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Marijuana legalisation in the US: Five burning questions

  1. Phungushead
    View attachment 29759 This month, two US states voted to legalise, regulate and tax marijuana. From advertising and marketing to drugged-driving enforcement, we ask what's ahead.

    The 6 November votes in Colorado and Washington left a lot of marijuana users happy and a lot of police officers nervous. And they set the two states up for a confrontation with the federal government, as marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

    Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in the US. Legalisation advocates say the recent votes mark the beginning of the end of the drug's prohibition.

    "It's a tipping point for sure," says Sanho Tree, director of the drug policy project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

    "If these two states go ahead and legalise recreational use and the sky hasn't fallen, that opens up more political space."

    But authorities are wary.

    "The Colorado chiefs of police are incredibly concerned with regard to public safety as a whole," says Chief John Jackson of the Greenwood Village police department, and legislative chair of the Colorado Association of Chief of Police.

    Nearly 80 years after the US ended the prohibition of alcohol, we aim to answer just a few of the questions raised by the movement.

    View attachment 29760 How will retailers and growers market and advertise marijuana?

    The laws forbid under-21s from possession marijuana, and Washington bars marijuana adverts from within 1,000 ft (305m) of schools, playgrounds, parks and other places children gather.

    To the uninitiated, different kinds of marijuana look and smell pretty much the same and when smoked, have more or less the same effect. Once it becomes a legal consumer product, how can Washington and Colorado companies in the marijuana business build brand identity and expand their market?

    "Whether it's socks or weed the first thing you have to do is look at who's your target," says Rahul Panchal, an advertising creative director in New York.

    Panchal says the core market is well established: "Mid-twenties stoner guys". Those people are already comfortable smoking marijuana and are happy to buy it with minimal packaging or advertising effort.

    Successful marijuana entrepreneurs will try to expand that market, for example by tapping into existing subcultures or identity groups, for example outdoors enthusiasts, health-conscious suburbanites or stressed out professionals.

    An enterprising grower or retailer could develop a premium marijuana brand using high-design packaging to project an aura of exclusivity.

    "Gold leaf, black background," imagines Peter Corbett, chief executive officer of iStrategyLabs, a Washington digital marketing and advertising agency.

    "The packaging has a matte finish, so it's tactile and feels expensive. It would never come in a plastic bag - it comes in a linen sack."

    Entrepreneurs in search of big profits should look at the dairy industry, says Panchal.

    "The lowest margin is to just sell milk," he says, while the real money is in processed products like cheese and yogurt.

    "I would sell pot products: cookies, brownies and such. That's where the money's going to be."

    Can your boss still make you take a drug test?

    An evening joint around a camp fire in Colorado, though perfectly legal in that state, could still threaten your job, because the new Colorado law specifically lets employers forbid marijuana use among workers.

    "This isn't forcing any kind of change," says Mason Tvert, co-director of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, which advocated for the Colorado initiative.

    Washington's law does not specify either way.

    But workplace drug testing is already on the decline, says Lewis Maltby of the National Workrights Institute.

    He and Tvert predict employers in Colorado and Washington will now be even less inclined to test employees or prospective hires.

    Most drug testing, including pre-employment screening, is based on the perception that off-duty drug use among workers is bad for business, not on hard evidence, Maltby says.

    Most people who fail workplace drug tests are what he calls "Saturday night pot smokers", not people who smoke before work and are simply unable to get the job done.

    "Since it was fear that drove the testing in the first place, when marijuana becomes less scary a few less employers will test," he says.

    View attachment 29761 How can police officers prevent drugged driving?

    Both state referenda forbid driving while under the influence of marijuana.

    But a driver can have marijuana in his blood and not necessarily be too stoned to drive, since marijuana remains detectable in the body days and even weeks after use.

    The Washington law sets a threshold of five nanogrammes of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, per litre of blood, and Colorado's legislature is expected to enact a similar threshold.

    Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich of Spokane County, Washington says officers who suspect a driver has smoked too much will have to summon a paramedic to draw blood for a test.

