Trevor Hughes wrote that California voters will decide Nov. 8 whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Many pot farmers have yearned for the legitimacy and respectability of legalization. But they also fear Proposition 64 could put them out of business. (Oct. 27) AP. Nearly 60 million Americans may wake up Nov. 9 to find voters in their states have abolished long-standing marijuana prohibitions, a three-fold expansion for legal cannabis across the country.
Another 24 million Americans could find themselves in states with newly legal medical marijuana use, a smaller but still significant expansion of legalized pot around the United States. Already, half of the states permit some form of medical marijuana use, and more than half of all Americans live in a state that has approved medical marijuana.
California, experts say, will likely play the most significant role in cannabis legalization on Nov. 8. Voters in our most populous state are widely expected to approve the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act,” adding nearly 40 million names to the list of people who live in a state with legal pot.
Lawmakers see marijuana taxes as a source of new revenue to close budget gaps, while entrepreneurs are considering the business case, with potentially billions of dollars in profits possible from this fast-growing Made-In-America industry.
Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada are considering legalizing recreational marijuana. Voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota are asking voters whether to permit medical use for certain conditions, like cancer or chronic pain. None of those votes will change the federal ban on marijuana use, although legalization advocates say it may further pressure Congress, the DEA and the FDA to act.
Four states — Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska, plus the District of Columbia — have already legalized recreational marijuana. Another 25 permit medical use. But this election has the potential to dramatically shift the conversation because so many Americans live in the nine states where relaxation measures are being considered. If it were its own country, California alone would have the world’s sixth-largest economy, and what happens there almost inevitably spreads east.
Polls nationally show growing support for marijuana legalization. A poll released earlier this month by the Pew Research Center found 57% of adults think marijuana use should be legal, up from 53% last year and 32% in 2006. That despite the fact that marijuana remains a Schedule 1 controlled substance and is illegal at the federal level. A Gallup poll released Oct. 19 showed even stronger support: 60%, up from 58% last year and 50% in 2011.
“There’s been an enormous shift in public opinion on this issue, and I think that has directly led to why it is appearing on so many state’s (ballots) this year,” said John Kagia, executive vice president of industry analytics for New Frontier Data. “This is going to be an enormous industry, no matter how you slice it.”
Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, with voters approving the measure in 2012 and sales launching in January 2014. That vote came after the country already had more than a decade of experience with medical marijuana, a deliberate strategy on the part of backers who say they started with medical marijuana first before seeking to broaden it. No state has yet legalized recreational marijuana via its legislature.
Critics say there’s insufficient evidence to back the health claims made by medical marijuana supporters. They worry widespread legalization opens the door to Big Tobacco-style companies interested in selling drugs to the public, especially kids, without regard for the public health consequences.
New Frontier, which doesn’t take a position on legalization, estimates the legal cannabis market could be worth more than $8 billion extra by 2020 if all the initiatives pass.
Still, and particularly in California, entrepreneurs are rushing to fund greenhouses, invest in growing and harvesting technology and create social media platforms to connect buyers with cannabis recommendations. Those investments are targeted at medical marijuana, which is already legal, but the rush shows how investors are positioning themselves for what’s widely considered a slam-dunk recreational legalization vote in California.
“People are beginning to understand that this isn’t just about not putting people in prison, but about making a lot of money,” said Jeffrey Zinsmeister, the executive vice president of the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which has funded opposition campaigns in several states.
Arizona-Prop. 205 would legalize adult recreational marijuana use, cultivation and sales, with a 15% sales tax to fund new state regulation, enforcement and education efforts. A recent Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll found 50% of registered voters favor legalization, 40% oppose it and 10% were undecided. The poll surveyed 784 registered voters between Aug. 17 and Aug. 31, with a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.
Since that poll, however, voters have been bombarded with ads. Polling expert Mike O’Neil said he expects the “No on Prop 205″ ads will draw undecided voters to their side.
“At a very simplistic level, it’s ‘Drugs are bad’ against ‘Gee, we’re overkill with respect to marijuana,’ ” O’Neil said. “Anytime you’re proposing something new, it’s easy to scare people, and when in doubt … (people) just vote no.”
California –The California plan, known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, allows residents to grow up to six plants at home and gives municipalities the power to allow or ban outdoor grows and marijuana stores. It requires commercial growers to comply with environmental regulations — many illegal growers today ignore laws governing water, pesticide and fertilizer use — and gives existing medical-marijuana providers a head start in getting business licenses.
The measure also maintains existing prohibitions on youth use and driving while high. Critics worry it will open up television advertising to marijuana companies and goes too far in permitting people previously convicted of violent drug offenses to join the industry. Medical marijuana is widely available in California, and a large portion of the economies of Humboldt County and the far northern portions of California are heavily dependent on illegal growing.
