Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Debate on Arizona prop 203

One of the more interesting moments in this week's state Democratic Party meeting came at the end. Rather than taking a stand either in favor of or against Arizona ballot proposition 203, a voter-initiated ballot initiative to allow and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, the party allowed one proponent and one opponent to each make their case.

As is so often the case in these types of debates, both sides had a point but then both also did not have a point.

Let me first clarify where I stand on the issue of marijuana. Like most Americans, I do not use marijuana. But also like many Americans (and at least one poll suggests a majority though most other polls disagree) I support making it legal for adults (no prescription required.)

That said, let me address the arguments on both sides of the question, beginning with those made by the speaker in favor of prop 203. The speaker pointed out that we have several times in the past voted in favor of marijuana for medical use with a prescription (a position that agrees with the views of an overwhelming majority of voters) but that without dispensaries this is a meaningless 'right' because there is no legal way to get it. Certainly that is a legitimate argument. All marijuana, before being used, must be produced. Then, unless the grower is also the sole user, it must be transported, and then sold to the eventual user. Of course all of these things, growing, transporting and selling marijuana are felony crimes. The idea of a dispensary is it gives a regulated but legal (at least according to the state) venue where transactions that would be illegal anyplace else can be conducted freely and without fear of the police (though there are still federal agents who technically could-- but very unlikely actually would-- show up and make arrests.) One immediate problem that has come up (and this is something the anti- guy said,) is that in many states a whole bunch of dispensaries are popping up and very few of the people who get marijuana are actually sick.

The question I have, then, is instead of dispensaries why not push for pharmacies to distribute marijuana? I know why they don't-- fear of a federal raid, but that is not a fear that can't be argued against given the low number of such raids.

However, if you really believe in legal access to medical marijuana (as I do) then why not push for such a prescription to be filled in a Pharmacy? Not only are pharmacists trained professionals who may even know about drug interactions and other side effects, but in fact it is reasonable to expect that you will be able to get any prescription filled at your pharmacy. For example, I use an inhaler for my asthma, but it would be ridiculous to get that prescription someplace that only sold inhalers. So why is medical marijuana any different? SELL IT AT THE PHARMACY!!!:

The second guy suggested not passing the bill for essentially two reasons. The first was that, as a physician, he's seen children and teens who have used marijuana and argues that their mental congition skills are lacking. As a result they do poorly in school. This is a good point, except that by making it he's acknowleging that the kids get it anyway. And it's true-- you can walk into any junior high school in America and probably learn who to talk to if you wanted to buy some pot. In fact, one could argue that legalizing it for adults would make marijuana more difficult for children to get (I will make that case further down.)

His second argument is that the system of dispensaries is being abused everywhere it is being tried (he had some statistics showing that only 2-3% of the people who use them have cancer, glaucoma or other conditions that are commonly cited as being treated by marijuana.) He talked about corruptible doctors who write prescriptions for 'pain' and make virtually their entire business off of writing prescriptions for marijuana. He then went on to say that this is a 'back-door path' to legalization. And you know what? He's right about that.

And that's why I may end up voting against this (haven't decided yet.) As a supporter of legalization I think those of us who believe that it should be legal shouldn't try to sneak in through the back door but should instead walk in through the front door. Clearly this is a debate that needs to be had, but let's as a society have a candid and forthright discussion about marijuana legalization, and not try to 'trick' anyone into voting for de-facto legalization. There are some very good arguments to be made for legalizing it. Let me lay a few of them out:

1. Marijuana is not any more hazardous to our health than is tobacco or alcohol. They are all bad for us, but we have as a society decided that in the absence of an imminent danger just by the fact of use, that people have the right to be stupid and use tobacco and alcohol, and it is hard to suggest that marijuana is any worse for you. In fact in some ways it is better (for example, it is possible to die from an overdose of alcohol or nicotine, and some people have, but you can't O.D. on marijuana.)

2. We now spend tens of millions of dollars in Arizona (and billions nationally) catching and prosecuting growers, shippers and venders of marijuana, and our prisons and courts are stuffed to capacity. In this time of strained state budgets around the country (certainly including Arizona) can we really afford to keep millions of people in prison for selling pot?

