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Russ Belville

Russ Belville

Posted: July 14, 2010 03:44 PM

Yesterday on our daily webcast for NORML we interviewed Dale Sky Clare, a spokesperson for Proposition 19, the initiative that will ask Californians to vote on a very limited form of marijuana legalization. We discussed the latest polling on the initiative from SurveyUSA, showing a 50% - 40% lead for the measure.

We dug through the demographics to find that older and more conservative people are the only groups more likely to oppose the measure (no, really?), support is greatest among the young and in the Bay Area (who knew?), and support among comedians named "Cheech" or "Chong" is approaching 100% (OK, I made the last one up).

But there is one growing demographic group that no poll has begun to track: medical marijuana dispensary owners.

Since the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Initiative was mercifully truncated to a headline-friendly "Prop 19" by virtue of making it on the California ballot, I have been tracking on our NORML Stash Blog the stories of dispensary owners who are publicly opposing the legalization of the product they sell, even shelling out money they've made from selling marijuana to oppose its legalization!

Paul Jury just posted Legalize It? Ask a Guy Who Runs a Medicinal Marijuana Dispensary in which he speaks to Craig, a dispensary owner in Venice Beach, who is also opposed to Prop 19:

"I'll give you two reasons," Craig said. "One is big tobacco. Did you know that Phillip Morris just bought 400 acres of land up in Northern California? The minute marijuana becomes legal, they'll mass produce and flood the market. And of course, they'll add the same toxins they put in regular cigarettes to get you addicted, and very little THC, so you'll have to buy more... In short, they're going to ruin weed." He gestured around his beloved shop, with every flavor of every strain, in its purist form, selling for at-cost prices. "I like the way things are now."

Remember how alcohol prohibition ended in the 1930's (probably not, but indulge me) and Anheuser, Busch, Coors, and Miller flooded the market with 3.2 beer and ruined alcohol? Wouldn't it be nice if we could go to shops with every flavor of every microbrew, in its purest form... oh, wait, I live in Portland, Oregon, the microbrew capital of America, and that's what we have right now under alcohol legalization!

We have every flavor and potency of beer you can imagine, plus people can go buy a kit and brew their own beer if they like. And there is wine, too, with a huge tourist industry that depends on people checking out vineyards and tasting endless varieties of vino. And there is whiskey, rum, tequila, vodka, brandy, and even super-potent Everclear in some states, all in their purest form, which is to say that used responsibly they won't make you blind like a tub of Prohibition moonshine might.

The "Philip Morris/RJ Reynolds Toxic Addictive High-less Marijuana Market Flood" scare has been floating around the cannabis community like a stale hit of schwag for decades now. It's a form of conspiracy theory thinking embraced by the kind of people who think you could plant 40,000 lbs. of explosives surreptitiously in a busy World Trade Center or convince all the world's scientists and a very large soundstage crew to keep quiet about that faked moon landing for four decades. Here's why it's stupid:

  • Prop 19 allows you to grow your own. If Philip Morris' weed sucks, you'll smoke your own or your friend's.

  • Prop 19 allows cities to consider sales. Bad toxic Philip Morris weed is the kind of competition a purveyor of hand-trimmed, non-keifed*, organic high-potency bud would want, wouldn't she?

  • Prop 19 allows cities to regulate production. They can dictate exactly what is or isn't added to cannabis, how much is produced, by whom, and where.

  • In order for Philip Morris to sell their weed, somebody has to want to smoke it. Nothing about Prop 19 makes Prop 215 or the dispensaries go away. In fact, it gives the existing dispensaries the potential to serve even more customers. So who's buying this toxic addictive high-less marijuana?

No, if you want to really understand what is going on here, look back to that alcohol prohibition and ask yourself how excited Al Capone was reading the headlines trumpeting its imminent repeal. It's not a perfect analogy, as Capone was a murderous criminal thug and these dispensary owners are law-abiding businesspeople. And yes, dispensary owners, like Craig, often help destitute cancer patients for free, though one could counter that Capone and his gangs gave out free turkeys on Thanksgiving. My main point is that both are businesspeople dealing in a prohibited product.

Or just look back to the article on Craig:

He gestured around his beloved shop, with every flavor of every strain, in its purist form, selling for at-cost prices. "I like the way things are now."

"Last month," Craig explained proudly, "there were 24 operating marijuana collectives in Venice. A month from now, there will only be two. And we'll be one of them." With that, he opened the door to the inner sanctum. The "product" room.

Now, if you ran a business where you could sell your product for $5-$15 per GRAM or $200 to $800 per OUNCE, and you only had to compete with one other business in your local area, would you be excited about the prospect of many more competitors and prices dropping as much as 80%? Most of your customers already got their Prop 215 recommendation, so it isn't as if legalization is going to bring you enough additional customers to offset the change in business margins.

Prop 19 means that marijuana retailers become more like other retail businesses, instead of the loosely-regulated turnkey goldmines they have been. That's what Craig doesn't like. Well, that and kids smoking pot:

"Two, legalization will mean more fifteen-year-old kids smoking pot... If they legalize marijuana, there's no chance that fewer 15-year-olds will smoke. And there's a good chance that more will. Anything that will probably make more 15-year-olds put substances in their bodies, in my opinion, is a bad thing."

Really, the "What About the Children?!?" argument? Right now, under prohibition, 85% of high school seniors and 69% of sophomores (a.k.a. fifteen-year-olds) find it easy to get weed. Right now, under prohibition, kids say it is easier to buy marijuana than alcohol. So it appears to me that locking up healthy adults for their marijuana use hasn't really done much to stop teens from getting and using pot. How about we try letting adults smoke a joint, and when they go to buy it, they buy it from a regulated shop where only adults are let in and all IDs are rigorously checked, you know, like that alcohol kids find harder to buy.

Besides, there is no reason to believe that youth use will increase. Since California passed Prop 215 in 1996, the regime Craig likes now, teen use of marijuana has decreased. Prop 19 makes the penalty for supplying weed to those under 21 as stringent as supplying alcohol to those under 21. And we've seen teen use of tobacco, a legal substance far cheaper and more addictive than marijuana, plummet in the past ten years through education, advertising restriction, social disapproval (no indoor smoking, for example) and strict ID requirements.

Craig and the other dispensary owners who oppose Prop 19 are the "I Gots Mine" element of the anti-legalization campaign. They've got the corner on a retail market worth billions, one that is only worth billions if you arrest 850,000 mostly-black-and-brown adults a year for participating in it. They've got their doctors happy to take a Benjamin or two to give you permission to use a drug safer than the aspirin you need no permission for. I wouldn't want people to vote to change that, either...

... except that I think it's just immoral to arrest people for smoking weed if we're going to leave them alone when drinking alcohol. I don't care if it is profitable to the state or detrimental to the dispensary industry -- arrests for marijuana are wrong, period.

*"Kiefed" means to shake loose the crystals of THC from the product before packaging for sale. The crystals, or "kief" are collected and smoked or vaporized, and, being THC crystals, are very effective. Philip Morris will certainly need to use huge machines to process weed, which will certainly shake loose a lot of kief. One grower friend of mine says he will advertise for his prized buds with the slogan "Don't let 'em thief the kief!"

 

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