It’s the year 2020 and marijuana and its industrial cousin, hemp, have now been legal for 10 years. The thousands of new businesses and industries based on these eco-friendly plants are reaping historic profits, and California leads the nation and the world in agriculture and manufacturing. The unemployment rate is at .02 percent and the threat of global warming has successfully been put on hold because of America’s steady transformation from an oil-based to a plant-based economy. There hasn’t been a war since 2012 and the savings has been put into public education, which includes the special work program developed for the tens of thousands of nonviolent drug war prisoners released in 2011 who have successfully assimilated back into society and entered the workforce. The new “green” economy has reduced pollutants in the air, soil and food, which, in turn, has resulted in a healthier population. And because of the tax surplus we now enjoy, health care is available and affordable for every man, woman and child in the United States. The millions of acres of hemp being grown worldwide have created enough nutrient-rich hemp seed to provide food for the starving people all over the planet, and on Jan. 1, 2020, the United Nations officially declared the end of world hunger. The recreational use of marijuana has supplanted alcohol in popularity, leading to a largest reduction in crime, violence and highway deaths in the nation’s recorded history. The United States has been heralded as a shining example for the rest of the world’s economies. How it all happened is described below.
California passes Proposition 19
On Nov. 2, 2010, California became the first US state to legalize marijuana for adults 21 or older. Once the law went into effect, it became immediately apparent that the warnings about marijuana legalization were unfounded. There wasn’t an increase in teen use. In fact, as happened in The Netherlands when they relaxed their laws in 1976, teen use steadily decreased. Once marijuana became legal, the “forbidden fruit” aspect of smoking pot disappeared and it came to be viewed by young people as something that older people do. Yuck!
As the public became aware of the benefits from the change in California’s law, it wasn’t long before every state in the nation had legalized marijuana for adults. Public opinion effectively pressured the Drug Enforcement Administration to change its classification of marijuana and hemp as Schedule 1 drugs, among heroin and Angel Dust (PCP), opening the door for new medical research into marijuana’s medicinal uses and allowing American farmers to grow hemp. Hemp manufacturing became the fastest growing industry in the US, creating products like “hempcrete,” a form of concrete made from hemp used to build houses, bridges and even dams. Hemp ethanol fuel started to replace petroleum while major automakers began producing cars from made from hemp, based on Henry Ford’s prototypes from the 1940s. The 21st century was officially titled the era of “The New Industrial Revolution.”
Dutch-style coffee shops in America
When the Dutch relaxed their cannabis laws in 1976, coffee shops (retail outlets for marijuana and hashish) that had been operating clandestinely became legitimate licensed businesses. Hundreds of new coffee shops were established throughout the country to accommodate the multitudes of users that had been buying their marijuana and hashish from drug dealers. These coffee shops brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in sales previously pocketed by criminals while the government received millions of dollars in new taxes. In 2010, California decided to adopt many of the elements of the Dutch coffee shops that had been successful for more than 30 years.
In The Netherlands, consumers can walk into a coffee shop and purchase up to five grams of marijuana or hashish without threat of arrest. Coffee shops offer comfy chairs, snacks and a friendly proprietor with a helpful staff. There is no longer any need to travel to the “wrong side of town” in search of a criminal drug dealer who is most probably selling hard drugs too. Dutch coffee shops provide a safe place where hard drugs are not allowed and where customers can relax with friends over a pipe of marijuana or hashish or can purchase cannabis to take home. The coffee shop system allows the Dutch government to monitor, regulate and tax cannabis products. In 2010, there were more than 400 coffee shops in Amsterdam and over 700 throughout The Netherlands.
Coffee shop rules
Dutch coffee shops are strictly regulated and must adhere to guidelines established by the government. The guidelines for coffee shops criminalize sales to minors — the legal age is 18 (the 2010 California law applies to adults over 21). Coffee shops are also required to make sure no hard drugs are allowed on their premises and that no nuisance is created in their surrounding neighborhoods. They are not permitted to advertise the sale of marijuana or hashish. If a coffee shop does not adhere to the guidelines, it can be closed and have its license revoked. House Rules (“Huis Regels”) are displayed: “Handel en Gebruik van Harddrugs is streng verboden. Agressie is niet toegestaan. Toegang boven achttien jaar.”