3. Legalizing it would be a body blow to the drug cartels, as they now make most of their money from growing, smuggling and selling hemp. True that they also smuggle other, more expensive drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines but their bread and butter has always been marijuana.

4. It is true that local police departments make a lot of money under the RICO statutes from drug busts and their ability to keep a proportion of it. However, this money could easily be replaced by money collected in taxes from legalized marijuana, and let's be honest-- the RICO statutes have distorted law enforcement. I noticed a couple of years ago that there were far more police radar traps on the eastbound lanes of I-40 near where I live than in the westbound lanes. I asked a friend of mine who is a police officer why this is, and he told me that they are much more likely to make a drug bust from eastbound traffic, as it has become a major drug smuggling route, and of course with the statute that allows them to keep money from such busts there is a major financial incentive to watch the eastbound lanes more closely. The problem is that local (and clearly some out of state) drivers have noticed this too-- I drive on that highway every day and I see more speeders and reckless drivers going west than going east. So the drug war distorts the priorities of law enforcement, and this distortion is making life more dangerous for you and I even though I (and possibly you) don't use any drugs.

5. About that contention that legalizing it would make it harder for kids to get that I made at the end of the second paragraph:

I believe this is true, partly because kids have such an easy time getting it now but mainly because drug dealers don't care if you are 50 or 15 as long as you can pay, whereas circle K will check your ID if you try to buy tobacco or alcohol (they pay a substantial fine if they don't.) Drug dealers generally don't carry boxes of booze around with them, because adults would have no reason to buy it and it's still true that the majority of the drug dealer's clientele (especially those who can afford the more expensive or larger amounts of drugs) are adults. It's just not profitable for a drug dealer to charge a high price for something that most of the customers can get for less. The only ones who might have a difficult time with this are kids, but isn't our goal to discourage them from drinking (or smoking marijuana) anyway? A real eye opener was a study (and I wish I could find a link to it) that appeared in the Flagstaff Daily Sun about five years ago in which they found that more students in the Flagstaff school district reported having smoked marijuana in the past month than reported smoking tobacco. The reason why is pretty clear-- it's become easier for kids to get marijuana than cigarettes. So, if we made marijuana legal for adults then we could license it, regulate it and monitor sales in a way we can't do now.

Overall, prop 203 is far from a good law, and it's tempting to take a 'do no harm' kind position and vote against it in hope of getting a better law, but it's also still possible that I will vote for it because nothing is perfect and to vote to do nothing would be interpreted as a mandate to do nothing, and I do want to see reform get done.

10 comments:

Parker said...

Pot is a drug!

We should never accept drugs being legal. Not even cigarettes or alcohol. Look how much trouble 'demon rum' has caused us already.

Asbestos Cancer said...

Agree with Parker. Where do we draw the line??

Eli Blake said...

Gosh, we tried making 'demon rum' illegal.

It didn't stop people from getting alcohol. What it did give us was a culture of speakeasies, bathtub gin, bootleggers, gangland wars, Al Capone, the expansion of the mafia, the use of wood alcohol in some bogus booze which poisoned its users and killed many of them, and an eventual awareness that the 'cure' to booze was worse than the affliction.

Not being content to recognize that, the prohibition movement changed their focus to hemp (which was absolutely legal until the 1940's) 'demon rum' became 'demon dope.'

And for those who believe that history is bound to repeat itself for those who ignore it, what we have now gotten is a black market for pot, illegal growers, sellers and users, drug gangs that distribute it in the U.S., pot plantations hidden deep in the forests (where they are a menace both to the environment and to anyone unlucky enough to run across them,) the growth of the drug cartels, the zetas and a war in Mexico that is being fought with car bombs, rocket launchers and mass executions. The lack of regulation has led to some people getting marijuana laced with paraquat and other deadly poisons.

As for the question of 'where do you draw the line,' I'd suggest that if you agree with Parker, we really are going back to prohibition (and with tobacco prohibition to boot.) We may as well just let all the murderers out of prison now because we will be overwhelmed in our courts and jails, not just with drug cases, but now with drinkers and smokers as well. This scares me.

