Legalize Marijuana?

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

Willamette Week's cover story on marijuana legalization (reprinted from the Boston Phoenix) included an addendum on the views of Oregon politicos.

Most surprising answer? Rep. Jeff Barker (D-Aloha), a retired Portland police officer and chairman of House Judiciary:

Barker doesn’t want stoned people behind the wheel, but otherwise he says pot is no public threat, and he’s ready to roll on legalizing.

“I’m fine with that,” he says. “I don’t mind spending money to lock up violent people, but marijuana just ain’t even close.”

OK, that covers the criminal justice angle. What about the medical angle? Cue Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland), former chair of the Dept. of Public Health at OHSU:

Greenlick says he doesn’t see the logic in treating cannabis differently from tobacco or booze. “It doesn’t seem to me to make a hell of a lot of sense,” he says. “If we can get a serious discussion going, I think [legalization] is possible.”

But despite some high-profile supporters, marijuana legalization was barely a blip in the 2009 session. According to WW, a ballot measure is headed our way:

[Legalization advocates] plan to put the issue on the 2010 ballot with an initiative called the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act.

If they can gather 87,000 signatures to put it on the ballot, and voters then approved the initiative, the act would set up the Oregon Cannabis Control Commission. The new agency would sell pot to buyers 21 and over, with 90 percent of the profit going to the state’s general fund and 10 percent for drug treatment.

Activists last put a legalization measure on the ballot in 1986. It got just 26 percent support. But after decades fighting to legalize pot in Oregon, they believe the public has come around.

What do you think? Should Oregon legalize marijuana? Will Oregon voters approve the measure? Will a strong fiscal impact - as much as $200 million in new revenue and reduced criminal justice costs - make a difference to voters?

Discuss.

Comments

  • Buckman Res (unverified)
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    I would support legalization on a trial basis with these conditions:

    That hippie lettuce be taxed at a rate equal to or greater than tobacco products.

    That wacky tobaccie and it’s users be stigmatized in ad campaigns the same way tobacco smokers are as a way to discourage it’s use as much as possible.

  • Boats (unverified)
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    I would vote for the legalization of pot, but only if the state were not involved in direct sales like they are with hard alcoholic beverages.

    If the state gets its monopolistic clutches with retail head shops, the criminality will still be there but shift from interdiction to tax evasion. The state could legalize head shops and set the tax for legally sold cannabis at a point lower than the overhead premium for dealers running the risk of serving the black market. Eventually, illegal sales would dry up just like they did for alcohol.

    Having smoked several pounds of the stuff as a younger man, I think marijuana is less societally harmful than is alcohol. And just like for alcohol, all that prohibition has done for marijuana is drive it into becoming a black market commodity with all of the violence and enforcement costs that such status brings to a perennially desirable product.

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    Prohibition does nothing but enrich gangsters and the prison-industrial complex.

    If it's smoked away from non-smokers and we can find a way to ID those driving under the influence, who cares what other people do? If it is legalized, I'd encourage increased penalties for selling to minors, though.

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    The media did a decent job on medical cannabis. They did not allow the fear mongers to dominate the public discussion. If they approach legalization in an even-handed manner, the public will support it. If the Just Say No forces are allowed to spout their propaganda without challenge, the public will not support legalization.

    As to the legislature, my guess is that Peter Courtney, conservative soul that he is, would not be enthusiastic about legalization.

  • Kirk Muse (unverified)
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    The question should not be should marijuana be re-legalized, but rather: should marijuana remain completely unregulated, untaxed and controlled by criminals?

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    Yes! The initiative sounds like a thoughtful direction to go. Where do I sign?

    On my own blog I previously called to “Defund the Mexican Drug Cartels; Legalize Marijuana” (here).

    Kudos to Representatives Barker, Greenlick and Buckley for their views, but I would not expect legalizing marijuana to pass as a legislative bill.

    I do not expect the initiative to pass, but the percentage voting yes will be higher than in the past.

    My thanks to the folks promoting the initiative.

  • Deno (unverified)
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    Legalization would be a billion dollar revenue stream for a state with the 2nd highest unemployment rate in the nation.

  • Scott in Damascus (unverified)
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    Just curious:

    If Mary Jane was legal tomorrow, how many people would be released from prison due to possession and distribution convictions and how much would that save the state?

    I'm guessing it has to be in the tens of millions in the first year. Police, the courts, prison, parole officers, etc. would all be affected.

  • (Show?)

    "That hippie lettuce be taxed at a rate equal to or greater than tobacco products.

    That wacky tobaccie and it’s users be stigmatized in ad campaigns the same way tobacco smokers are as a way to discourage it’s use as much as possible."

    I'm 100% on board with a pot tax equal to tobacco, although there's little in the way of health cost recovery that justifies a high tax on the latter--which is why a stigmatization campaign makes no sense. Tobacco is a terrible killer. Pot is a mostly benign substance. You know how many deaths have been directly been attributed to pot? Zero. Literally, zero.

    "If the state gets its monopolistic clutches with retail head shops, the criminality will still be there but shift from interdiction to tax evasion. "

    Is there a massive problem with black market liquor in states with state sales? It sure doesn't seem so.

    ScottJ, it's likely there would be no retroactivity; if you were busted when pot was still illegal, you'd stay in prison.

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    Sorry, that should be "justifies a high tax on the FORMER" -- ie, pot.

  • Bartender (unverified)
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    "...should marijuana remain ...controlled by criminals?"

    They wouldn't be criminals if it were legal. They'd be small businessmen and entrepeneurs.

