Nearly a month after Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the rights of four defendants to cultivate and consume marijuana without legal repercussion, the government has announced that it will take up the issue of nationwide legalization in the next legislative session.
The Associated Press reported earlier this week that Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong has revealed plans to hold a national debate on the concept of bringing the nation out of prohibitionary times. This discussion will include public hearings and a number of forums, some of which will be broadcast over the Internet.
Although Mexico has decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, lawmakers are expected to weigh in on exactly what might be expected in terms of health and public safety under a fully legal rule. The overall goal is to push the prohibitionist mentality into a more progressive thought process and eventually lead the country to support a taxed and regulated marketplace.
Unfortunately, on the heels of this major announcement, Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto has come out in full force against the issue.
On Wednesday, during a press engagement for a new children’s program, Pena Nieto told the crowd that one of his kids recently asked him if they would soon be able “to light up a joint” in his presence. The president then proceeded to explain that he remains against marijuana legalization because he fears it will destroy the youth of the nation.
“I am not in favor of consuming or legalizing marijuana,” Pena Nieto said. “I am not in favor because it has been proven, demonstrated, that consuming this substance damages the health of children and youths.”
Yet, many supporters of the movement to establish a nationwide cannabis industry have suggested that ending cartel violence should be one of the primary motivations for moving in this direction. However, President Pena Nieto disagrees, arguing that, in no way, would legalization stop the cartels.
“It isn’t valid, and I don’t agree, that this legalization would make it easier to fight organized crime, by reducing the illicit income and profits from this activity,” he said. “That would beg the question, should we put the health of Mexican children and youths at risk in order to combat organized crime?”
What do you think? Could the legalization of cannabis destroy the youth?
The gradual legalisation of cannabis across US states is a triumph for the American Dream, says Sarah Dunant.
I’ve recently returned from the west coast of Canada, where a fiery gold autumn was the perfect backdrop for an outpouring of national optimism after the Canadians elected the 43-year-old Liberal leader Justin Trudeau as their prime minster. Greeting voters on the subway next morning, trick-or-treating with his children – the arrival of this dynamic newcomer, sprinkled with dynastic fairy dust, ended almost a decade of Conservative government during which Canada suffered something of an identity crisis. For a country that successfully defined itself as not being the United States, his predecessor’s policies on tax, foreign affairs and the environment severely blurred that distinction. As one Vancouverite put it: “I used to make a point of saying I was Canadian, not American, when I travelled. In recent years I haven’t bothered.”
But if Trudeau is to make his mark by being different, there’s one area where he’ll be learning by example from the US, or at least a handful of them. His election platform included legalisation of marijuana for recreational use (it’s legal for medical purposes now), which means that he and his policy makers will be busy studying Washington State, Oregon and Colorado, all of which have done so already.
In the fraught international conversation about drugs, there’s one thing everyone agrees on, though some politicians might close the door before they say it – 50 years of war hasn’t worked. Instead it has produced international crime syndicates, financed terrorism, destabilised governments of the countries that produce the drugs and clogged up the justice system and prisons of those that consume them. When it comes to cannabis some of the loudest critics of the law are law enforcers themselves. As an ex-chief of police in Vancouver said in a recent CBC documentary: “The only thing prohibition achieves is putting revenue into organised crime.”
It’s taken more than plain-speaking police chiefs to bring about the change in the US. Admittedly Oregon, Washington and Colorado are liberal-leaning states, but the underlying social and political forces that moved them towards legislation also exist in the rest of the country. To understand them you have to go back to those much-quoted words from the Declaration of Independence: “The inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” To which one might add – not even that cynically – “…and profit”.
First happiness. During a book tour in 2010, I visited Colorado just after the state granted commercial licences to grow cannabis for medical purposes. In the town of Boulder I met a friend of a friend who had set up a warehouse factory. Sitting together at the bar, I ordered a cocktail, while he had water. “‘Fraid I over-medicated last night,” he explained with a wry smile. I remember I laughed out loud. Over-medicated. It was the first time I’d ever heard the term. It wouldn’t be the last.
Risks associated with cannabis
- It affects the ability to drive – a French study found that drivers who had been using cannabis were more than twice as likely to cause a fatal car crash
- If smoked, cannabis can be harmful to the lungs; like tobacco, it contains cancer-causing chemicals (carcinogens) that increase the risk of lung cancer, and it can also make asthma worse
- Cannabis can harm mental health – regular use is associated with an increased risk of developing a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia, and the risk is higher if you start using cannabis in your teens and if you have a family history of mental illness
- Cannabis may affect fertility, and if you’re pregnant, cannabis may harm your unborn baby
To medicate – take some kind of drug to make oneself feel better. As befits a country with private health care, legal pharmaceuticals are mega-business in the US. While mind-altering substances have been around throughout history, on the journey from pain to pleasure the US has played a starring role. She was the first country to successfully use analgesics in an operation (Boston in the 1840s, when under ether a man had a tumour cut out of his neck). One hundred and fifty years later she was also was the first to embrace Prozac. As physical agony diminished, we could start to address mental and emotional suffering, often equally disabling. Life was a crapshoot – depressive DNA, the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, rising poverty and the ever-accelerating pace and toxicity of modern life. It’s no surprise if we need a little mental massaging at times. If there is a drug to address depression or anxiety, to make one happier, why on earth not take it? To medicate. As soon as the word became aligned to cannabis it heralded a subtle but powerful shift in moving the drug out of the darkness of illegality into the light, first of the doctor’s office and the dispensary, and then into the brighter surroundings of retail therapy.
