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.
Members of the US Senate at a hearing yesterday expressed skepticism in regard to federal policies limiting the ability of investigators to engage in clinical studies of marijuana’s health benefits.
Senators heard from representatives from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), University of Mississippi Medical Center, Arrowhead Regional Medical Center and Project SAM on a variety of issues
The hearing’s most noteworthy moment came when Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, acknowledged that the monopoly on marijuana cultivation for research purposes ought to be amended. Currently, NIDA contracts strictly with the University of Mississippi to grow marijuana for use in research studies. This has led to a cannabis supply that is often delayed significantly and lacking in quality.
Dr. Volkow was supported in her acknowledgement by Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, Deputy Director for the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research with the FDA who answered, “Yes, I think there are advantages to a broad supply of varied marijuana.”
When questioned on whether or not other drugs in the Schedule 1 classification experience this same monopoly, Dr. Volkow said no and there was no scientific reason to treat them differently.
This acknowledgement by Dr. Volkow falls in line with a previous ruling by a DEA administrative law judge in 2007 which was later set aside by former DEA Director, Michele Leonhart.
Other topics discussed at the hearing included expanded access programs which have currently authorized treatment for 400 patients in the U.S. using Epidiolex. Epidiolex is a formulated product containing cannabidiol (CBD) that possesses orphan drug status from the FDA to treat pediatric epilepsy.
While it is clear that Senators Gillibrand (D-NY) and Booker (D-NJ) are making strides to reform federal medical marijuana law, it remains to be seen if Senator Grassley (R-IA), who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Feinstein (D-CA) will also take action.
Several mainstream media outlets are reporting that the US Department of Health and Human Services has removed a requirement mandating that all investigative protocols seeking cannabis for clinical study must undergo a Public Health Service review. The review process, which was enacted in 1999 and applied only to clinical studies involving cannabis, was long criticized by advocates as unnecessarily burdensome and time-consuming.
Commenting on the change, a Health and Human Services spokeswoman said, “The department expects the action announced today will help facilitate further research to advance our understanding about the health risks and any potential benefits of medications using marijuana or its components or derivatives.”
But as I point out in today’s news wire coverage here, such claims are likely overstated.
That is because unique hurdles to clinical cannabis research will continue to exist as long as the plant is a) classified as a schedule I controlled substance defined as possessing no medical use and b) the source material for clinical trials must be provided by the US government’s lone supplier, the University of Mississippi (which is overseen by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse).
Further, despite this announced change, the DEA and NIDA (along with the FDA) still must oversee all clinical marijuana research. One of these agencies (the DEA) is in place to enforce the federal criminal prohibition of marijuana. The other agency (NIDA) exists largely as an outgrowth of marijuana’s schedule I status. It remains highly unlikely that the very agencies in place to oversee and preserve cannabis prohibition would ever permit the type of rational review that would ultimately lead policymakers and the public to question the status quo.
Finally, it bears repeating that ample scientific research already exists to contradict cannabis’ federal, schedule I status as a substance without medical utility, lacking acceptable safety, and possessing a high potential of abuse. More clinical research is welcome, but unfortunately science has never driven marijuana policy. If it did, the United States would already have a very different policy in place.
Shona Banda suffers from Crohn’s disease, and has found, as have many Crohn’s sufferers, that medical marijuana provides her with effective relief and allows her to manage her illness and live a somewhat normal life. Specifically, Banda uses cannabis oil.
The problem is she lives in, Garden City, Kansas, a state that does not yet recognize the medical uses of marijuana. And when her 11-year old son spoke up in his drug education class to challenge some of the anti-marijuana allegations being taught to the children – and shared the fact that his mother uses cannabis to manage her Crohn’s disease – Banda’s son was removed from her custody by the Kansas Department for Children and Families.
Her home was subsequently raided, and Banda is now facing three drug felonies (possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance within 1,000-feet of a school; endangering a child; and unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance) for the cannabis oil found in her home, and she faces a possible jail term in excess of 30-years. Banda first used cannabis oil to manage her disease when she lived in Colorado for a period of time, before returning to her home in Kansas.
Banda is being represented by attorney Sarah Swain, who publicly has promised an aggressive defense that will challenge every facet of the prosecution’s case, including the questioning of the 11-year-old son without either of his parents present; the search warrant issued for their home based on that questioning; and the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I substance with no medical usefulness.
This case is just the latest from states around the country that illustrate the incredibly harsh and unjustified consequences of marijuana prohibition, the unsustainable differences in the manner in which we treat our most vulnerable citizens from one state to another, and the absolute moral impairative that we stop treating seriously ill patients as criminals, regardless of where they may call home.
Surely this immediate situation could have been handled by reasonable people in a manner based on compassion and concern for the welfare of this serious ill mother, striving to find a way to lead a full life and raise her young son. The school could have exercised some discretion and common sense and accepted the comments made by her young son as reflecting the reality of his and his mother’s life, and this would not have become a matter of public concern. And the Garden City police should not have questioned the young child without his parent’s consent, and did not have to seek a questionable search warrant, based on the child’s statements, to invade Banda’s home and violate her privacy. And finally, the local prosecutor, Finney County Attorney Susan Richmeier, with even a wit of compassion and understanding, could have exercised her discretion and refused to file criminal charges, bringing this embarrassing episode to a close, and allowing this seriously ill woman a chance to live a normal life.
But at each level, the civic institutions in Kansas failed their responsibility to serve the best interests of the citizens of Kansas, ignoring the obviously compelling factual situation, and blindly pursuing the war on drugs, despite the horrendous repercussions of that choice.
Rather they have reminded us of the enduring harm caused by marijuana prohibition, and the damage it has done not just to the victims of this misguided war, but also to those in civic positions of trust who have lost their moral compass in their blind support for prohibition.
Shame on everyone who had anything to do with allowing this case to get to this point, and who failed to stand up and publicly question the appropriateness of this entire witch-hunt. These are people who are either incredibly ignorant of the important and sometimes life-altering benefits medical marijuana provides to tens of thousands of seriously ill patients across this country (37 states now permit at least limited medical use of marijuana), or they are truly mean-spirited people who simply do not care.
Regardless, it reminds me of how much work we still have ahead of us, and why I would never wish to live in rural Kansas.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell signed legislation today decriminalizing minor marijuana possession offenses.
Members of the Senate voted 12 to 9 in favor of the measure, House Bill 39, this afternoon. The Governor signed the measure into law this evening.
House and Senate members approved the measure despite vocal opposition from law enforcement and Republicans. No Republican lawmakers voted in favor of the bill.
Under state law, the possession of personal use quantities of cannabis is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 6 months in jail, a $575 fine, and a criminal record. House Bill 39 reduces penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana to a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine only — no arrest, and no criminal record.
The use of marijuana in public or in a moving vehicle will remain a criminal offense.
The new penalties take effect six months from today.
According to the ACLU, Delaware police arrest more than 2,500 individuals annually for simple marijuana possession offenses. Delaware ranks #17 in the nation in per capita marijuana possession arrests. Blacks in Delaware are three times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession.
Delaware’s decriminalization law mimics similar laws in California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont — each of which treat minor marijuana possessions as a civil violation. Similar legislation in Illinois is awaiting action from the Governor.
Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio classify marijuana possession as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine only.
Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, DC previously enacted marijuana decriminalization policies, but have since amended their laws to legalize the plant’s possession and use.