Here's a story for the ages: Last week, adults walked into stores where they exchanged cash for marijuana. The deal done, the adults walked out. Next, everyone went on with their lives — as if nothing significant had happened.
Here's the twist: It was all perfectly legal — and nobody gave a shit. News organizations from around the world did not cover it and it was not declared the beginning of the end of drug prohibition. This is because it all went down in Oakland, and not in Denver.
For now, all the fun and all the headlines are in Colorado, where the first legal marijuana sales to adults in the United States since the 1930s — any adults, not just those with a note from a doctor with debatable scruples — began Jan. 1 at 8 a.m. Folks eager to be among the first to score a taxed and regulated eighth lined up just a few hours after 2014 began; some came from as far away as Ohio — by car — and stood outside in the snow to participate in history.
In a few months, stores in Seattle will follow suit when Washington state's legal cannabis stores go live. Meanwhile, back in the Bay Area, legalization is still somewhere in the future — though it is also possible for adults to buy cannabis with the blessing of the law. You just need to be quiet about it.
Speakeasies behind nondescript storefronts, closed to the general public and accessible often only by word of mouth or a personal referral, prohibited by law from advertising: These are the Measure Z clubs, named after the initiative that two-thirds of voters okayed.
This modest step towards an adult marijuana marketplace was made back in 2004. In that time, the sky has not fallen and what woes there are in Oakland are not blamed on weed (Occupy, a lack of cops, and a preponderance of Jean Quan are the more common scapegoats).
You can't tell too many other people about the Z clubs, and God forbid you put the name, address, or any distinguishing characteristics of your provider in the newspaper. It's lurking out in the open, but it's still lurking. It has the look and feel of something shady and surreptitious — which means it kind of sucks.
For now, this is the closest we have to a legal adult marketplace. A small step, still waiting for its follow-up.
This situation is not ideal, and for many — especially for legalization fundamentalists — it's not acceptable. That attitude can be dangerous for progress.
For a weed fundamentalist, the only victory is a total victory: an immediate and unconditional end to the marijuana war, amnesty to all marijuana prisoners-of-war, and a free, unregulated, and untaxed marketplace.
That we do not have. And will never have, at least not all at once. And insisting on such a utopia is partly why we've been forced to content ourselves with police-accepted “secret” cannabis clubhouses for a decade.
The next time you hear the words “marijuana movement,” allow yourself a laugh. There really is no such thing. The exact set of rules in place in Colorado right now, if presented before some California-based marijuana fundamentalists, would be rejected.
Spend a little time in marijuana circles and you'll see that no two versions of legalization are alike. Some oppose paying sales tax on a plant product. Others abhor the idea, pushed by the power structure in Sacramento, of putting legal weed under the Alcoholic Beverage Commission. And putting limits on how many plants an adult can grow and how much pot you can buy at once? Go fuck yourself; we're not interested. The status quo is better for now.
That's marijuana fundamentalism. And it's alive and well. To fundamentalists, no change is preferable to a law with the slightest flaw, like restricting weed sales to those 21 and over (as Colorado does).
The lesson here should have been learned way back in 2010, when pot farmers in Humboldt and “patient advocates” in the cities bonded to oppose California's most recent shot at legalizing weed, Prop. 19. Backers couldn't believe it. “We're all for fucking legalization, aren't we?” screamed the soft-spoken Richard Lee, the Oaksterdam founder and main bankroller, at a forum that fall.
Are we? Hard to say. Meanwhile, the speakeasy is open. If you can find it.