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    If Mary Jane was legal tomorrow, how many people would be released from prison due to possession and distribution convictions and how much would that save the state?

    I would be curiou to know this, too. My guess is that the number is very small.

  • Bill McDonald (unverified)
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    There have been some really gnarly arguments made here, and I'm totally stoked about it. But to get serious....

    I was in a band that played the mainstage at the Seattle Hempfest for several years. I prepared some pot humor, but frankly once I educated myself on medical marijuana and the war on drugs, I didn't make any jokes about it at all. This has been a very shameful chapter in medicine where sick people have been allowed to die rather than lessen the death grip of the pharmaceutical industry on our society.
    
      You watch: When the pharmaceutical industry finally accepts that legalization is going to happen, it will do what it can to try and control it using its hired hands in Congress.
    
      The war on drugs is like the war on terror. It's a cover story for something else.
    
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    Bill's right. Same reason we won't have a national public option for health care.

    And the exact same reason we won't ever shift our health care sector's focus from profit to actual health. Thanks, pharma!

  • Boats (unverified)
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    Is there a massive problem with black market liquor in states with state sales? It sure doesn't seem so.

    This would be primarily due to there being no qualitative difference between a bottle of Cuervo bought at a retail shop owned by the State of Oregon and one purchased at any privately owned liquor store in California.

    There is a massive qualitative difference in weed and the locally grown stuff is not up to world class standards. Unless the state's proposed cannabis commission were staffed with enthusiasts, there is no way that state controlled pot would be able to compete with private bud sourced using better methods and growing conditions.

    Unless there has been a revolution in locally grown weed I haven't been following, it still doesn't favorably compare with BC bud, or even the grass from around Humboldt CA. Just like any agricultural product, soil, cultivation, harvesting practices, and retail preparation for market matter, and in Canada especially, there are some world class farmers at work.

    So unless the proposed state run CCC got into world class legal cultivation and gained a market reputation as the best bang for the buck, "illegal" weed would persist in a way that would be reminiscent of the moonshiners that persist in the south and in the Appalachian mountains to this day.

  • Bartender (unverified)
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    Sorry TJ, but Boats has a point. If they decide to tax it too much, there will be a black market. If the tax were so high on liquor that it made it worthwhile to bootleg it, it would happen. I mean, a lot of those beer fans here said they'd start brewing their own if Cannon's beer tax went through. Hopefully, if this initiative did pass, they'd allow people to grow their own, (as with alcohol).

    You have to admit, putting a seed or plant in the ground and tending it for a little while is a heck of a lot easier, cheaper, (and safer) than setting up your own still. At least I think most people would feel that way.

  • Scott in Damascus (unverified)
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    "which is something that could have been prevented if alcohol was illegal."

    Because prohibition was soooo successful reducing crime and alcohol related deaths.

  • J Renaud (unverified)
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    Prohibition was successful in a variety of ways. Try reading histories not rewritten by the beverage industry.

    Arguments for legalizing marijuana are largely based on "it's not as bad as alcohol." No doubt, but that's not the point.

    Because alcohol has been an enormous burden in financial costs and human tragedy which we have, as a society, accepted as manageable. Millions? Billions? Trillions? We don't know the damage it does.

    We've failed to mitigate the damage alcohol does in our community. Why do we think we have the capacity to even understand the damage marijuana does?

  • SCB (unverified)
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    Two comments:

    1. The first "talking head" I ever saw that supported the legalization of marijuana was William F. Buckley Jr. So, even the "conservations" have a place at the table of legalization.

    2. I am a former alcohol/drug treatment center director, attended the First White House conference for a drug free America, was a member of the Board of Directors of the California Alcohol Recovery Home Association, etc., etc. - I have first hand experience, knowledge, and education regarding drugs and recovery. Illegalization is one of the biggest barriers to treatment. I support a combination of legalization of marijuana, taxation of marijuana, and increased treatment for all addictions from part of that revenue.

    The rest of the tax revenue could retire the national debt in something like 10 years ....

  • Bartender (unverified)
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    "Unless there has been a revolution in locally grown weed I haven't been following" ... "locally grown stuff is not up to world class standards."

    OK, sorry to you this time Boats. It must have been awhile since you've partaken. Oregon has some of the best pot in the world, certainly on par with anything coming out of Cali or BC. Our climate here is as good as either of those. (Folks actually disparage BC bud, these days.) In addition, hydroponics, grow lights, and modern cloning and hybridization techniques allow anyone with a spare room, shed or even closet, to grow almost any kind of pot they want. And they certainly do, right here in Oregon.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
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    I fully support serious discussion to legalize marijuana and tax it at each point in the distribution system similar to alcohol and tobacco. It is far past time to remove the criminal element from the cultivation of marijuana.

    This week the Jackson county Sheriff actually warned folks to stay out of the woods and to slowly back away if they stumbled onto a grow operation. In the Siskiyous there are several well funded criminal grow operations protected by armed guards.

  • Bartender (unverified)
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    "Why do we think we have the capacity to even understand the damage marijuana does?"

    Cuz we've been studying it since, what, the sixties? And NOT ONE SINGLE death can be directly attributed to it?

    The way things are now, pot "has been an enormous burden in financial costs and human tragedy which we have, as a society, accepted as manageable," simply because it is illegal. Something like 700,000 people per year are incarcerated on non-violent pot charges. Imagine the enormous SAVINGS in financial costs and human tragedy if these folks were not locked up.