Translated: “Sales and use of hard drugs is strictly forbidden. Aggressive behavior is not allowed.”
American coffee shops, while adapting many of the elements of the Dutch model, also established their own unique American style, from country western to hip-hop. While there are many styles of coffee shops in The Netherlands, most feature certain elements in common: a bar, scattered tables and often a foosball table (a feature of the first coffee shop, “Mellow Yellow,” opened by Wernard Bruining in 1972 before decriminalization). Menus with prices and varieties of hash and marijuana may be displayed but are often held behind the bar and customers must ask to see them. Sometimes a house dealer will appear and give details of what is for sale. Because advertising is not allowed, often the only way to discern that an establishment is a coffee shop — that is, if the smell doesn’t give it away — is by the oversized rolling papers, ashtrays and paper filters on the bar or on tabletops. Some peculiarities of Dutch coffee shops — the house dealer and hidden menus — are a result of the fact that cannabis in 2010 is tolerated but not legal in The Netherlands.
Coffee shops are not bars Marijuana is not alcohol
Let me first make this very important point: marijuana is not alcohol. It does not affect its users like alcohol does and is not associated in any way with the many dangers of alcohol — overdose, addiction, loss of motor control and violent behavior. The reason I am so adamant about this difference is that opponents of legalizing marijuana often begin their arguments citing a list of the problems experienced with alcohol, then next claim that the same thing will happen if marijuana is allowed. Crime and violence will increase, they warn, and marijuana-crazed drivers will crowd the highways causing untold death and destruction. Fortunately, when it comes to marijuana, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, these problems — all associated with alcohol consumption — will likely decrease when marijuana is legal as a portion of alcohol-consuming adults switch to marijuana or, at least, reduce their alcohol use by substituting pot. “If marijuana was decriminalized, some [alcohol] users would surely make the switch,” Konrad Moore, a deputy public defender in Kern County, tells the Orange County Reporter. “Far from increasing crime, decriminalizing marijuana would most likely serve to reduce it.” What concerns Moore is not is not adults being allowed to use marijuana but the approximately 20 percent to 25 percent of college women who can expect to be sexually assaulted or the estimated 2 to 4 million US women assaulted by a domestic partner every year. “There is no real debate,” says Moore. “The majority of the assaults are fueled or otherwise associated with alcohol.”
As for the claims that marijuana legalization will add inebriated drivers to the roads, there is little scientific evidence to support allegations that marijuana is responsible for a significant number of automobile accidents. While driving under the influence of any drug is never recommended, a 1993 study by US Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that “THC’s adverse effects on driving performance appeared relatively small.”
As for alcohol, Mothers Against Drunk Driving reports that in 2008 an estimated 11,773 people died in drunk driving crashes involving a driver with an illegal blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 or greater, which adds up to 31.6 percent of the 37,261 total traffic fatalities in 2008.
Alcohol — America’s legal drug of choice — is a killer and you will be hard-pressed to find anyone who will deny that fact. Alcoholic beverage producers have no choice but to talk out of both sides of their mouths when hawking their brew. First, as good corporate citizens, they warn consumers to “drink responsibly,” while at the same time their multimillion-dollar TV commercials and print ads directly target the nation’s youth with images of the sex and party atmosphere promised by a six-pack or a bottle of tequila. It is certainly no surprise to find that the California Beer and Beverage Distributors made a large donation to the No on Proposition 19 campaign.
The most dangerous drug
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that excessive alcohol use is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death each year in the United States. In 2007, there were 14,406 deaths from alcohol-related liver disease and 23,199 alcohol-induced deaths. These numbers did not include alcohol deaths resulting from homicides or accidents.
Finally, a comparison of overdose fatalities does not take into account cognitive impairments and risky or aggressive behaviors that sometimes follow drug use. Moore cites a former prosecutor who confided in him that he refused to testify at a driving-under-the-influence-of-marijuana case because he believed that marijuana makes drivers “more cautious and conservative.” Whatever the objective truth, says Moore, “Few clients are arrested for allegedly driving 90 mph under the influence of marijuana or, for that matter, allegedly beating their wife or girlfriend while high on marijuana.”
