Letters + Opinion » The Town Dandy

Dope and the Duped

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Why is it that so few people are able to think with a clear head when it comes to the topic of the demon weed? After 40 years of cohabitation, you'd think we'd have a handle on what it is and isn't. Yet discourse on the subject is even more loopy here than in the nation at large, if such a thing can be imagined. Wherever you go in Humboldt County people seem to think that the cannabis plant has real, definable magical powers over our society. The only debate is whether it uses those powers for good or for evil. It's a strange state of affairs.

Could it be that we conflate weed with weed prohibition? Could it be simply that marijuana and the byproducts of the war against it -- home invasion robberies, wrecked grow houses, drug cartels -- live next door to each other in our limited, mammalian brains? Do we then recoil in horror at the plant itself, confusing correlation with causation? Very possibly.

Could it also be that we're all just so completely stoned out of our gills? Could it also be that our defiant devotion to our favorite stupefacient, combined with the effects of said stupefacient, invites us to dream up quasi-religious justifications for getting zonked four times a day as a sort of sacramental ritual? Extremely probably.

These are different routes to the same destination. Jah Blessed Love Light Herb or the scourge of Reefer Madness -- they're pretty much equally tedious and false, and have been so for years. Like the Timber Wars before it, one prays for the end of the Humboldt County Weed Wars just so we can move on to more productive conversations. Happily, last week we saw signs of progress on several fronts.

For one, the California Medical Board stood up and yanked the license of (ex-)Dr. Hany Assad, the jolly pot doc who ran Norcal Healthcare Systems Inc., a referral mill with locations around the state, including Arcata's Giuntoli Lane. The board had driven the Oakland-based Assad out of real medicine years ago on the back of seriously unethical behavior with female patients; afterward, he reinvented himself as the Pied Piper of Pot. (See our old cover story for a rundown: "Prescription For Trouble," April 26, 2007.) In a follow-up investigation, though, the board determined that Assad since gave a medical marijuana recommendation to a high school student, after an "exam" that failed to include the taking of vital signs or a review of the patient's medical history.

For another, the Obama administration announced that it would no longer use the federal law enforcement apparatus to prosecute people who are abiding by medical marijuana guidelines in one of the 13 states that allow some sort of exemption for medicinal usage. Before this, federal prosecution was the only thing that kept the state's marijuana dispensaries quasi-illegal; now, presumably, the raids will end.

Finally, the city of Arcata got another 40 minutes or so of fame when the A&E Network aired its latest weed documentary, Pot City USA. (That's us!) The film -- narrated, dryly notes Journal contributor Jay Herzog, by Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? host Meredith Viera -- seemed pitched at middle America, and so the ominous background music and overall fear factor was ratcheted up to 11. Still, it contained a pretty good overview of the grow house situation, as well as some great interviews with Mike McLaren, Jeff Knapp, the Arcata Eye's Kevin Hoover, Grow publisher Eric Sligh, APD Capt. Tom Chapman and some other locals who do, in fact, have pretty sober takes on the subject. (Say what you will about Meredith, she found the needles in the haystack.)

What do these things have in common? It seems to me that they all point toward the only possible exit strategy: legalization. California's Proposition 215, which decriminalized medical marijuana in 1996, was a nice step forward, but it has long outlived its usefulness. Prop. 215 gave the medical profession the power to determine who would get to smoke pot, which naturally led to the corruption of some doctors and the general besmirchment of the profession. The Assad matter would seem to indicate that they're sick of it. The federal government has finally realized that it has better things to do than to wage a losing war on the nation's stoners. Arcata city government is no match for the whiny moonshiners who have taken over its neighborhoods, by far the largest beneficiaries of prohibition in the county (assuming that the Mexican cartels are still pretty much at bay).

All this nonsense could go away as soon as November 2010, when in all likelihood California voters will be presented with a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana across the board. It will be opposed by a coalition of big-time growers and the criminally clueless. Please, Lord, let them lose.

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