  • Boats (unverified)
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    It has indeed been awhile since I have toked. Glad to hear that Oregon has upped its game.

    When I was coming up in Hawaii, that was some great stuff, but it began to suffer as the state began aerially spraying suspected grows, moving operations under camo or indoors, jacking the price.

    And bringing on a wholly unintended boom in the popularity of "ice," the drug we know of today as meth. The party people didn't stop getting high because of herbicides, a certain percentage switched to something else a lot worse for both them and society.

    My only point in dabbling with pot nostalgia and misguesstimating the current state of things was this: If Oregon legalizes pot to control it and takes a "near beer" approach, the effort will fail because the black market will adapt itself to tax evasion just as readily as it has to prohibition. Half-assed legalization will just create other headaches that won't address the problem of a contraband creating a criminal class to deliver it to willing buyers.

    This thread is making me want a legal joint. LOL.

  • John Silvertooth (unverified)
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    Initially all adults should be able to grow a small number of plants per year- and I mean like 10 or less even 3 or 4- for personal non-commercial use without a permit or tax. (Medical patients should have greater number allowed). After a few years of this and the world does not come to an end, further legalization should be examined and larger scale operations could be regulated and taxed. This will drive a lot of criminal operations out of Oregon. Many police and prosecutors in this state will admit privately the state efforts to prosecute pot laws are wasted energy and legalization would be a positive step but they are afraid to speak out.

  • Bartender (unverified)
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    Yes, I understand and agree to a point with your premise, Boats. (And as a "hippie, bleeding heart liberal", I never thought I'd say that! LOL. But that just goes to show this can be a truly bipartisan effort.) I just believe that "the effort will fail because the black market will adapt itself to tax evasion just as readily as it has to prohibition," if it is taxed too much. As in anything, if you make it cheaper to buy legally than it is to go to the hassle and expense of doing it yourself, there won't be a big black market.

    Let's tax it at a rate like beer! LOL! Let's lead the country with our iconic, small "craft" pot growers and breeders. We're already known for our great bud here in Oregon. Let's get some economic development $, and tax breaks to these small businessmen and women. Think of all the jobs...

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    A moment of silence for Peter Tosh and his untimely death. Does it really make sense to legalize it when he's not here to advertise it?

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    I'll accept the rebuttals by boats and bartender, but it seems like it would take a really significant tax to set prices above what the black market demands now. Last I heard, a standard quarter-ounce bag of quality green would run you from $80 - $100 around here, and I have to figure that you could likely still support grower profit and substantial tax, and still keep the price under $75.

  • Mike Austin (unverified)
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    Something like 700,000 people per year are incarcerated on non-violent pot charges.

    At a cost of $25,000/inmate, that comes to 17.5 billion dollars. That doesn't include the legal and opportunity costs of putting them in prison...

    Something I haven't seen mentioned here is that the legalization of marijuana would open the doors to the growing of marijuana for non-drug use. Hemp is a great source of fiber for paper and clothing, omega-3 fatty acids, protein powders, etc. There is tremendous potential here for rural Oregon to produce hemp and cannabis products...

  • Daryl (unverified)
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    I have a distinct feeling that Oregon will legalize before California, if that happens I can promise you at least 1 new family that will be taking residence in your state, hahahaha. When discussing the financial plus's to the legalization argument why doesn’t anyone ever mention the potential tourism boost?

  • Boats (unverified)
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    Done right, legalization would bring the per ounce cost of marijuana down into the range of where quarter ounce bags are now. Heck, get it down to the cost of stevia extract, at about $72.00 per pound and Oregon would have an agricultural boom on its hands. Tourism would skyrocket.

    For once, liberals could be supply siders. Selling cheaper, moderately taxed, high quality weed in volume would result in a greater amount of tax income over the same product kept artificially expensive and highly taxed.

    The way to cut off illegal pot at the knees in Oregon would be to have real "grass" fields in the hundreds of acres with multiple crops a year. There'd be some security expense, and some high wildlife, and the odd but amusing wildfire losses, but the resultant legal volume would make small and secretive grows or large but risky ones noncompetitive.

    The unintended problems would be a likely increase in DWI as well as a lot of static from other states because people would traffic a cheaper source of pot to areas where it was still prohibited.

  • Crim Justice Person (unverified)
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    Last week several 45-50 year olds sitting around a pool on vacation, some with hangovers, were all complaining that if MJ was just legal, some of them would be feeling a lot better right now.

    There is the probability that legalization would create a few more users, and some would end up using harder drugs. I think it would be very few, but how many is too many. So lets not kid ourselves there. Admit it and weigh the benefits.

    But on balance, it makes Sooo much sense to legalize/educate/Regulate and tax, (LERT)

  • will (unverified)
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    If its working with medical mj, then legal mj I would consider, but what about the bad effects to those who dont know how to use this special plant? And for the wrong reasons?

  • Buckman Res (unverified)
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    ”You know how many deaths have been directly been attributed to pot? Zero. Literally, zero.”

    That’s setting bar a little high. Considering the negative effects any intoxicant can have on any number of activities, from driving to operating a chain saw, I think an active campaign to deglamorize and minimize the use of Mary J is warranted in the event it is legalized.

    I thought of a slogan for the campaign, Be a “Don't bee”, not a “Doobie”

  • Boats (unverified)
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    What about them? It has always been wrongheaded, and morally bankrupt, to punish everyone who exercises moderation to save a few clodhoppers from themselves.

    I don't care if we are talking about alcohol, sex, drugs, porn, sugar, trans fats, guns, or what have you, prohibition has never been the correct answer.