And heck, caffeine is a drug. If you go that direction, then throw all the coffee and tea drinkers in jail too. So I'd ask you, where DO you draw the line?

I answer that this way: Unless you can make a clear and compelling case that something is so dangerous either to individuals or society as a whole that controlling it is worth restricting individual freedom, we should not make it illegal. And neither marijuana, alcohol nor tobacco rises to that level of menace to society or individuals.

Bill said...

Why is the back-door legalization from doctors prescribing marijuana a disincentive for voting for it? If you favor legalizing pot, then that's a good thing - other than increasing prices. I can understand if you hesitate to reward corrupt doctors. But isn't that a huge step forward from rewarding corrupt drug dealers?

Anonymous said...

Prohibition has caused more harm to peoples lives than Marijuana!

That being said, this isn't about legalization! People who are sick and dying should legally have every option available to them so they don't suffer needlessly!

The worst case scenario is a few people will lie to their Doctors to get MJ. These are the same people that can and do get MJ Everyday from Drug Dealers! The Only Real Difference will be that Medical Marijuana will not have chemical pesticides and Taxes will go to the Government instead of Criminal Drug Cartels! Not only that these will be nonprofit organizations and will be contributing to local charities and out communities as well.

Even the worst case scenario for passing this leaves us all better off, and more importantly protects patients!

green said...

your right marijuana will make "negroes look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.” "when those darkies smoke reefers they think they are just as good as white men." people who smoke marijuana will go insane in 30 days but not before killing their family ",i mean come on who doesnt know that? how can people think marijuana is safe and medicine after the "crazed mexicans and negros will gang rape your daughter in the streets in front of horrified people after smoking it", "they will kill whites just for the thrill of killing"
but "the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the negros and filthy mexicans" who can stand "Their Satanic music, jazz and swing,that result from marijuana usage"
with the "stimulation effect from the marijuana the degenerates are likely to do anything"

im glad we all agree ,after all this is the reason we made it illeagal and lets keep it that way because this is the gods honest truth about marijuana and like minded people need to stick together and make sure this devils weed is not consumed by anyone for any reason.

green said...

do you realize that this is the reason marijuana was made illeagal. it will make "negroes look at white people in the eye, step on white men’s shadows and look at a white woman twice.” "when those darkies smoke reefers they think they are just as good as white men." people who smoke marijuana will go insane in 30 days but not before killing their family ",i mean come on who doesnt know that? how can people think marijuana is safe and medicine after the "crazed mexicans and negros will gang rape your daughter in the streets in front of horrified people after smoking it", "they will kill whites just for the thrill of killing"
but "the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the negros and filthy mexicans" who can stand "Their Satanic music, jazz and swing,that result from marijuana usage"
with the "stimulation effect from the marijuana the degenerates are likely to do anything"

im glad we all agree ,after all this is the reason we made it illeagal and lets keep it that way because this is the gods honest truth about marijuana and like minded people need to stick together and make sure this devils weed is not consumed by anyone for any reason.

Jay Fleming said...

Ya, alcohol prohibition was a great success. right?

The only one who controls where drugs are sold, to who, at what price, and to what age customers, are drug dealers....

If you want to regulate and control anything, it must be legal.

Anonymous said...

Food is a Drug. Anyone ever take biochemistry? Pot killed zero people. Not a gateway drug. Big Pharmaceutical is killing us with all their poison drugs... Do you people that are against pot being legal think that ridilin, adderall, even tylenol are safer than pot? If you do, you have no clue. Feed your kids the ADHD drugs, make your kids zombies and stunt their growth, and not to mention they WILL want crystal meth and cocaine as an adult. That is a proven fact. Pot is safe, try it.

"Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success," says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. "It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does."

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1893946,00.html#ixzz11wO0zLHK

mike said...

we did perfectly fine during the hippie days with marijuana....alcohol kills millions year which includes kids and adults.. u tell me how much people die from marijuna a year????? dont worry ill wait.... their is no one who has died.... its a plant, it just grows like that...in the bible it says let there be plants and herb that bear seed, and let these plants and herbs be fruitful to man..all it does to u is mke u hungry happy and sleepy..... is that bad?? come on people, what are we a bunch of weak americans.... its not that big of deal..im voting yes