Competing Visions: Possible Futures for Marijuana in California

It's okay. You can admit it: You neither know nor care what goes on in the state Legislature in Sacramento.

All you care to know is if your car is now more expensive to register (it is), and what Junior will learn in the local school that's been severely underfunded so that old folks can pay low taxes on the house they bought before you were born (Junior's learning entrepreneurship, hopefully; today's PTA bake sale to fund pencils is tomorrow's venture round for a cupcake app startup).

You may also be interested to know when marijuana is legalized in California. The short answer is: not anytime soon. But things are definitely happening right now. At the Capitol, bills are being revised, deals are being made, lobbyists are getting paid.

And the sum of this flurry of activity could add up to zero.

For weed, 2014 has already been a shocker year. The state's powerful police lobby proposed a set of rules to regulate medical marijuana, an issue they'd deal with previously with handcuffs, drug dogs, and jail cells.

Granted, a cop-regulated California cannabis industry banned hash outright and limited people's abilities to get their hands on THC-rich weed — but it was a start.

Then the conflict: The cops' idea to put California's billion-dollar cannabis industry in the hands of the state Department of Public Health clashed with the pot lobby's idea to put Alcoholic Beverage Control in charge. (Conveniently, the state's doctors weren't on board, either).

Now the cops are looking for a new state agency to take charge of weed. At press time, there was no word on who it would be (or if they wanted the job).

Meanwhile, the pro-pot forces are dug in. And to make it nice and messy, a nuclear option looms: Key legislators on both sides are in a position to kill any proposal they don't like. The deadline to move things forward is Friday.

None of this explains why writing rules for its weed industry puts California in a paralytic fit. To explain the stalemate, and why the status quo of disputed rules and constant squabbling over what the state's nearly-18-year old medical marijuana law means, it's useful to explore each interested party's perspective.

The police chiefs say that an ABC-regulated cannabis market is a fig leaf for big marijuana to make loads of money. Their vision of the future is something like this:


CANCER PATIENT IN WHEELCHAIR: I need some oil to shrink my tumors and some tincture to whet my appetite, please.

POT SELLER RESEMBLING GUY FIERI: We have a special on Marlboro Greens! Buy three packs of shake, get a free pipe — and a voucher for 10 percent off tattoos next door! Yeah!

PATIENT: Perhaps you misunderstood me. I'm very sick. I need some specific med–

GUY REEFER: You need some dab bar! There's a free Snickers Hash Bar for you if you dab so hard you pass out. Wheel yourself over, dude!

PATIENT: I never thought I'd say it, but chemo is better than this shit.

COP LOBBY CHORUS: Aha! We told you — this isn't medical, it's commercial!”

That's the liquor store model, the cops say. Their proposal, though, creates such heavy regulation and rubber-stamps local governments' abilities to ban outdoor growing, indoor growing, and dispensaries outright.

Cannabis advocates, legalization pushers, and drug-war opponents think absurd scenarios would ensue:


POLICE: Doctor, give this man some marijuana.

HEALTHY-LOOKING MAN WITH CHRONIC PAIN: Yes! Please. I'm a sick man and nothing else works.

LEERY DOCTOR: Ahem. Well. (looks through rule book, sees risk of losing DEA license to prescribe powerful pharmaceuticals when offering a federally illegal drug) Can I interest you in some powerful pharmaceuticals?

MAN: That's why I'm here. Opiates make me sick — and make me hooked on opiates. I just got off Oxy; can I have some weed, please? I'm not able to grow it at home.

DOCTOR: (looks through portfolio, sees student loans) Can I interest you in some powerful pharmaceuticals?

MAN: Police! I can't seem to get any of the marijuana to which I am entitled, via an old law.

SATISFIED POLICE: Everything's coming up cop!

POT LOBBY CHORUS: “Aha! We told you — this isn't regulation, it's elimination!”

This is the Sacramento standoff over marijuana. It's been going on for years, and hasn't gone away yet. But at least there's an argument happening. A year ago, they were refusing to even have a conversation.

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