  • Bartender (unverified)
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    Yes, Oregon should legalize marijuana. It is, at best, a miracle "drug" (and I use that term very loosely here) that provides countless benefits and relief to millions worldwide without the side effects and addiction issues associated with the legal drugs routinely used now. At worse (and again, I use that term loosely) it is a mellow and short-lived buzz; a benign, mild and temporary alteration of the senses, like drinking a beer.

    But will Oregon voters approve the measure? Based on history, probably not, it pains me to say. It pains me, because I do feel that we pot smokers are forced to remain "in the closet," the way the WW article mentions. I can really relate to that aspect of this issue. Not trying to jump on, or create, the newest victimization bandwagon (we potheads are nothing if not independent and self reliant!) but it bugs me that the stereotypical MJ user is still some derivative of the Cheech and Chong characters or a smelly kid in tie dye and dreads. If everyone who partakes "came out," we wouldn't be having this discussion. We'd have credibility.

    Selfishly, I'd like to see it made legal and the government stay out of it all together. Folks could get good, cheap (well, cheaper than it'd be if the government taxed it) bud from a variety of sources - as most do now... just without the fear of ruining their whole lives for it. But I accept that with the good comes the bad, and that taxing it is going to go hand-in-hand with legalization. Not to mitigate any costs to society - I believe those are few - but as the only way this could gain mainstream acceptance.

  • Greg D. (unverified)
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    With appologies to you political historians, as I recall just after the Revolutionary War ended newly elected President George Washington sent the US Army into Western Pennsylvania to quash a rebellion by distillers of alcohol who objected to the new federal government trying to regulate and tax it. I think it was called the whiskey rebellion.

    For those who may be thinking that the current budget crisis is a good opportunity to legalize pot using the "revenue generation" argument, I say be careful what you wish for as it may turn around and bite you. Right now possession of small quantities is very unlikely to be prosecuted as a serious criminal offense. Tax evasion on the other hand is very likely to be prosecuted as a serious criminal offense.

  • jrw (unverified)
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    I just have one word for those of you wondering how to regulate cannabis--Amsterdam.

    Seems like the Dutch have figured out how to manage things reasonably well, including driving under the influence.

  • Old Ducker (unverified)
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    Of course it should be legalized. Whatever social costs are incurred with any increase of use (which may not even occur) would be more than offset with savings from law enforcement. It would also be a wonderful boost to the 10th amendment. I also agree with some others, keep the state out of the reef trade.

  • Ron Mexico (unverified)
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    With all due respect, Greg D., anti-prohibitionists are doing the opposite of the Whiskey Rebellion: they are begging to be taxed.

  • Lou (unverified)
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    If it does happen in 2010--that's great. It will happen sometime in the next 10 years and I think a state like Oregon will benefit if it is the first to the dance. In my opinion, legalization of marijuana is the only defensible reason to keep our ballot measure system in place. When a ballot measure legalizes weed, it will actually model why the system was created in the first place--- to do the will of the people when the politicians can't. Let's face it, the Millienial generation voters are tired of hiding it from their parents and the Gen X voters are tired of hiding it from thier kids. It is going to happen. People want to be happy and not be criminals.

    My only concern would be to ensure that the government does not try and monopolize production in the same way that some tried to dissuade or prohibit homebrewing. I would support taxed and regulated weed to be sold, but also allow the annual purchase of a grower's license similar to a fishing license that would allow folks to grow at home.

    Here's my campaign slogan. "It's better than Viagra!"

  • Jim (unverified)
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    JRW--exactly on Amsterdam and other parts of the Netherlands. It's just like going to the deli, you order a little of this and a little of that, maybe get a slice of space cake. Furthermore, they deal with the problems in a more humane way, based upon the premise that you will never stop people from trying stuff. Doesn't really apply to pot too much, but take the red light district: lots of violence and disease associated with prostitution, so they legalize it and make sure prostitutes are well-educated and, I think, registered. If you are new to the trade there, you go down to the police department, and a prostitute gives you a state sanctioned class on the ins and outs, no pun intended.

    They are not so puritan there, ironic considering Leyden is where the Puritans were before heading to England.

  • Joe Hill (unverified)
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    This is a remarkable discussion. People representing a rather broad ideological spectrum are agreeing on what would have been an intensely divisive "culture war" issue not that long ago.

    Another vote here to legalize it for all the reasons given above.

  • shizzle (unverified)
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    "which is something that could have been prevented if alcohol was illegal."

    That's the problem. How do you make something illegal, if it's easily manufactured such as alochol: sugar / water / yeast? Or Psilocybin, which grows in cow shit all over the Willamette valley? Or somebody planting pot seeds?

    Do we want to continue jailing non-violent people, and funding a police state or let individuals make their own medical decisions.

    Reasonable taxation and usage laws would go a huge way to solving some crucial problems: prison over-crowding and tax revenue, crime - people stealing.

    Until drugs are treated and handled within the medical context of society, we'll steal be captives of a police state...

  • shizzle (unverified)
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    "It would be a disaster, because there probably would be people trying to get behind the wheel and drive, which is already a problem with alcohol ."

    Pot effects people much differently than alcohol - not advocating that behind the wheel, but pot is not nearly as debilitating as alcohol. You may stop on your way home to get jelly doughnuts and take the long way home, but you aren't likely to have a head-on collision with someone.

    But- agreed, there would have to be reasonable usage and taxation laws to make it work.

  • regular guy (unverified)
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    I've been smoking weed since 1966. Before that, I didn't worry about cops, since I didn't break any laws.