Enter profit. Colorado, where cannabis has been legal for almost two years, is the site of a modern gold rush – a late flowering of the American dream. A whole new industry, mixing horticulture and science, run by energetic young entrepreneurs (everyone is a business graduate these days) is out to make a killing through investment and hard work.
As with all start-ups, market lore prevails. Lore and language. No more Cheech-and-Chongs with reefers and doobies. Instead, company directors talk of “exciting new user demographics” and “the high-end luxury consumer package good” and that most magic consumer word of all – choice. The little bag of weed or lump of hash changing hands on the street has grown into a shop wall of dozens of varieties, quantities and strengths. There are tinctures and oils, patches and lotions, infused tooth-picks. But the big commercial breakthrough has been the edibles market – snacks, candy bars, mints, bread, ice cream and beverages, from cannabis cola to latte. Professional chefs cook marijuana dinners and out-of-state visitors take cannabis tours, factory-to-tasting, one ending in a painting class to show enhanced – or at least less repressed – creativity.
Jobs created, profits flowing and taxes rolling. Of course there are regulations. As with alcohol you have be to 21 to buy and have the ID to prove it. You can only get an ounce at a time and there’s no smoking in public, though I doubt police officers check takeaway latte on the street. Other rules are stranger. Armoured trucks transfer bags of tax money (it’s a strictly cash-only business) to the appropriate government building because banks, operating under federal law, can’t touch drug money. This year’s tax revenue is estimated at $97m (£64m) – a welcome addition to an economy struggling out of a recession.
With more states voting on the issue every year, the legislation of cannabis, like gay marriage, appears to be gaining political traction. There is also pressure from another direction. The US is panicking about its prison population. At present it incarcerates more of its citizens per capita than any other country bar the Seychelles. At last count 51% of all inmates in federal prisons were in for drug-related crimes and 27% of those for non-violent ones concerning marijuana. Only this month President Obama released 6,000 prisoners, the result of a retroactive sentencing bill, reducing penalties for drug offences in the future.
The message is clear. It costs society too much, in all senses, to criminalise so many people – and disproportionately young black or Latino men – for doing something which, legalised, could create jobs and help balance the budget. Canada’s most bizarre moment this year came when hells angels roared up outside parliament protesting that legalisation would destroy their livelihoods. Imagine a chain of coffee shops all staffed by retrained biker baristas? The image makes one stoned already.
This is probably the moment for full and frank disclosure. Legalisation of marijuana interests me not only because I’m an observer of political and social change but because I’ve been using it on and off for 40 years. Throughout my adult life it has relaxed and invigorated me, enriched my friendships, peopled my solitude, rendered me helpless with laughter and, when writing, oiled the hinges on the doors of perception. Though I agree that enhanced strains – particularly when taken by teenagers – can be dangerous, in my experience it’s a manifestly less dangerous drug than tobacco or alcohol, and regulated in terms of age of consumption and quality would be even safer.
When all us self-indulgent hippies sat lighting up at rock festivals dreaming of a brave new world, legalising pot was only one of many changes we envisaged (the end of the Vietnam war along with sexual and racial equality were also on the agenda, though no-one remembers such things now because our houses have gone up so much in price).
However, be careful what you wish for. Faced with the prospect that in my lifetime I could be shopping in cannabis stores, confronted with the same mind-numbing choice as say shampoo or yoghurt, with two for one offers, or early-bird discount on names such as Kool Aid Kush, Jack Flash and Blue Dream sold by cheery assistants urging me to have a good day – I find myself, well, less than ecstatic.
Doubtless it’s the last vestige of the rebel in me. Perhaps a little radicalism would help. Remember the lottery? That sly tax to fund sport and heritage initiatives. How about using cannabis revenue to top up the NHS? Or help fund higher education?
Now there’s an idea that could give an old stoner joy. Or in the new argot, add enhanced pleasure to the process of self-medication.
More from the Magazine
Cannabis is illegal and yet in the UK shops selling cannabis paraphernalia operate openly on the High Street. The “head shop” is an institution that shows no sign of going away.
CHICAGO — The green-typeface slogan “WE’ED like to be your doctor!” —unmistakably weed-friendly — has attracted hundreds of medical marijuanapatients in less than a year to Dr. Bodo Schneider’s clinics in southern Illinois and suburban Chicago.
In New Jersey, Dr. Anthony Anzalone has a similar following at his three clinics, marketed online with a marijuana leaf logo and a “DrMarijuanaNJ” web address.
