Simply put, the marijuana issue in America has gotten weird. Long confined to the dank and smoky shadows of the underground as a Schedule 1 narcotic, weed has come staggering into the sunlight of quasi-legality. And it's a bit of a trip. Suddenly, there's CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, declaring that Americans have been "terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years" and apologizing for his role in that.
At the annual Hempfest in Seattle last weekend, police officers —police officers! — handed out little bags of nacho cheese Doritos affixed with stickers that cheerfully explained the "do's and don'ts" of recreational marijuana use, which voters have now approved in both Washington and Colorado. They called it "Operation Orange Fingers." Seriously. (The one-ounce bags are now selling on eBay for more than $50 a pop. See? Weird.)
Even here in Humboldt, where weed's roots run deep and its resinous influence sticks to most everyone's fingers, the dynamics have shifted. Twenty-odd years ago, pot-smoking environmentalists were chaining themselves to trees to protest destructive timber company practices. Now, indoor grow houses are gobbling electricity and industrial-scale outdoor producers are diverting water, shearing shelves into hillsides and killing wildlife with rodenticides.
And all the while, the federal government keeps raiding state-law-abiding medical marijuana dispensaries, locking up nonviolent offenders and stubbornly maintaining its dubious position — that marijuana has no legitimate medical use, that it's as toxic as alcohol and more dangerous than cocaine, Oxy or meth.
More and more people — in higher and higher positions — have been calling the feds' bluff and, again, it's making things weird. And to us, at least, very, very interesting. Which is why we decided it's high time for a weekly column on marijuana news. As the seemingly unstoppable force of changing public attitudes continues to collide with the seemingly immovable object of federal prohibition, we'll bring you the choicest nuggets from our own backyard (note to feds: that's a metaphor) as well as interesting national and international stories. (We'll also try to keep the stupid pot puns to a minimum.)
Here's just a taste from the past week to get you hooked. (Gah! Sorry. That's the last one, promise.)
• Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber signed a bill legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries. Pot shops already exist there, but they've been operating in something of a gray zone, legally. Oregon voters last year rejected a bill to legalize weed for recreational use.
• The National Institute on Drug Abuse released a statement to online fact-checking website PolitiFact denying that marijuana is "less toxic" than alcohol. That claim was made in a 30-second ad that aired outside a NASCAR event last month. Produced by the Marijuana Policy Project and shot in the style of a beer commercial, the spot features a happy group of friends laughing on the beach while a Sam Elliott soundalike gives the voiceover: "Marijuana — less harmful than alcohol and time to treat it that way." PolitiFact examined the "less toxic" claim and found that "science and statistics present a strong case" for the statement's veracity. Still, the site rated the claim "Mostly True."
• In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie agreed to ease restrictions to medical marijuana for minors. His announcement followed pleas from parents of children with epilepsy who say medical marijuana has been the only effective treatment.
• Last weekend's episode of This American Life, the award-winning public radio program, recounted the story of Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman and his ill-fated attempt to regulate medical marijuana. As you may recall, Allman came up with a pioneering zip-tie program, which allowed his department to keep tabs on state-law-abiding growers while generating income to fight large-scale, industrial grow ops. The program worked so well that other counties, including Humboldt, were looking to imitate it — until the feds raided Northstone Organics, a poster child for the endeavor. The segment (which you can listen to here) features interviews with Allman and Northstone owner Matt Cohen.
• Eight North Coast environmental groups including Humboldt Baykeeper and the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC) sent a letter to Congressman Jared Huffman expressing support for his proposed Protecting Lands Against Narcotics Trafficking Act (PLANT Act). The act would establish new penalties for environmental damage caused by marijuana grow operations that trespass on public or private lands.
So we have pot ads at NASCAR events, enviro groups backing weed crackdowns and parents begging their governor for permission to give their toddlers pot — and the governor acquiescing. We need to get Sam Elliott in here with a catchphrase — something like, "Marijuana — more innerestin' than seein' the queen in her damned undies, and time to treat it that way." •