Shifting Stances on Medical Marijuana
Seventeen states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes and seven more have proposed legislation that has yet to be decided on. After Californians, in 1996, voted to passed the first initiative to allow medical marijuana, there has been a gradual shift in states attitudes, as well as laws regarding the subject. Based on a combination of societal factors and advances in medicinal research it may be not be long before more states adopt more progressive stances on the issue. Eleven states rejected bills in 2010 to move toward legalizing marijuana, but the fact that each had the momentum to be sponsored by members of the house and senate suggest the debate is becoming more legitimized beyond the traditionally liberal states.
Stances on the legalization of medical marijuana have been transformed by a multitude of reasons, but a preeminent issue in legalization campaigns remains the supposed medical benefits of the drug for those suffering from several crippling diseases. While even proponents agree it is not necessary the best or only medicine for several diseases, they claim that research shows that it is efficient when other prescriptions do not resolve the effects of debilitating diseases.
There are ulterior motives for the legalization of medical marijuana, with a chief reason being the financial benefits of a regulated industry. For years, the prohibition of marijuana sales even for suffering patients has stimulated the demand for the product in the black market. The continuous supply of the drug has essentially made it readily available for purchase without the involvement of licensed retailers. Unfortunately, the precise size of the market for the drug is imprecise and the stipulations to accurately measure or at least estimate with any assurance the effect of the legalization of medical marijuana on business prove near impossible. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, estimates the market is at $14 billion. He says that full-scale legalization would generate over $20 billion in additional tax revenues and enforcement cost savings. However, his numbers are on the conservative side and are based on current consumption levels and at current prices. The numbers skew significantly higher when calculated based on current supply levels. Dr. Jon Gettman in his 2006 study estimates the market value at around $120 billion.
California has struggled to alleviate its financial troubles even with the financial benefits of taxing medical marijuana sales. As a state with $19 billion in debts, it has looked to the full-scale legalization of marijuana as a means to compensate for dilapidated incomes. Proposition 19 failed in 2010 as a ballot measure but not without public outcry of its proponents. Even so, AB 2312 otherwise known as the Ammiano act for the Representative that sponsored it, goes further to legitimize the presence of marijuana, albeit for medical purposes. It notes that:
“Despite the passage of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 and the MMPA, because there is no effective statewide system for regulating and controlling medical marijuana, local law enforcement officials have been confronted with uncertainty about the legality of some medical marijuana cultivation and distribution activities, and many cities and counties have passed local ordinances that in some cases ban the cultivation or distribution of medical marijuana”
AB 2312 would allow medical marijuana dispensaries to profit off of their sales. It allows collectives, cooperatives, and other business entities to cultivate, acquire, process, possess, transport, test, sell, and distribute marijuana for medical purposes. The stark departure from federal legislation is what makes this stand out in a state already notorious for the availability of the drug. The passing of this bill is estimated to generate $1.4 billion in additional revenue. However, the sharp contrasts between this new proposal and federal legislation has led to and will continue to lead to confusion. Recent busts on dispensaries in California as well as Colorado have discouraged the creation of new stores in those states.
The federal government has the authority to change its outlook and subsequently its enforcement policies regarding medical marijuana. Under the Controlled Substances Act, the executive branch has the power to change the classifications of drugs. As of now marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 drug meaning that it among other things does not serve any medical purpose. Shifting the drug into a schedule 2 classification, like Synthetic THC, would make medical marijuana legal under federal law. . Christine Gregoire and Lincoln Chafee, governors of Washington state and Rhode Island, have written letters asking for the classification to be changed. However, the odds of this happening are slim. The federal drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, said he believed “the increasing prevalence of medicinal marijuana was a factor in the uptick. These last couple years, the amount of attention that’s been given to medical marijuana has been huge, and when I’ve done focus groups with high school students in states where medical marijuana is legal, they say, ‘Well, if it’s called medicine and it’s given to patients by caregivers, then that’s really the wrong message for us as high school students.” That is not to say the same prosecution policies will continue. Recently the Obama administration came out for treating drug addiction as a health and not moral problem. Kerlikowske said “efforts to arrest our way to a drug-free society are doomed to fail”.
Despite the federal uncertainty, states are moving forward in regulating medical marijuana like a regular business. California for all its issues with the federal enforcement has taken steps to dissuade discrimination against those licensed to possess the drug. Currently in committee, SB 129 would “would declare it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against a person in hiring, termination, or any term or condition of employment or otherwise penalize a person, if the discrimination is based upon the persons status as a qualified patient or a positive drug test for marijuana”. California has also looked into mitigating the influence of it on the youth. AB 1300 prohibits certain entities, including a medical marijuana cooperative or collective, from being located within a 600-foot radius of a school. Also from a safety standpoint, AB 1975 requires the Department of Pesticide Regulation to develop guidelines to enforce state pesticide regulations on medical marijuana cultivation. Furthermore AB 2465 will ensure proper identification requirements needed to possess marijuana legally. All these steps are taken with the intention of making the business and distribution of the drug both safer and also more profitable.
It is also vital to gauge the effect of the momentum of medical marijuana on the path toward a less incriminating stance on the illicit possession of it as well. Recently New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a decree to reduce the charge of possession of marijuana to a maximum fine of $100. This is meant to alleviate the perceived discriminatory prosecution of young Hispanic and black youths. Based on the alarming statistics about the discrepancies in prosecution, Cuomo has made a progressive stance in dealing with the drug issue but has also faced harsh criticism for it.
Slowly, the presumptions are being examined in regards to the issue, but support levels on the topic have not changed drastically. Both sides have taken an aggressive stance on their support or dissent on the topic. Just examining the effects of the presence of marijuana dispensaries has on neighborhoods has been a point of contention. The California Police Chiefs Association claimed
“Marijuana dispensaries are commonly large money-making enterprises that will sell marijuana to most anyone. … While the dispensaries will claim to receive only donations, no marijuana will change hands without an exchange of money. These operations have been tied to organized criminal gangs, foster large grow operations, and are often multi-million-dollar profit centers. Because they are repositories of valuable marijuana crops and large amounts of cash, several operators of dispensaries have been attacked and murdered by armed robbers both at their storefronts and homes, and such places have been regularly burglarized.”
However, further examination shows that factors such as unemployment, commercial zoning and a high proportion of young adults were … associated with higher crime rates. But the number of marijuana clinics in a neighborhood had nothing to do with any of it.
As current legislation stands, it will be up to the states to decide on the fate of medical marijuana within their own borders. Since for the foreseeable future it does not appear that federal laws will change, states are put in a predicament in how they go about dealing with the issue. If current trends continue it appears that half the country will support medical marijuana, but that may not be enough to warrant an overhaul of federal policy.
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