    Now I don't know about the rest of you, but I LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY WHEN I CAN HAVE A COP FOR A NEIGHBOR OR A FRIEND again without fear, because I no longer have to hide my weed use from them -- and then I can feel like a regular citizen again.

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    Jack Roberts responded:

    If Mary Jane was legal tomorrow, how many people would be released from prison due to possession and distribution convictions and how much would that save the state? I would be curiou to know this, too. My guess is that the number is very small.

    Jack, I don't know off-hand how many prisoners we're talking about - but nationally, something like 45% of all drug arrests are for marijuana. Even if they get diverted or wrist-slapped, that's still a healthy load on the system.

  • Roy McAvoy (unverified)
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    Kari, the interest in busting pot growers/users was much higher when assets were being seized, then used to fund the investigation of more cases. Those were the days when drug units were measured by the amount of money seized for the fiscal year, rather than the threat posed by the offender to the public. I think many seizure laws have changed, and so has the focus.

    Not to say that if you ran into the back of a patrol car with weed on your dashboard and a doobie in your hand you might not be in trouble.

    I have to say that the thought of drivers eating, texting, and driving while stoned does scare me a bit. At least driving while texting will soon be illegal, although that will probably be another failed prohibition as well.

  • William (unverified)
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    INCARCERATING PEOPLE "FOR PROFIT" IS IN A WORD....WRONG! Even if one does not ask or pretends not to see the rope and the flashing red flag draped around the philosophical question standing solemnly at attention in the middle of the room, it remains apparent that the mere presence of a private “for profit” driven prison business in our country undermines the U.S Constitution and subsequently the credibility of the American criminal justice system. In fact, until all private prisons in America have been abolished and outlawed, “the promise” of fairness and justice at every level of this country’s judicial system will remain unattainable. We must restore the principles and the vacant promise of our judicial system. Our government cannot continue to "job-out" its obligation and neglect its duty to the individuals confined in the correctional and rehabilitation facilities throughout this nation, nor can it ignore the will of the people that it was designed to serve and protect. There is urgent need for the good people of this country to emerge from the shadows of indifference, apathy, cynicism, fear, and those other dark places that we migrate to when we are overwhelmed by frustration and the loss of hope. My hope is that you will support the National Public Service Council to Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) with a show of solidarity by signing "The Single Voice Petition" http://www.petitiononline.com/gufree2/petition.html

    Please visit our website for further information: http://www.npsctapp.blogspot.com

    –Ahma Daeus "Practicing Humanity Without A License"...

  • alcatross (unverified)
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    torridjoe says: ...although there's little in the way of health cost recovery that justifies a high tax on the latter--which is why a stigmatization campaign makes no sense. Tobacco is a terrible killer. Pot is a mostly benign substance. You know how many deaths have been directly been attributed to pot? Zero. Literally, zero.

    I'm not against the legalization of marijuana - but do take issue with some of tj's claims here.

    RE: health cost recovery: marijuana smoke contains virtually the same toxic gases and carcinogenic tars as tobacco. Human studies have found that pot smokers suffer similar kinds of respiratory damage as tobacco smokers, putting them at greater risk of bronchitis, sore throat, respiratory inflammation and infections. So if more people are free to smoke more marijuana more often, there are likely to be higher health costs to society incurred.

    RE: zero deaths directly attributed to pot: it may be true marijuana hasn't been shown to directly cause deaths due to lung cancer, emphysema, or other diseases normally related to cigarette smoking. But daily pot users have a 30% higher risk of injuries, presumably from accidents. These figures are significant, though not as high as comparable risks for heavy drinkers or tobacco addicts. That pot can cause accidents is scarcely surprising, since marijuana has been shown to degrade short-term memory, concentration, judgment, and coordination at complex tasks including driving. There have been numerous reports of pot-related accidents --- some of them fatal, belying the attractive myth that no one has ever died from marijuana. One survey of 1023 emergency room trauma patients in Baltimore found that fully 34.7% were under the influence of marijuana, more even than alcohol (33.5%); half of these (16.5%) used both pot and alcohol in combination.

    Just keepin' it real here...

  • alcatross (unverified)
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    jrw says: 'I just have one word for those of you wondering how to regulate cannabis--Amsterdam.

    Seems like the Dutch have figured out how to manage things reasonably well, including driving under the influence.'

    eh... the relative low incidence of traffic accidents/fatalities in Amsterdam has more to do with the high usage of bicycles and public transit than any great strategic master plan to make the roads safe for pot smokers. Bicycles are used by most everyone due to their convenience, Amsterdam's small size, the large number of bike paths, the flat terrain, and the inconvenience of driving an automobile in a city where parking fees are expensive, and many streets are closed to cars or one-way.

  • pam (unverified)
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    Keep the Government out of my weed. They couldn't possibly grow a plant and distribute it safely. Legalize it, allow 3 plants per adult and be done. Focus energy from the government onto the pharmaceutical companies, people over profits.

  • Bartender (unverified)
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    alcatross-

    While not disputing your statements about the safety of pot, I will note that both claims come from one study of only 902 people made over 10 years ago. I can cite you more recent and numerous studies that show the health benefits of MJ - reducing lung cancer, staving off alzheimers, not to mention the myriad benefits it affords so many users who use it medically. I can also cite studies that show that people driving under the influence are safer than the average driver too.

