Staff Editorial: California should rethink stance on marijuana

December 14, 2009 — by

An unlikely establishment graces South Monroe Street in San Jose, mere blocks from the posh Santana Row that patrons flock to for fine dining and expensive clothing stores—the San Jose Buyers Collective, a medicinal marijuana dispensary. Customers on Yelp lament how the dispensary is “overpriced” and how many of them can get “better stuff in San Francisco.”

While this may say something about the dispensary itself, it also exemplifies how marijuana, which has long been considered a taboo in most law-abiding circles, is gradually insinuating itself into society. Perhaps it is time California acknowledges marijuana as a relatively harmless drug and look to adopt policies that will harness this re-emergence of marijuana rather than perpetuate the taboos regarding it.

After all, the medical marijuana industry has become a force so extensive and ubiquitous that raids carried out by Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, can be likened to fighting with a many-headed monster—each beheading just results in an additional head, perhaps one even more elusive. Los Angeles is especially notable for its population of such dispensaries, where, according to a statistic put in the field by Fortune Magazine, the number of medical marijuana stores outnumber the number of Starbucks.

Southern California is not the only region taking advantage of the loophole offered by California’s 1996 Proposition 215. The legislation tolerates the use of marijuana only if it is recommended by a doctor in order to alleviate the pain of patients suffering from cancer, AIDS, anorexia and like conditions. However, with the passage of time, this requisite for marijuana intake has broadened to include insomnia, asthma, autism and other disorders without a shred of legal documentation to support it.

Even the FBI has eased its policies concerning the usage of marijuana, creating considerable confusion among law enforcement institutions. Rules are being bent left and right, much to the dismay of the flustered police. Clearly, the influx of marijuana is a force too great to be quelled under paper labels of illegality.

Just this past summer, Oakland voted overwhelmingly to tax the sales of medicinal marijuana, becoming the first community in the country to do so. Considering the massive $40 billion rift in California’s budget, it’s time for other cities to start following in Oakland’s footsteps. Taxing the estimated $14 billion marijuana industry could potentially generate over a billion dollars in tax revenue a year and help with California’s budget woes.

In the words of comedian Katt Williams, “It’s just a plant…and if you should so happen to set it on fire, there are some effects.” While Williams may be understating these “effects,” which include lowered blood pressure, increased heart rate and hallucinations, marijuana, by medical standards, is the least harmful narcotic, with transient short-term effects and virtually nonexistent long-term effects. Although this editorial is by no means advocating the usage of marijuana, the acknowledgment of its comparatively tame characteristics by the state is advised.

As marijuana has crept into the life of many Californians, maybe it’s time the state face the new reality created by the drug. Perhaps our policymakers need to look back to the 1940 proverb, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” After all, it was a cigarette company that coined it.

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