Marijuana’s real effects
Have you ever tried to describe how something tastes or smells? Describing a marijuana high can be just as difficult. In his book “On Being Stoned,” Dr. Charles Tart reported marijuana’s effects based on an extensive questionnaire completed by more than 150 smokers. Some of the “common” experiences that Tart’s smokers reported are listed in the “Psychedelics Encyclopedia” and are of an insightful and inspirational nature. The listings include: insight into others, expressing more profound and appropriate ideas, an intuitive and empathetic understanding of people and lowered inhibitions. In general, Tart’s subjects reported feelings of well-being such as easily falling asleep at bedtime, almost invariably feeling good when stoned, being more childlike, open to experience and filled with wonder. One set of effects repeatedly described by marijuana smokers is feeling an enhanced sense of vision, hearing and taste. Music sounds better, colors are more intense. Whereas alcohol dulls the senses, marijuana has the opposite effect. A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (AMA) describes the subjects had an increased “vibratory sense appreciation,” which may explain why many smokers report enhancement of their sensory perceptions. There was also “increased vividness of sensory experience,” and “a feeling of increased significance and meaning.” In another study, test subjects reported “a feeling of clarity of thought and a sense of deeper insight into [their] own personality, of seeing how to solve personal problems or of being able to achieve a better recognition for important goals in life.”
In reality, the ordinary physical effects of marijuana are quite moderate. Users experience a slight increase in heart rate — reported in Time Magazine as “only a small fraction of what occurs at orgasm, and a minor increase in blood pressure and body temperature, dryness in the mouth and redness in the eyes.”
Physiologically, when a person smokes marijuana, the cannabinoids — the active chemicals in marijuana that create its effect — are carried to most of the body’s organs, and they appear in the brain for a brief period, in particular in the frontal and perietal regions. New brain studies suggest marijuana’s appearance in these areas of the brain may explain the inspirational experience of its users and that these experiences may actually be hardwired into our brains. A clinical study reported in the journal Neuron in 2010 referenced several neuro-imaging studies suggesting that neural activation of a large fronto-parieto-temporal network may support a variety of spiritual experiences.
Marijuana’s high dissipates in a couple of hours, but a small amount of THC (the cannabinoid most responsible for marijuana’s high) remains for an extended time in the liver’s fatty tissue, where it is released gradually. This remaining THC does not create any subjective, cognitive or emotional effects, but can show up in blood tests for marijuana conducted several weeks after smoking, which is the reason that drug tests for marijuana are unreliable.
Many people report that after smoking marijuana they lose track of time, which appears to expand. Suddenly what felt like hours passing had been mere minutes. “Minutes seem to be hours and seconds seem to be minutes,” writes Lester Grinspoon in “Marijuana Reconsidered.” In a world where no one seems to have enough time in a day to get everything done, it is no wonder that marijuana, with its time expanding qualities, is the most popular illicit drug in the country.
Marijuana’s temporary effect on short-term memory is well known. But Michael Pollan, author of “Botany of Desire,” suggests that forgetting is actually “a prerequisite to human happiness and mental health.” Interviewed for “The Pot Book,” edited by Julie Holland, Pollan elaborates: “There’s no doubt that short-term working memory is temporarily diminished when somebody gets high. But what I think is enjoyable to people is this idea of dehabituation, that they’re seeing things with fresh eyes. Memory is the enemy of wonder. When people get high, everything is new and intense because of this forgetting ... to see things for the first time you have to have forgotten that you’ve seen them before. Forgetting is very important to the experience of awe or wonder ... marijuana seems to have the ability to do this with ordinary things."
On that note, I think It’s time we try to forget the decades of anti-marijuana propaganda that has deprived our nation of this valuable resource and begin imagining a world where legal marijuana and hemp are used to create a sustainable and vibrant economy, reduce oil dependence and allow individuals their constitutional right to choose what substances they put into their bodies.
But please, whatever you do, don’t forget to vote YES Tuesday on Proposition 19.
By Alaine Lowell
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