    I think it's a bit disingenuous to claim you're "just keeping it real," with these statements. Of course, there's very little in this world that is PERFECTLY harmless and safe. How many accidents do you think people have who are over tired? How many deaths could we attribute to preoccupation, do you think? And I just read how Oregon has a higher cancer rate due to our crappy air. It seems wood smoke is more carcinogenic than car exhaust. So while I acknowledge that MJ is not totally harmless, I have to point out that nothing is, and that the benefits far outweigh the risks, especially if it is made legal.

    I also question whether legalization will lead to a huge increase in the number of people who use it. I really don't think it will, significantly. Most people I know who don't partake don't abstain just because it's illegal. They don't do it because they either don't like it or get drug tested at work. I don't think you're going to see a huge uptick in health costs or accidents. And we're already dealing with the health costs and accidents (if there really are that many) of people who currently partake already.

  • Bartender (unverified)
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    Oh! So, how would that drug testing at work be handled if MJ were made legal? Would we have to (finally!) be required to administer tests that measure impairment rather than just prior use? Or would this law be made moot for those working for employers that use drug testing?

  • (Show?)

    marijuana smoke contains virtually the same toxic gases and carcinogenic tars as tobacco.

    Three points here:

    The average pot smoker inhales a hell of a lot less smoke in a given day than a cigarette smoker, so not denying the adverse effects, but they are likely to be way less severe than those from tobacco.

    Vaporizers have been around for years now, and they are a much cleaner way to ingest THC. No combustion, No carbon monoxide, No tar. (Not that I'd know, of course)

    This one's speculative, but one of my favorite authors, Spider Robinson claims that a government study was done (and buried) that showed in a test with achohol, marijuana, and a control group, that those who smoked moderately prior to driving actually outperformed the control group in safety as they were more focused on the task at hand...........

    Not that I'd know, of course......

  • Roy McAvoy (unverified)
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    Pat, to suggest that marijuana smokers might be better drivers than sober drivers is just plain silly. Isn't it funny how the most unlikely of studies would be "buried by the government". If that tact is going to be part of the talking points for new legislation then I can only wish legalization supporters the best of luck. They'll really need it.

    There are many arguments in the plus column for the legalization of weed, but driving under the influence is going to be a major concern, as it should be. Ideas on how to strictly and effectively enforce DUII laws for pot smokers might go a lot further in getting opponents on board for legalization.

  • (Show?)

    Doesn't this entire discussion ignore the Feds? Legalizing pot in Oregon is all well and good, but it seems unlikely the federal government would tolerate it and would probably start raiding large operations.

  • Anne Morris (unverified)
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    How long are we going to let mega corporations lobby our government for control over us? "Buy our product and not that one, or... WE WILL INCARCERATE YOU."

    Frankly, I'm sick and tired of this. Whoever said that the War on Drugs and War on Terrorism are covers for something else, you're totally right. They're covers for the fact that this country is not run by its people, nor its government. It is run by corporations like DuPont, Dow, and the Federal Reserve. Money makes the world go round, and we are all slaves to those who own the corporations.

    The reason cannabis is prohibited is because of DuPont and other companies. Things might really start changing for us when Law Enforcement gets on board. As soon as the status quo of Law Enforcement realizes that they're hired guns for DuPont and the pharmaceutical companies, perhaps things will really change.

    Also, why anyone is concerned about being able to determine if someone is driving high is beyond my ability to understand. If someone breaks a law, whether they're high or not, they should be prosecuted for breaking that law. Period. Being high doesn't make one drive erratically any more than drinking a cup of coffee does. Additionally, people who smoke cigarettes while driving should face penalties for doing so. That, in my humble opinion, should have been outlawed a long time ago.

  • (Show?)

    Isn't it funny how the most unlikely of studies would be "buried by the government".

    Yeah, it's a scream, because we all know that they've never discounted results that go against the prevailing orthodoxy up until now. Right?

    Still, I did start the sentence with "This one's speculative" as I share your interest in verifiable facts, and also your point re political usefulness.

    BTW: I have made it a life policy to neither drive nor to operate equipment of any kind while under the influence of any drug stronger than caffeine and nicotine. Yet I remain open to the possibility of countervailing information.

  • Boats (unverified)
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    An employer could still test for and fire over marijuana use. There is no magic bullet there for legalization to make private drug testing go away.

  • Stephanie (unverified)
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    Cannabis is a blessing!

  • Bartender (unverified)
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    Those studies weren't really buried all that far. From the same source that alcatross cited before: (Sorry, not too good at making links)

    Myth: Marijuana is a major road safety hazard

    A growing body of research indicates that marijuana is on balance less of a road hazard than alcohol. Various surveys have found that half or more of fatal drivers have alcohol in their blood, as opposed to 7 - 20% with THC, the major psychoactive component of marijuana (a condition usually indicative of having smoked within the past 2-4 hours).(3) 

    The same studies show that some 70 - 90% of those who are THC-positive also have alcohol in their blood. It therefore appears that marijuana by itself is a minor road safety hazard, though the combination of pot and alcohol is not. Some research has even suggested that low doses of marijuana may sometimes improve driving performance, though this is probably not true in most cases.(4) 

    Two major new studies by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration have confirmed marijuana's relative safety compared to alcohol. The first, the most comprehensive drug accident study to date, surveyed blood samples from 1882 drivers killed in car, truck and motorchycle accidents in seven states during 1990-91.(5) 

    Alcohol was found in 51.5% of specimens, as against 17.8% for all other drugs combined. Marijuana, the second most common drug, appeared in just 6.7%. Two-thirds of the marijuana-using drivers also had alcohol. The report concluded that alcohol was by far the dominant drug-related problem in accidents. 

