Senate Bill 460 permits state-licensed medical marijuana dispensaries to also engage in cannabis sales to non-medical persons beginning on October 1, 2015. Adults will be allowed to purchase up to one-quarter ounce of cannabis per visit per day.
Initiated legislation approved by voters in November and enacted on July 1 allows those over the age of 21 to legally possess up to one ounce of cannabis and/or to engage in the non-commercial cultivation of up to four marijuana plants (yielding up to eight ounces of marijuana). Separate provisions in the law permitting the licensed production and retail sale of cannabis to adults were not anticipated to go into effect until next summer. Senate Bill 60 permits adults to legally obtain cannabis from dispensaries during this interim period.
Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington permit adults to legally possess and purchase limited quantities of marijuana for their own personal use. The District of Columbia also allows adults to possess and grow marijuana legally, but does not provide for as regulated commercial cannabis market. All of these measures were enacted by the passage of voter initiatives.
In my lifetime, the island nation of Jamaica, which gained its independence from Great Britain in 1962, has been one of the world’s most cannabis-friendly nations, both for locals and for tourists. While technically marijuana, or ganja as they call it in Jamaica, was until recently illegal, in fact marijuana and marijuana smoking was largely ignored by authorities, and one could not get through the airport at either Negril or Kingston without being offered marijuana by several local entrepreneurs, competing for your business.
I know because I accepted the hospitality of these “Welcome Wagon” connections on a couple of occasions, and found the product to be excellent, and the cost was a bargain, at least compared to high-quality home-grown marijuana in the US.
And, of course, Jamaica is home to the Rastafarians, a fascinating and colorful (frequent use of red, yellow and green stripes in their hats and other clothing, the colors from the Ethiopian flag) religion that was started in Jamaica in the 1930s by descendants of African slaves, that celebrates the spiritual use of cannabis and is practiced by an estimated 1,000,000 adherents world-wide.
For many Americans, their first awareness of Jamaica may well have been cultural, when they first heard Bob Marley, a Rastafari musician, songwriter and singer who introduced reggae music and dreadlocks to the world, openly preached the benefits of marijuana smoking, and who became enormously popular in the U.S. and around the world, selling more than 75 million albums. Similarly, Peter Tosh, another reggae music star who first performed with Marley as part of the Wailers, before becoming a successful solo artist (who could ever forget his 1976 “Legalize It” anthem), popularized Rastafarianism, and advocated for marijuana legalization.
Sadly, Marley died of melanoma in 1981 at the age of 36, but his influence and reputation continue to fascinate, even today. The Marley family earlier this year announced that, in conjunction with the Privateer Holding Company from the U.S., they will be offering a new global cannabis brand to be called Marley Natural, featuring “heirloom Jamaican cannabis strains inspired by those Bob Marley enjoyed.” And President Obama, in a state visit to Jamaica in February, made an unscheduled stop at the Bob Marley museum. Obama had earlier, in an interview with MTV, discussed the influence Marley had on him during his youth.
I traveled to Jamaica on two occasions during the 1990s to work with Jamaica NORML to move proposed legalization proposals forward through their parliament. On both occasions, despite a clear majority of legislators wishing to officially legalize ganja, senior government officials became convinced the U.S. would punish Jamaica were it to legalize marijuana, by cutting important aid programs, and the legalization drive was stopped dead in its tracks. They wanted to legalize ganja, but they needed our foreign aid, and the U.S. was more than happy at that time to use the leverage of our aid programs to dismantle their ganja reform efforts.
But all of that leverage ended once states in the U.S. began to push forward with marijuana legalization, without sanctions or punitive responses from the federal government. Seeing that legalization was no longer verboten within the U.S., the Jamaicans realized they now had the freedom to determine their own domestic marijuana policy without fear of U.S. economic retribution.
In late February of this year, the Jamaican Parliament enacted new laws governing ganja, which took effect on July 15, removing criminal penalties for possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, substituting a $5 civil fine with no arrest or criminal record. In addition, households will be permitted to cultivate up to five marijuana plants. The legislation also authorized officials to enact regulations licensing the cultivation and dispensing of medical and industrial cannabis, as well as the right of the Rastafarians to use ganja as a religious sacrament.
While the Parliament has not yet authorized regulations to license commercial growers and recreational dispensaries, most observers expect that will come in the near future. Already they have invited U.S. marijuana tourism by announcing that those from the U.S. who hold medical recommendations will also qualify to obtain up to 2 ounces of medical ganja while they are in Jamaica. Justice Minister Mark Golding described the reforms as “long overdue.”
