Future historians will surely look back on this time as the beginning of the end of American marijuana prohibition (1937-20??).
With the benefits of hindsight and an outsider's perspective, they'll be able to draw straightforward timelines discussing, for example, exactly when the federal government rescinded its last criminal laws against marijuana, and even include such milestones as “First sale of stock shares in a publicly traded marijuana company.”
But here in June 2014, it's too soon to predict when any of those things will happen. And many Americans, especially those whose paychecks and livelihoods come from organizations with names like “Drug Enforcement Administration” or “National Institute on Drug Abuse,” keep their focus on predicting the real or perceived downsides of making marijuana the legal equivalent of alcohol, where adult possession and use are concerned.
On June 19, for example, Bloomberg news gave a detailed summary of the then-current status quo, headlined “Pot scientists brace for marijuana abuse as laws ease.”
And those “laws,” at the time of writing, were briefly summarized at the federal level:
The only marijuana available for research in the U.S. is locked down by federal regulators who are more focused on studies to keep people off the drug than helping researchers learn how it might be beneficial.
Marijuana is a trend that “will peak like tobacco then people will see their error,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which serves as the gatekeeper for U.S. Marijuana research through its oversight of a pot farm that grows the only plants that can be used in clinical trials.... Volkow said that long-term pot use, as well as some experimenting, can lead to addiction. About 4.3 million people ages 12 and older abused the drug or had marijuana dependence in 2012, about the same as in 2002, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
“I’m open to the data, that’s why we do research,” she said in an interview. “But based on what I’ve seen, I predict that it’s going to be negative and we’re going to be in a position of trying to deal with the consequences.”
It's not certain if “marijuana abuse” is being defined as “the excessive use of marijuana, to the point where it harms or interferes with the user's daily life,” or merely “any use not required for medical reasons.”
As of June 2014, marijuana is legal for medical use in 22 states, and for purely recreational use in two.
Yet the U.S. federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug — which means that, according to the law, it has absolutely no medicinal or therapeutic use whatsoever (although “Marinol,” synthetic marijuana produced by a pharmaceutical company in pill form, is legal and does have medicinal value, provided you get a doctor's prescription first).
Even in Colorado and Washington, the two states with legal recreational marijuana, there's nothing remotely close to a free and open market yet. Indeed, Washington's on the verge of a legally imposed supply shortage. Reason magazine's July 2014 issue discussed “Washington's legal marijuana mess,” wherein marijuana is regulated by a state Liquor Control Board (LCB) seemingly opposed to the very market it's supposed to regulate:
Washington's regulators are deliberately engineering a shortage. Keen to prevent diversion of newly legal marijuana to other states, which might trigger a federal crackdown, the LCB is imposing a cap on production and strictly limiting the number of retailers. The amount of marijuana cultivation allowed by the state is calculated to supply just 25 percent of the market, while the number of retail licenses will be much smaller than the number of existing medical marijuana suppliers. Seattle, which has about 200 dispensaries (including delivery services), has been allotted just 21 state-licensed pot stores.
Colorado has had “supply” problems since the beginning of the year; throughout the month of January, media headlines ranged from the straightforward “Colorado Pot Supply: Marijuana businesses fear shortage” (Time.com, Jan. 8) to the more tongue-in-cheek “Bummer: the great Colorado weed shortage of 2014” (The Daily Beast, Jan. 11).
It's easy to see why marijuana retailers would have supply problems alcohol retailers do not: among other things, maintaining inventory of a consumable product is tricky when that product remains thoroughly illegal on the federal level and in 28 states.
Supply and demand aren't the only problems generated by the contradictory nature of current marijuana laws. The Associated Press reported another new legal trend on June 16: “Marijuana laws complicate child custody, abuse cases.”
In Colorado, for example, a man lost custody of his children after he got a medical-marijuana prescription. Such anecdotes are not unusual in medical-marijuana states, again because the law can't decide the exact status of marijuana (let alone those who use it): Useful medication? Recreational intoxicant which responsible adults can enjoy without harm? Or a Schedule 1 narcotic so nasty, any use of it automatically makes you an unfit parent?
Or an unfit employee — despite marijuana's legal status, Colorado employers who require drug tests of their employees can still fire or refuse to hire marijuana users, even those who only use it under a doctor's care.
So even if you are among the growing number of Americans who can, at least in some circumstances, legally acquire and use marijuana, you still might want to err on the side of caution and continue to think of marijuana use as a “legal” rather than “consumer” issue — because so many levels of authority in your life still think that way, and it's far too early for historians to say when that stopped being the American status quo.
Future historians will surely look back on this time as the beginning of the end of American marijuana prohibition (1937-20??).With the benefits of hinds...