“AUMA is not the best initiative, but it’s way better than the status quo,” said Lanny Swerdlow, a registered nurse and director of the Palm Springs-based Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project. “It’s a template, something to build on.” Polls show it’s likely to pass.
Maine-The ballot measure expands the state’s well-regarded medical marijuana program to recreational use, but it also permits the creation of “marijuana social clubs,” where people would be able to consume marijuana. Critics worry that might increase the amount of impaired driving, in the way that bars can lead to more drunken drivers on the road.
There’s also concern that the measure requires marijuana-focused publications to be sold from behind store counters, a proposal that was struck down as unconstitutional in Colorado. Gov. Paul LePage signed Maine’s medical marijuana law in 2011, but he opposes this recreational legalization effort.
Massachusetts-Most of the state’s political establishment opposes the measure to legalize recreational marijuana, with former governor Bill Weld one notable exception. Weld, a Republican, is running on the Libertarian presidential ticket with Gary Johnson.
Current Gov. Charlie Baker argues legalizing marijuana in the Bay State could increase youth use and distract regulators and public health officials wrestling with an epidemic of opioid abuse and overdoses. Despite that top-level opposition, voters appear poised to approve the measure: Fifty-five percent of likely voters now say they favor legalization for recreation, WBUR radio reported. That poll found that half the people surveyed had tried marijuana at some point in their lives.
Nevada –A year after its medical-marijuana program launched, Nevada’s voters are now considering whether to legalize recreational growing and use. Nevada’s program would be open to anyone visiting the state, and supporters say the tourist-heavy market could be worth $390 million, with up to $1.1 billion in economic impact.
Medical dispensaries would be granted an 18-month monopoly on recreational sales, and alcohol distributors would also have an 18-month monopoly on distribution. Home growing would be banned anywhere within 25 miles of a licensed dispensary, which could make home cultivation illegal for up to 90% of the state. The latest polling showed more than 55% of people approved of the measure.
Critics complain that the ballot measure was largely written and funded by those who stand to benefit the most from legalization.
“What we have in Nevada are people who are offering this initiative are exactly analogous to somebody from Phillip Morris writing the tobacco laws for the state of Nevada,” said Jim Hartman, the president of Nevadans for Responsible Drug Policy.
Arkansas-Arkansas voters in 2012 nearly legalized medical marijuana, rejecting the measure 51% to 49%, and this year they’re considering two competing measures, both of which are opposed by the state’s Republican-dominated political establishment. As in many states, Arkansas voters who are personally familiar with medical marijuana use are more likely to support legalization, especially if they have experience with people who have struggled with opioid use or abuse.
Medical marijuana advocates say cannabis is a safer alternative to potentially deadly and physically addictive prescription drugs like OxyContin.
“I have a cousin who suffers from Lupus,” said Deb Sanders, a grandmother from Mountain Home who supports legalization. “She smoked some marijuana. She said she could not believe how much better she felt … She’s been able to get off some of her synthetic medications.”
Florida-Florida’s proposed Amendment 2 would allow patients to obtain marijuana if they have “debilitating” illnesses, such as cancer, HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s disease and epilepsy. Under existing state law, only patients with certain medical conditions that benefit from non-euphoric strains of cannabis and patients with irreversible “terminal” illness may access the drug through state-approved doctors and growers.
A proposal in 2014 to broadly legalize medical marijuana won nearly 58% of the vote but fell short of the required 60% needed for adoption. Polls indicate the measure may have enough support this time around.
“Most of the polls, in most of the states, most of the time, show more people in favor than against, but in none of the states are the margins so significant that we feel comfortable,” said Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group backing marijuana legalization throughout the country. “And there’s opposition money that’s starting to emerge.”
Florida attorney John Morgan has kicked in about $3 million in support of Amendment 2 this year. Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson spent $5.5 million to oppose medical marijuana two years ago and has, so far, contributed $1.5 million to oppose the 2016 effort.
Montana-This may be the second time voters here approve a medical marijuana plan. They approved one in 2004, but lawmakers in 2011 repealed it and replaced it with a far more restrictive system — a move that was upheld by the Montana Supreme Court earlier this year.
Now, Initiative 183 aims to restore much of the original system, including allowing providers to hire employees to cultivate, dispense and transport medical marijuana. The initiative also repeals the requirement that physicians who provide certifications for 25 or more patients annually be referred to the board of medical examiners, and bars law enforcement from making unannounced inspections of medical marijuana facilities.
North Dakota –North Dakotans are considering permitting medical marijuana for certain conditions, such as cancer or PTSD. Acknowledging the state’s rural nature, patients who live more than 40 miles from a “compassionate care center” would be allowed to grow up to eight plants as long as they notified local law enforcement in advance.