    "How much of an added expense is that going to be to our agencies?" he asks.

    Police have plenty of other ways to detect drug driving, says Chief Jackson: "I don't need a toxicology test on the side of the roadway."

    If officers see motorists driving erratically, they can stop and interview them and ask them to perform field sobriety tests.

    The encounter will likely be filmed from a dashboard camera. If the officer believes a driver is impaired, the officer will make an arrest and later testify in court, Chief Jackson says.

    "You don't need breathalyser tests to convict drunk driving," he says. "People refuse to blow all the time but we still convict them in the state of Colorado."

    The US once prohibited alcohol. Do these laws portend the nationwide end to marijuana prohibition?

    Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, sees two parallels between today's legal and cultural marijuana environment and the late 1920s and early '30s when the move to end America's experiment with prohibition of alcohol gained steam.

    Prohibition of alcohol, which took effect nationwide in 1920 after the passage of a constitutional amendment, utterly failed to keep Americans from drinking alcohol. Instead, it enriched criminal "bootleggers" and starved the government of tax revenue.

    Similarly, Americans have stubbornly resisted millions of dollars spent on anti-drug education. Despite decades of law enforcement efforts, marijuana remains widely available just about everywhere.

    In 2002, 6.2% of Americans over the age of 11 reported using marijuana within the past month, according to a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration study. By 2011 that figure had risen to 7%.

    The public rhetoric in today's marijuana legalisation movement takes the same tone as anti-temperance forces in the mid- to late-1920s, says Okrent.

    "It's not 'we want to have fun and give us our freedom'," he says. "There's a sense it's not working, it's enriching criminal syndicates, it's establishing a hypocritical view of law enforcement and let's be honest with ourselves."

    Today, as in the last years of prohibition, state, local and federal governments are desperate for tax revenue, he says.

    One major difference between then and now: alcohol and drinking had long been ubiquitous in American life, from sacramental wine at mass, in Jewish rites, and at the dinner table, to beer at the pub and spirits made in backwoods distilleries.

    Marijuana, meanwhile, is a relative newcomer to mass American culture and is not deeply ingrained. Many, if not most, Americans still frown on it.

    Nevertheless, since election day, lawmakers in at least two more states - Maine and Rhode Island - have promised to introduce marijuana legalisation laws.

    Will people stop distinguishing between "recreational use" and "medical use" of marijuana?

    Neither the Washington nor the Colorado laws refer to recreation, but the media uses the term to distinguish the new movement from medical marijuana legal in at least 16 states. Yet no-one talks about "recreational use" of beer, wine and spirits.

    Some people use marijuana aside from a desire to have a good time: to relax, in a religious rite, to spark creativity, to feed an addiction. Others insist it has medicinal benefits.

    In some states medical marijuana is tightly controlled, but in California, it is widely viewed as a farce.

    Just about anyone - even BBC correspondents - can get a marijuana prescription by paying a fee to a doctor and taking a minimal walk-in examination. In other states rules are stricter.

    In the 1920s, during prohibition, Americans could pay a doctor to write a prescription for a weekly allotment of whisky, to be dispensed by a pharmacy, says Okrent, the prohibition scholar.

    "It was an equally dishonest racket," he says. "There's a very clear parallel."

    18 November 2012

    By Daniel Nasaw


  1. storkfmny
    Nice article, it's about time this thing broke. I don't see why the police would be concerned about drivers smoking pot when the ones that will smoke and drive are already doing it, nothing will change except for the betterment of everyone!
  2. talltom
    Four Fascinating Things Marijuana Legalization Has Already Taught Us

    Legalization in two states has sparked a groundbreaking discussion about domestic and international policy.
    Unroll the tapestries, twist up a joint and crank up the Bob Marley jams! The stoners have token -- excuse me, spoken -- and dope is now legal in two states.

    That's the kind of ridiculous banter pundits have employed to discuss a historic moment in US democracy: the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado. Put aside the stoner spectacle-making, and we can begin to make sense not only of voters’ decision in WA and CO, but also why other states -- and nations -- may be following suit in the near future. Here are four of the most fascinating ways marijuana legalization has become the forefront of a groundbreaking discussion to which the media should starting paying attention.

