucial component to the success of this burgeoning new industry.
Dr. Michele Pfannenstiel serves as 420 Food Safety’s President and CEO. Dr. P first learned the food safety skills she now brings to cannabis producers and processors across the country when she was commissioned into the US Army Veterinary Corps. She is a certified HACCP auditor through ASQ. Her audits are accepted by such companies as Whole Foods and L.L. Bean. She serves as the President of the Maine chapter of the Farmer Veteran Coalition, and as the Director of Food Safety for the national Farmer Veteran Coalition. A sought after speaker, Dr. P has taught food safety workshops at the Stone Barns Center, Pigstock, the Wallace Center Food Hub Conference, the New England Meat Conference, and the Empowering Women Veterans in Business and Agriculture Conference.