So why is this such a big deal. We all should have watched 60 Minutes where a pediatric physician outlined the real problems with mothers smoking or partaking in pot/ marijuana and how long it stays in our body and especially our brain.
Consider a paper that my own college student daughter wrote about at the University of South Carolina during her freshman year and the following article-the author must have read my daughter’s paper. It is about the Difficulty Of Enforcing Laws Against Driving While High.
The story depicted in this article starts with a stay-at-home-mom from the Denver suburbs. Her name is Abby McLean. She’s 30 and lives in Northglenn, Colo. She was driving home from a late dinner with a friend two years ago when she came upon a DUI roadside checkpoint.
“I hadn’t drank or smoked anything, so I was like, ‘Let’s go through the checkpoint,’ ” she recalls.
McLean is a regular marijuana user but she insists she never drives while high.
Still, the cop at the checkpoint tells her he smells marijuana and that her eyes are bloodshot. Eventually he whips out handcuffs and McClean freaks.
“Like, massive panic attack. And, ‘Oh, my God, I have babies at home. I need to get home. I can’t go to jail!’ ”
She didn’t go to jail that night, but she got home hours late. A blood test later revealed McClean had 5 times the legal limit of THC, the mind-altering compound in marijuana.
Colorado’s marijuana DUI law is modeled on the one for alcohol, which sets a number to determine when someone is too intoxicated to drive. For pot, that number is five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood. Anything above that and the law says you shouldn’t be driving.
It may sound like an open and shut case that could have resulted in any number of penalties. But McLean’s attorney, Nadav Aschner, had a field day in court with Colorado’s marijuana intoxication limit. “Even the state’s experts will say that number alone is something, but generally not enough, and we really hammered that home,” he says.
Aschner got a hung jury and McLean pleaded to a lesser offense. Still, McLean’s trip through the criminal justice system is emblematic of numbers that suggest a sharp increase in marijuana DUI arrests in Colorado. So far this year, State Patrol data show that total DUI citations this year rose to 398 through early July, compared with 316 in for the same period 2015.
More states may come up with their own marijuana DUI guidelines. Voters in five states from California to Maine are deciding this November whether to legalize recreational marijuana. They’re weighing the good, the bad and the still unknown. Issues like driving while stoned are still in the “unknown” category.
It turns out, measuring a person’s THC is actually a poor indicator of intoxication. Unlike alcohol, THC gets stored in your fat cells, and isn’t water-soluble like alcohol, says Thomas Marcotte, co-director of The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego.
“Unlike alcohol, which has a generally linear relationship between the amount of alcohol you consume, your breath alcohol content and driving performance, the THC route of metabolism is very different,” he explains.
That’s why adapting drunk driving laws to marijuana makes for bad policy, says Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at New York University. “You can be positive for THC a week after the last time you used cannabis,” he says. “Not subjectively impaired at all, not impaired at all by any objective measure, but still positive.”
Still, Colorado and five other states have such laws on the books because pretty much everyone agrees that driving stoned can be dangerous, especially when combined with alcohol.
What cops really need is a simple roadside sobriety test. Scientists at UCSD are among researchers working on several apps that could measure how impaired one is behind the wheel. One has a person follow a square moving around a tablet screen with a finger, which measures something called “critical tracking.” Another app measures time distortion, because things can slow way down when a person is high. Those tests are still experimental.
Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey says the uncertainty doesn’t mean Colorado should throw out its THC limit. He says it may not be perfect, but it gives juries another piece of evidence to consider at trial. “I think that putting in a nanogram level makes sense,” says Morrissey. “I can’t tell you what level it should be. I don’t think Colorado’s is right. I don’t think it should be as high as it is. I think it should be lower.”
Morrissey remembers trying alcohol DUI cases as a young prosecutor. The science wasn’t settled then either, the blood alcohol standard was about twice as high as it is now, and it took years for it to be lowered. “I think that has to do with better testing better technology,” which Morrissey says will get improve for marijuana too.
In the meantime, some regular marijuana users, like Abby McLean, are scared to drive for fear of failed blood tests. “I haven’t gone out really since then, because I’m paranoid to run into the same surprise, ‘Oh oh, there’s a DUI checkpoint.’ ” A checkpoint that could mean potentially thousands more dollars in attorneys fees to defend herself.
The real issue is the safety issue. The date shows that THC in infants, children and teens impair brain development. Those that support legalizing recreational marijuana use point to the fact that its use is not any more dangerous that alcohol use. However, the active ingredient, THC, in marijuana is stored in the body for days or weeks in fat cells and the brain. Their effects seen far after alcohol is eliminated fro our bodies.
We need more data as the Governor of Colorado pointed out in the “60 minute” piece.
Good advice before it is federally legalized or before the cat is out of the bag.