    It went on to analyze the responsibility of drivers for the accidents they were involved in. It found that drivers who used alcohol were especially culpable in fatal accidents, and even more so when they combined it with marijuana or other drugs. However, those who used marijuana alone appeared to be if anything less culpable than non-drug users (though the data were insufficient to be statistically conclusive). The report concluded, "There was no indication that marijuana by itself was a cause of fatal accidents." (It must be emphasized that this is not the case when marijuana is combined with alcohol or other drugs). 

    The second NHTSA study,Marijuana and Actual Driving Performance, concluded that the adverse effects of cannabis on driving appear "relatively small" and are less than those of drunken driving. (6) 

    The study, conducted in the Netherlands, examined the performance of drivers in actual freeway and urban driving situations at various doses of marijuana. It found that marijuana produces a moderate, dose-related decrement in road tracking ability, but is "not profoundly impairing" and "in no way unusual compared to many medicinal drugs." 

    The study found that unlike alcohol, which encourages risky driving, marijuana appears to produce greater caution, apparently because users are more aware of their state and able to compensate for it (similar results have been reported by other researchers as well.(7))

    Myth: Marijuana prohibition improves public safety

    There is no evidence that the prohibition of marijuana reduces the net social risk of accidents. On the contrary, recent studies suggest that marijuana may actually be beneficial in that it substitutes for alcohol and other, more dangerous drugs. 

    Research by Karyn Model found that states with marijuana decrim had lower overall drug abuse rates than others; another study by Frank Chaloupka found decrim states have lower accident rates too. (8)

    In Alaska, accident rates held constant or declined following the legalization of personal use of marijuana.(9) 

    In Holland, authorities believe that cannabis has contributed to an overall decline in opiate abuse. Recent government statistics showed that the highest rates of cocaine abuse in the West were in Nevada and Arizona, the states with the toughest marijuana laws.

  • Darrin Clegg (unverified)
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    I think the whole United States should legalize medical marijuana. I have been considered disabled by social security because of my back. I've had 3 back surgeries and every one the pain has just gotten worse. The pain medication they put me on tears my body up. Marijuana doesn't have half the side effects.

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    J Renaud:

    Prohibition was successful in a variety of ways. Try reading histories not rewritten by the beverage industry.

    Bob T:

    Doesn't matter if that's true or not, the real question to ask is what business was it of supporters, or the government's, to implement any policy just because it might be "successful"?

    J Renaud:

    Because alcohol has been an enormous burden in financial costs and human tragedy which we have, as a society, accepted as manageable. Millions? Billions? Trillions? We don't know the damage it does.

    There's nothing wrong with trying to urge people not to drink, but in a free society you're limited to keeping this in writing or speeches, with no captive audiences.

    Bob T:

    Uh-oh, now you're sounding like a progressive trying to ban something again.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Greg D:

    With appologies to you political historians, as I recall just after the Revolutionary War ended newly elected President George Washington sent the US Army into Western Pennsylvania to quash a rebellion by distillers of alcohol who objected to the new federal government trying to regulate and tax it. I think it was called the whiskey rebellion.

    Bob T:

    And they were right to object to this. You see, those small farmers (and I guess any with leftover grain) turned their grain into alcohol because it would have rotted otherwise. Enough grain had been sold as is, locally, or transported to distant points whenever possible using the limited transportation that could handle only so much of it.

    Whiskey was a way of turning their grain into a product that would not lose its value waiting to be sold or shipped to market. By taxing the whiskey, less of it was sold and the farmers farther out were put at a disadvantage compared to farmers closer to the larger cities and town along the coastal area. It had nothing to do with any concern over drinking, but as a way to raise revenue taking advantage of the demand for the product (that's done with cig taxes now).

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    Ron Mexico:

    With all due respect, Greg D., anti-prohibitionists are doing the opposite of the Whiskey Rebellion: they are begging to be taxed.

    Bob T:

    Yes, I've noticed this about a lot of things, and it reveals quite a different outlook. For example, I'm opposed to laws against prostitution and drugs because I think people should be free to use these in voluntary transactions provided they are held responsible for any negative consequences of their actions, while the progs seem interested in using these for tax revenue purposes.

    That means if there's no tax, they're like any other puritan.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    SCB:

    The first "talking head" I ever saw that supported the legalization of marijuana was William F. Buckley Jr. So, even the "conservations" have a place at the table of legalization.

    Bob T:

    Of course they do, because you'll never get anywhere using old hippies doing all of the talking. In fact, this movement (incl hard drug legalization) may not get anywhere until many you call conservatives are supportive of this. In other words, the prohibitionist side has to crumble from within.

    Alcohol Prohibition (which had much Populist and Progressive support behind it for decades leading up to it) crumbled quickly once many supporters (particularly prominent ones, like temperance movement leaders) switched sides once they saw that prohibition was worse than not having it. And this was done before any law enforcement industrial complex could grow into dependency on it, like the way this happened decades later for other drugs.

    People also had a more mature attitude about this at the time, and it helped that they hadn't been taught for decades by the government that drinking is a crime and there's no debate, such as what I was taught about drugs in school in the 70s. I was given the William Jennings Bryan view, and not a Milton Friedman view as well so I can think about it and make my own decision.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • newsalerter (unverified)
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    The concept of any prohibition comes from the definition of a sumptuary law. A sumptuary law attempts to control and divide people into classes by limiting the desires of those considered the lesser class. Generally monarch type governments use sumptuary laws to inflict class separation through prohibiting the lesser class from participating in something reserved strictly by the so called upper class royalty. Any 4th grade student understands this country was founded on the principles of individual freedoms.” A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded." -Abraham Lincoln U.S. President. These same people pushing prohibition would be targeted for treason investigation had they been around during the founding of our country! Don’t Be fooled American people any prohibition enforcement against us is as UN-AMERICAN as Hitler!!