And to appropriately celebrate the addition of Jamaica to the growing list of countries that have decriminalized the use of marijuana, High Times recently announced they will be holding a World Cannabis Cup in Negril this year, on Nov. 12–15. Now that’s an occasion I would not want to miss.
Yeah, mon! See you in Negril.
States that permit qualified patients to access medical marijuana via dispensaries possess lower rates of opioid addiction and overdose deaths, according to a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, a non-partisan think-tank.
Researchers from the RAND Corporation and the University of California, Irvine assessed the impact of medical marijuana laws on problematic opioid use, as measured by treatment admissions for opioid pain reliever addiction (compiled from the years 1992 to 2012) and by state-level opioid overdose deaths (compiled from the years 1999 to 2013).
“[S]tates permitting medical marijuana dispensaries experience a relative decrease in both opioid addictions and opioid overdose deaths compared to states that do not,” authors reported. They found that women over the age of 40 showed the most significant decrease in problematic opioid use.
Data published last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine reported that the enactment of statewide medicinal marijuana laws is associated with significantly lower state-level opioid overdose mortality rates. “States with medical cannabis laws had a 24.8 percent lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states without medical cannabis laws,” investigators reported.
Overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics have increased dramatically over the past decade. While fewer than 4,100 opiate-induced fatalities were reported for the year 1999, by 2010 this figure rose to over 16,600 according to an analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control.
An abstract of the study, “Do Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Addictions and Deaths Related to Pain Killers?”, is available online here.
The use of marijuana by younger adolescents is falling while their perceived disapproval of cannabis use is rising, according to data published this week in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse.
Investigators from the University of Texas at Austin evaluated trends in young people’s attitudes toward cannabis and their use of the substance during the years 2002 to 2013 – a time period where 14 states enacted laws legalizing the medical use of the plant, and two states approved its recreational use by adults. (Six states also enacted laws decriminalizing marijuana possession offenses during this time.) Analyses were based on self-reported measurements from a nationally representative sample of 105,903 younger adolescents (aged 12-14); 110,949 older adolescents (aged 15-17); and 221,976 young adults (aged 18-25).
Researchers reported that the proportion of adolescents age 12 to 14 who strongly disapproved of marijuana use rose significantly during this period. The percentage of 12 to 14-year-olds reporting having used marijuana during the past year fell significantly during this same time period.
Among youth age 15 to 17, past year cannabis use also fell significantly, while young people’s perception of marijuana remained largely unchanged.
“Our results may suggest that recent changes in public policy, including the decriminalization, medicalization, and legalization of marijuana in cities and states across the country, have not resulted in more use or greater approval of marijuana use among younger adolescents,” the study’s lead investigator said in a press release.
Young adults age 18 to 25, in contrast to their younger peers, were less likely in 2013 to disapprove of the use of cannabis. However, this change in attitude was not positively associated with significant rises in past year marijuana use by members of this age group, researchers reported.
Separate survey data reported by the University of Michigan has reported an overall decline over the past decade in the percentage of young people perceiving a “great risk” associated with the use of marijuana. However, this decline in perceived risk has not been accompanied by a parallel increase in cannabis use by young people.
The abstract of the study, “Trends in the disapproval and use of marijuana among adolescents and young adults in the United States: 2002-2013,” appears online here.
Without doubt, it is important that we begin to move forward with the legalization of lounges and social clubs that permit marijuana smokers to gather and enjoy their favorite strains. Marijuana smoking is a social activity, and most smokers would like the option of dropping by a local marijuana-friendly venue, to relax with friends and like-minded colleagues.
Currently, none of the four states that have fully legalized marijuana allow for this option. Smoking in a public venue is prohibited, and the authorities have taken a needlessly restrictive view of what is a public place, refusing, for example, to permit someone to lease a private venue and operate a private, members-only club where marijuana could be enjoyed. There is no public-policy or public-health basis for being so restrictive
As we move forward, it is important that we not permit ourselves to get shoe-horned into some system that suggests we are second-class citizens, simply because we enjoy smoking marijuana, and that would effectively keep us in the closet. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and there is no reason why we should not be permitted to enjoy marijuana in a lounge or social club with friends.
