Medical Mary: Inside the cloud of smoke
You, reader, most likely fall on one side or the other of the medical marijuana debate: for or against.
If against, you might think that the “medical” in marijuana is just an excuse for perfectly healthy people to legally toke up. Satirized in a recent South Park episode when a KFC is turned into a dispensary and one of the characters, Randy, gives himself testicular cancer in order to partake of prescribed cannabis.
If you’re all for it, you’ve likely smoked dope and agree that it’s no more harmful than cigarettes or alcohol. Well, I live in San Francisco in Haight-Ashbury where it all began, and here’s the scoop from inside the cloud of pungent smoke that divides public opinion.
Let’s be honest. Dispensaries here are predominately for-profit operations one way or other, against state law requiring non-profit marijuana growing co-ops and dispensaries. So critics are correct that a few unsavory types operate and run some operations, but many other dispensaries are truly focused on the medicinal side. Hey, Big Pharma makes our pills and serums and they aren’t exactly altruistic. Medical marijuana really works like nothing else for insomnia, body aches, appetite and menstrual cramps, and it’s the individual’s choice where to obtain it legally.
The majority of smokers with 215 cards (means they have medical permission) are blazing for the fun of it, with secondary medical benefit. But for a critical minority, cannabis is their only comfort, the only medicine that works, and they are truly ill. For them the law was passed. No doubt these people should not be denied. The question being asked here in California and around the country is where to draw the line.
While true that medical cannabis has opened the door to legal recreational use, use has its benefits for society at-large. Smokers are going to acquire, no matter what the law says. I’ve learned the ins-and-outs of five metropolitan cannabis cultures, sat in cars waiting hours for some dude to return with a bag, lost money to opportunists and thieves, seen multiple pounds come in fresh off the truck, and have known my share of users and dealers, and I tell you it’s true: Like the lure of alcohol during Prohibition, smoking bud is a past-time for enough people to support an underground economy, and they’re going to do it anyway. Trust me when I say that we want that business out in the open.
Society benefits from the tax revenue and the millions of hours saved by giving pot smokers a legal outlet rather than waiting for a dealer to arrive. Millions? Could be more like billions of hours a year freed for more productive use. Society is saved from deals gone bad, from unnecessary incarcerations (prisons are overflowing with people caught selling or even just possessing weed) and from losing a huge source of public revenue. Cannabis legalization will spark a booming industry that creates jobs and high revenues with high profits when mass production kicks in. Right now a pound of high-grade costs a few hundred dollars to grow and harvest, and is sold for a few thousand. Sold on the street that pound easily fetches twice as much, so yes, there’s a big profit to be made whether or not sold in the open.
But most important for society’s benefit is breaking the Mafia-like distribution channels that are terrorizing northern Mexico, causing ruin with illegal growing operations and fueling turf warfare that costs lives and money. The people at the top are nothing less than criminals, attracted to the piles of cash that can be made. Cocaine, heroin and other hard drugs will still have a black market, but taking away cannabis denies criminal gangs a big and easy source of revenue and forces them to compete over the remaining drug business. The competition is hell, literally.
(Here’s a clip of that South Park episode)
Legal distribution also gives smokers options rather than taking whatever is available, allowing for more targeted use for certain symptoms. Indica strains of cannabis are better for body issues like cramps and aches, while sativa strains are better for loosening the mind and freeing it from the body, providing relief from stress or even reality (and who doesn’t want that sometimes?). Hybrid strains can, for instance, provide the soothing body buzz of an indica without the sleepiness or munchies. Mild strains are good for novice smokers who don’t want the heavy buzz. With street deals you take what you can get, and that takes away some if not most benefit for the self-medicating smoker.
Smoking cannabis keeps a lid on the deep psyche so that the ego can be more receptive and take life at a slower pace. Cannabis suppresses the remembrance of dreams, not always great but sometimes necessary. It’s also something for millions of Americans to look forward to for millions when they get home from work; nothing like a toke to relieve the stress of a long and busy day. If smoked knowingly, mindful that cannabis lowers internal barriers, it is the equivalent of a few beers or glasses of wine to take the edge off. For some people, cannabis is what keeps them sane, no kidding. A few smokers experience bad trips, especially if too young to handle it. Cannabis is a mild hallucinogen after all, used for religious ceremony going way back in human history, and should be smoked with care.
Only by looking at the facts about cannabis and its use will we create an effective approach to governing it. Medical cannabis provided inroads, and of course the next step is to try to branch out. Smokers shake their heads at people intolerant of any cannabis use, but some people feel that way about tobacco and alcohol too and will never be persuaded otherwise. Just about anyone who has smoked it agrees at least with medicinal use, also recreational. Intolerance only creates a mystique attractive to teenagers and unstable personalities, and denies the fact of the benefits. If advocates fully acknowledge the other side of the debate, they can be enlisted in creating a legal distribution system that the majority of Americans can tolerate.
Aside from eliminating a major source of revenue for gangs, providing medical benefits and taxing a potentially major industry, legal distribution acknowledges the obvious: the scare tactics used against cannabis created fallacies about its use that have stymied efforts at mutual understanding, but the time is at hand with medical use laws passing around the country. Done correctly with eyes wide open, whether legalized or quasi-legalized through medical laws, America has a chance to get real and finally end the debate. I’m all for it.
And while we’re at it, declassify cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug with no medicinal value. We know better by now.