    1. Pot is politically relevant .

    Putting pot on the ballot increases young voter turnout-- a lot. While the youth vote hovered at 18% in 2008, states that had legalization on the ballot this election saw young people coming out in much greater numbers. Take a look at this graph from Jon Walker at Firedog Lake’s Just Say Now column.
    Clearly, pot policy reform is a hot-button issue for young voters, a fact that many worried might even swing Colorado to legalization-advocate and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson. It was a legitimate concern for Democrats, as marijuana legalization in Colorado actually nabbed 50,000 more votes than Obama. In WA, Obama came out ahead of legalization by just less than half a percentage point. In other states, too, voters’ interest in pot policy reform was clear. Massachusetts legalized medical marijuana, and Michigan passed a variety of pot policy reforms, including limited legalization in Detroit and Flint and decriminalization in Grand Rapids.

    Take-away point? Pot politics are no laughing matter.

    2. Ending prohibition is good for racial justice .

    As voters were gearing up to decide whether to legalize marijuana, Queens College sociologist Harry Levine released a report detailing marijuana arrests in Washington and Colorado. In CO, his report found that more than 210,000 people have been arrested for pot in the past 25 years, with the annual rate of weed arrests steadily rising. The study also uncovered racial bias embedded in the war on weed. In the last 10 years, police in CO arrested blacks and Latinos at a rate of about 1.4 times that of whites, even though white people use marijuana at about the same rate as people of color. Youths were also disproportionately affected: The study found that more than two-thirds of those arrested for weed in CO from 2001 to 2010 were 25 or younger, and almost 80% of them were younger than 30. In Washington, the pattern of pot arrests paints a similar picture: A skyrocketing number of busts coupled with a higher rate of arrests for youths and people of color. African Americans were arrested at nearly three times the rate of whites, while Latinos and Native Americans had an arrest rate 1.5 times that of whites.

    It will take years to analyze the effects marijuana legalization has on people of color, but prosecutors are already dropping cases against marijuana users in Colorado and Washington.

    3. Legalizing marijuana could bring peace to the US-Mexico border.

    At least 60,000 people have died in the drug war Mexico President Felipe Calderon declared on the cartels six years ago. But a more peaceful solution may be at hand. Legalizing weed in just two states -- CO and WA -- could deliver a serious blow to Mexican cartel profits; US officials estimate that 60 percent of cartel profits come from marijuana. At the very least, it is the “gateway drug” for hustling, as many Mexican traffickers start with pot before moving up to the harder stuff.

    “I think more and more Mexicans will respond in a similar fashion, as we ask ourselves why are Mexican troops up in the mountains of Sinaloa and Guerrero and Durango looking for marijuana, and why are we searching for tunnels, patrolling the borders, when once this product reaches Colorado it becomes legal,” Jorge Castañe*da, a former foreign minister of Mexico told the Washington Post .

    4. The rest of the world is into legalization, too.

    When Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana, the United States paved the way for marijuana policy reform on an international level. Even Canada was looking to its neighbor for progressive advice. “This is an important first step and inspiration to activists in Canada who want to see Canada embrace a smart drug policy,” David Valentin, spokesperson for the Young Liberals of Canada, said in a statement.

    More impacted by marijuana legalization in America, however, are our neighbors to the South. Latin America responded to marijuana legalization in WA and CO with new chutzpah to challenge the US-backed international war on pot. Following the election, leaders from Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Belize pointed out the drug war’s disparate impact on Latin American countries and called for a review of international drug policy.

    While Mexico is opening up the drug policy debate, Uruguay has been moving toward full legalization for months now. On Wednesday, it moved one step closer, when a bill to create a state-licensed marijuana market was presented to Congress.

    As Latin America increasingly challenges US drug policy, legalization may help give the Obama administration the domestic political consensus necessary to back international calls for reform.

    November 18, 2012

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