Smokers’ clubs have in fact surfaced in all of the legalization states, where those in the know can meet and share good weed, but they are forced to operate on the fringes, as part of a “gray market,” and several have already been closed by the authorities. I had the opportunity to visit a “smoke-easy” in Denver when I was in town for the 4/20 Cannabis Cup, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience, but was saddened to learn the club had been raided and closed the following day. Gray market clubs are clearly not the long-term answer to this problem.
In Seattle, City Attorney Pete Holmes, a strong advocate for legalizing marijuana, has recently given a boost to this issue by releasing a 10-page report calling for the licensing of marijuana-friendly lounges. “Single family homeowners have a legal place to consume marijuana,” Holmes said, “but others however, such as out-of-town visitors, the homeless, and renters and condominium owners whose buildings do not permit marijuana use, have fewer options. You can enforce the law much better if you, at the same time, provide an outlet for that demand.” No action has yet resulted in Seattle to permit marijuana lounges, but the topic is now front and center for consideration by elected officials.
So I was pleased to learn a few days ago that an effort is underway to qualify an initiative for the Denver ballot this November to remove some of those barriers, and to legalize marijuana-friendly clubs and lounges. The proposal would permit existing alcohol bars and clubs to permit those 21 and older to consume marijuana in designated areas; vaporizing and edibles if indoors, and smoking if outdoors and out of public view.
Let’s Keep Our Distance from Alcohol
My concern with this specific proposal to legalize marijuana lounges is that it would allow marijuana smoking in venues that are also licensed to sell alcohol. I would urge a model that allows for the licensing of marijuana-friendly lounges, but keep those separate from existing alcohol bars and clubs. I am not making a moral judgement; I personally enjoy both drugs, and when I am home in the evenings, I frequently pour myself a glass of wine and roll a joint. But I am at home in a safe environment, and not putting anyone at any risk.
The two drugs, when used together, are synergistic, and the effect of combining the two causes far greater short-term impairment than either drug by itself, raising legitimate questions of public safety if alcohol bars and clubs were also marijuana-friendly. It would require the bar tender to be far more careful about “cutting-off” anyone who appeared to be getting drunk, and their track-record in that regard is not reassuring.
In addition, alcohol is a drug that causes many drinkers, at some point, to become aggressive and confrontational, resulting in bar fights and other unruly and repulsive behavior on a regular basis. Marijuana, on the other hand, causes most users to feel relaxed and peaceful, and certainly not confrontational. That distinction is one that is both relevant and helpful politically, and we should strive culturally to maintain that advantage. Were we to establish a system in which both drugs were sold in the same venues, we would likely end-up being judged (by the 84 percent of the public who do not currently smoke marijuana) by the worst behavior caused by alcohol, including it’s impact on safe driving skills, and that is a needless political burden to carry.
Interestingly, Colorado state Representative Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), a strong supporter of legalized marijuana, has previously floated ideas involving cannabis-only clubs, such as those that operate in Amsterdam, but those would be alcohol-free venues, avoiding the public safety and political issues discussed above. The latest proposal being advanced for Denver fails to maintain that distinction.
I recognize that even if marijuana lounges were free of alcohol, there is nothing that would keep an individual from stopping at an alcohol bar, for example, for an hour, before then leaving for a marijuana lounge. No system can avoid all risks, and in the end we must rely on the common sense of most marijuana smokers to avoid dangerous and abusive practices. But we need not establish a system that creates those opportunities and invites those problems.
A recent poll released by a Washington, DC group called the Third Way found that roughly one-third of the public remain opposed to marijuana legalization; one third remain strongly in favor of legalization; and the remaining third – dubbed “the marijuana middle” – now oppose prohibition, and support full legalization, but they are not pro-pot. Rather they recognize that prohibition has caused more problems than the drug it attempts to prohibit. And important for this discussion, only 36 percent of the survey respondents viewed recreational marijuana smokers favorably; 54 percent have an unfavorable impression of those of us who smoke recreationally.
That underscores the fragile nature of the coalition that has made it possible for us to move legalization forward in this country, and the need to move cautiously as we ask for additional rights under these new laws. We must be sensitive to the legitimate concerns of non-smokers, in order to maintain our majority for full legalization, and I fear this latest proposal coming out of Denver puts a big political bulls-eye right on our backs.
I would urge those proposing this change to consider amending their initial proposal to allow for marijuana-only lounges and clubs in Denver, but take a lead from Amsterdam and do not permit marijuana to be smoked in alcohol clubs, or alcohol to be consumed in marijuana clubs. That would provide us smokers with what we need — the opportunity to socialize with other smokers — without the additional risks, both political and real, of mixing the two drugs.