Will weed take us to the promised land?

Chamba SanchezBy Chamba SanchezJanuary 23, 2018

“We can’t have a civil society if everyone is smoking pot.” Governor Brown told a group of journalists last year.  The governor might have been somewhat sarcastic with that statement.  But it is worth to explore the complexities of legalizing this drug. The passage of Proposition 64 in 2016 made the growing and selling of marijuana legal for recreational purposes. California has been right, front and center trying to decriminalize marijuana for many years. It became the first state in the country to legalize medical marijuana in 1996.

This pot legalization has been introduced with great fanfare and many people optimistically expect to see the same success that took place in Colorado where millions were collected in taxes in the first year voters approved it. Evidently, there are many complex issues that need to be tackled.  But most conversations appear to solely be focused on the new revenues that will be collected.  

Yes, conversations on the social costs as well as how communities will be impacted are literally non-existent. For starters, there are still no clear guidelines to be followed by those who provide public safety in cities on what to do when people drive high. And there is confusion as to how to define when one is impaired because he or she has smoked marijuana. Evidently, balancing of all interests and concerns has a been a challenge in the legalization of marijuana.  It appears that those who want to see dispensaries at every street corner have a bigger microphone.  People voicing concerns as to how this process is evolving are quickly accused of fear-mongering or they’re lumped together with crazy conservative people who want this drug to be criminalized.

It is being predicted that there will be a $5 to $6 billion cannabis market and taxes collected here in California might even surpass $1 billion in the first year. It will be the biggest legal pot market in the nation.  The legalization of pot is being sold as a cash cow to many municipalities.  There are concerns that the vast majority of these dispensaries will be opening in communities where the majority of people are African-Americans and Latinos.  These people fret seeing pot shops in shopping centers or at every other street corner.

Furthermore, those in the industry are working hard to realign the image of marijuana.  They want “Cannabis” as the term to be used when referencing to marijuana. They  want smokers to stop using “pot,” “grass,” “blunt,” “weed,” and “dope.” Since these terms are associated with the stigma of being stupid, with laziness and that those who smoke it are just puffing their productive lives away.

Many cities in California are working around the clock to meet the high demand for permits for those who want to open dispensaries.  All these cities want a piece of the pie.  They are also making claims that legal dispensaries will not only root out black markets from their cities but also the new revenue will be used to improve the quality of life of people living in these cities.  It is not clear how black markets will disappear if prices for legalized marijuana at dispensaries are ridiculously high. Indeed, high taxes both from the state and the cities might make it more complicated for the legalization to take root.  Those who buy marijuana will have to pay taxes anywhere from 22% to 25% that will include state excise tax of 15%.  Those who grow and those who sell the plant will also have to pay taxes. Unable to pay these high prices many who smoke pot recreationally might have to go back to the black market.

In our very own city of Los Angeles, civic leaders will be using some sort of “social equity” as guidelines in deciding who will be licensed first with these pot dispensaries.  That is, those who were adversely affected by the “war on drugs” will be the first ones to get these licenses.  If one’s life was destroyed by being charged with for either smoking or selling marijuana, this individual will be given priority over all others.  It is sort of a wealth distribution mechanism being used by leaders in this city.  It is still somewhat unclear as to how this process will work.

Let’s review some history about the criminalization of marijuana, it should have never been criminalized.  Tragically, marijuana was likened to heroin and both were criminalized heavily.  The “War on Drugs” was irrational and immoral.  It was tragic how many people’s lives were utterly destroyed. This “War on Drugs” started in the Nixon Administration and continued well into the 1980s and 1990s. Voters who identified with the “public safety” mantra relentlessly lobbied Congress for tough policies for those who used drugs.  This “War on Drugs” policies were not only mean-spirited and short-sighted but they also disproportionately affected people of color.  It was Nixon the one who dubbed drug abuse “public enemy number one” in 1971.

Many people in the state are still puzzled after hearing recent reports that the Trump Administration through his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions might be targeting California.  The Attorney General is telegraphing that he might disrupt the operation of the cannabis industry that has been booming in the state. How can that be, they ask? We, the people, in the state of California, exercised our democratic rights and voted so we can legally buy pot for recreation and medical purposes. The federal government still designates marijuana as a “Schedule 1” drug.  Placing it here means that the drug is still considered extremely dangerous as heroin is and it repudiates claims that the drug helps sick individuals seeking medical benefits.  It is worth noting that according to these designations, cocaine is less harmful than Marijuana. Since cocaine is on Schedule 2. For some progressive states, this flew in the face of common sense.

As the usage of marijuana became democratized many Americans started supporting the movement for legalizing it.  A recent Gallup poll showed that “over 60% of voters supported legalization nationwide and among the law-and-order-Republican, the percentage is 51%. ”  The profound lack of action from Congress in decriminalizing marijuana forced states to act hoping that eventually, Congress will react. Many states have started taking action, through their initiative process,  for the decriminalization of this drug. It is argued that these actions will eventually force the federal government to finally take action.

No one wants to go back and see marijuana being criminalized, It is great that marijuana is being legalized in many states and it is hoped that Congress takes action soon so a better-uniformed process can be implemented nationwide.  Although many questions still remain unanswered about all this pot legalization. High taxes might not make the black markets vanished, people are still being educated as to where they can light up, and whether or not they can drive high.

As the feds are scrapping all the accommodations the Obama Administration provided for this legalization to flourish. Most banks will not allow those running dispensaries to open bank accounts.   This means that most transactions will be in cash hence bundles of cash and pounds of pots will be laying around at shops and warehouses. That should be a source of concern for those of us who care for communities of color.

Thank you for reading

Chamba Sanchez
1/21/2018

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Sources consulted

Aiello, Chloe.Jeff Sessions just made it even harder for California’s legal marijuana businesses to find a place to put their cash.” CNBC 10 Jan. 2018. Web. 14 Jan. 2018.

Gerber, Marisa.  “A new future for pot begins.” Los Angeles Times 2nd Jan. 2018. Web. 9 Jan. 2018.

Lee, Kurtis. “Next up in pot debate:  Public use.”  Los Angeles Times 13 Jan. 2018. Web. 14 Jan. 2018.

Ludwig, Mike. “What Jeff Sessions’ Latest Attack Means for the Future of Legal Marijuana.” Truthout 8 Jan. 2018. Web. 11 Jan. 2018

Smith, Aaron.  ‘California to tax pot as much as 45%.” CCN Money 31 Oct. 2018. Web. 10th Jan. 2018.

Rahmani, Neama. “Get real about security at marijuana dispensaries.” The Sun 27 Dec. 2017. Web. 23 Jan. 2018.

Robbins. Gary.  “Weeding out the slang pot terms.” Los Angeles Times 21 Jan. 2018. Web. 22 Jan. 2018

If you smoke click on this link below for some responses to basic questions you might have.
Masunaga, Samantha.  “Recreational marijuana is legal in California but you still can’t smoke it at work or in your car.” Los Angeles Times 4 Jan. 2018. Web. 18 Jan. 2018. 

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Photo Credit: Image used in this piece was purchased from Bigstock.

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