  • Bob Tiernan (unverified)
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    jefffrane:

    Doesn't this entire discussion ignore the Feds? Legalizing pot in Oregon is all well and good, but it seems unlikely the federal government would tolerate it and would probably start raiding large operations.

    Bob T:

    No, the Supremes would simply overrule any state legalization.

    You're right -- this can't be done until the national laws are repealed. This is one of the negative legacies of the so-called Progressive Era, when such people tired of trying to lobby 48 or so state legislatures and decided to lobby congress in Washington, D.C., get many things defined as "national" in scope, and then get one law passed for each issue.

    The record of the USSC is to let national laws trump state laws on the same issue, and has little to do with the individual court members' own views on the issue and of state v. Feds. So long as there's a national law, particularly drug laws. Get the national drug laws repealed, and then it's a different matter.

    Bob Tiernan Portland

  • Bozo (unverified)
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    Pot has been around and discussed for 5000 years. It was made illegal by the drug lobby a few decades ago and now you want to discuss it?

    What a joke

  • Warren Sanford (unverified)
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    Look-it's like this.....marijuana has never hurt anyone physically....If there was ONE clear case-the AD Council would be beating us over the head with it....the weed is 'more powerful' because a bunch of mexicans arent bricking up the stems and seeds with their ditch weed.... D Rumsfeld and Richard Nixon's attemp at contolling this thru Paraquat (remember that-hundred of dead american kids)...has forced us into becoming botonists...

    Look-short of rounding us up and killing us-(just try it) you are gonna have to deal with the fact we know what we are doing-Yes legalize it already. Tax it and put MS13 back in the crack business.

  • Jake Leander (unverified)
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    Unsafe drivers should not be on the roads, whatever the cause. Would it not make more sense to devise a test of reactions and mental clarity to be administered to drivers suspected of impairment? It's pretty clear that people have different reactions to substances - my mother passes out after a few sips of wine. It's also clear that some people are too impaired to drive safely right out of the box.

  • Joe White (unverified)
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    Hopefully either California or Oregon will legalize pot soon, and prove an irresistible enticement to stoners in the other 48.

    When all the potheads have moved to the west coast, the rest of the country will see major societal benefits.

  • (Show?)

    There is a bill that would remove pot from schedule II, which many believe would open the door to full legalization. As usual, it's Barney Frank's bill. I'd love to see Maher interview Franks while both were high. Heck, maybe he has.

  • Joe White (unverified)
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    Pam wrote:

    "Legalize it, allow 3 plants per adult and be done."

    If it's 'legalized', how come each person can only have 3?

    Liberals can't resist the urge to control others, even when they claim to be giving them 'freedom'.

  • Gumshrud (unverified)
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    Cannabis is Schedule 1, ZERO use. That's nuts. Somebody is reaping much profit from this prohibition of cannabis folly.

  • Fireslayer (unverified)
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    Good discussion, Kari et al,

    Legalizing and taxing Marijuana was an idea ripe for the pickin' 30 years ago!

    It is potentially a 60 billion dollar cash crop. Hemp may be another 20 billion.

    Why have we let the prison and police state industries hold us back?

    Oregon needs the money. Just say yes.

  • Kevin (unverified)
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    The studies about cannabis users driving safer was done by the Department of Transportation. so there you go, reading is a gateway to knowledge.

  • hempster4twenty (unverified)
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    Just one look at the prohibition of alcohol. Look a little familiar? Crime and death in the streets. Not to mention the "easier" creation of organized crime. Unfortunately, legalization will probably never happen because of many reasons. Beginning with all the money to be had with this so called, "War on Drugs". What a joke. Another legal way to imprison MANY people in the guise of "protecting" the people. The only people this protects is the bad guys by giving them an outlet for making extreme amounts of money. Let's not forget the SUPER wealthy prison unions, and powerful police who, by the way, receives massive amounts of money from the gov. to "house" these "hardcore criminals" that just smoke pot. Ha Ha. How laughable. What is really sad is the majority of the public believes ALL of this "spoon fed" garbage the Gov. wants you to believe. In short I personally know many people with problems created by the use of alcohol and tobacco. Are these "Illegal"? Of course not. Why you might ask? Ask your local representative. They are more then happy to line there "pockets", oops, I mean war-chests with the money they receive from the respective lobbyists. Is anyone giving them money to end violence and pain caused by this so called "Drug War"? I would have to say "NO". Until we can pay our way out of all this hardship created by the same people who say, "were doing this to help", we are all just going to have to hunker down and continue to fight this war ourselves the best we can. The only way to end this war is to "Legalize". Just a side note: I know some Growers for Dispensaries, and(by association) Dispensary owners here in California. Who really DON’T want legalization because it will hurt there “BOTTOM LINE”. Now how can we expect TV to allow HONEST debate when we can’t even trust the one’s who wanted “legalization” of medical marijuana just so they can line there pockets with “over priced” product? We have GREED on the “inside” who would like nothing else but to continue selling a $1.60per .05g unit for over $6.00+ a .05g unit. Do we “honestly” think we a a shot with a new(growing more powerful daily) roadblock?

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