The two marijuana-friendly doctors in states with similar laws face starkly different treatment by government regulators. When it comes to oversight of boundary-pushing doctors, enforcement practices vary in the 23 states allowing medical cannabis.
Illinois has taken a tough posture. Schneider, a former emergency room doctor, may get his license revoked in a medical board case getting underway Tuesday. Accused of charging patients for marijuana recommendations without a legitimate doctor-patient relationship, he’s the third Illinois physician to face punishment related to medical marijuana in a state where legal sales only started this month.
“I understand why they don’t want everybody and their uncle opening up a marijuana stand,” said Schneider’s attorney, Luke Baumstark. “But I think the regulators have gone after a very high percentage of the people who have tried to use this law at all. It’s over-aggressive.”
New Jersey has taken no disciplinary action against Anzalone, a gynecologist, or any other doctor related to medical marijuana since sales started three years ago, according to Jeff Lamm, spokesman for the state’s Board of Medical Examiners.
“The state’s been very good to me,” Anzalone said in a phone interview. “We’re complying with the law as best we can. … All I’m doing is the job other doctors don’t want to do.”
Indeed, pot doctors fill a void left by physicians unfamiliar with marijuana’s health benefits and fearful of endorsing what the federal government regards as a controlled substance, cannabis advocates say.
Schneider is a “godsend to patients” in southern Illinois, where two major health care organizations actively prevent their doctors from recommending marijuana, said Dan Linn of the Illinois chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Writing a law to restrict how doctors recommend marijuana is tricky. Lawmakers in Illinois, New Jersey and other states have tried to avoid California’s drop-in, instant exams by attempting to define in legislation a legitimate doctor-patient relationship. Laws commonly call for a “bona fide” relationship with a physical exam and review of medical records. New Jersey doctors must register in a publicly viewable database and take courses in addiction medicine and pain management.
Even in two more tolerant states — Colorado and California — how governments oversee pot doctors has become an issue.
In Colorado, where medical marijuana has been legal since 2000, more than 115,000 people hold medical recommendations because they’re either too young to buy recreational pot or because they prefer a lower tax rate and higher possession limits. Colorado health authorities have grappled for years with ways to curb suspect pot recommendations.
Colorado physicians are barred from working out of dispensaries or having any financial stake in the marijuana business. As in other states, they’re required to examine patients in person once a year.
The Colorado Medical Board says it has sanctioned at least six physicians since 2009 for violating pot regulations, though details of those cases aren’t public. In 2013, one physician received three years’ probation after being convicted of making an improper pot recommendation to an undercover police officer.
In notoriously permissive California, a “Get Baked Sale” of marijuana food products in June had doctors on hand to provide on-the-spot patient recommendations. The state, which was the first to legalize medical cannabis, has disciplined only eight doctors in 20 years for improper marijuana recommendations.
California’s laid-back approach may change. The state recently enacted legislation to require the Medical Board to crack down on doctors who write recommendations without a proper patient exam or valid medical reason.
In Illinois, regulators alerted doctors soon after the medical marijuana law passed in 2013 that one doctor shouldn’t set up shop to treat all the eligible medical conditions, which range from glaucoma to HIV and cancer.
“The Department will continue to closely scrutinize instances where a physician’s practice exists solely to offer medical cannabis certifications,” said Terry Horstman, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.
Supporters fear that Illinois’ harsh stance discourages mainstream doctors from participating and that this pushes patients into the arms of a few pot doctors who may be unmotivated to follow up on patients’ overall health concerns.
Said Chris Lindsey of the Marijuana Policy Project, a national group that supports legally regulated marijuana: “Having a few well known clinics in the state that clearly follow the rules can be a valuable resource, both to patients who otherwise have few options, and for doctors who would prefer to make a referral.”
It wasn’t that long ago that thousands of people were arrested for marijuana annually in Washington D.C.. 2,346 people were arrested for marijuana in Washington D.C. in 2011. Washington D.C. voters approved marijuana legalization during the 2014 Election. As a result, marijuana arrests in D.C. are down. Way down. As of November 6th (the most current data available), there have only been 7 arrests for marijuana in D.C.. Per theWashington City Paper:
Last week, on Nov. 4, the District marked the first anniversary of the passage of Initiative 71, a ballot measure that effectively legalized weed, at least in the form of possessing, growing, and using (but not selling) tiny amounts of it in one’s home.
In that line, data provided by the Metropolitan Police Department shows that marijuana arrests have dropped to historic lows. MPD has only issued seven arrests for possession of marijuana this year, as of Nov. 6—down 99.2 percent from 2014’s 895 total arrests. Even last year, though, police arrested just seven people from Jul. 7 to Dec. 31, likely an indication of a change in MPD strategy after decriminalization first took effect. Here’s a by-the-numbers breakdown of MPD arrests for pot possession from 2010 through last week:
2015: 7 (as of Nov. 6)
According to the ACLU, the average arrest for marijuana costs $750, and that doesn’t include any court proceedings or jail, just the arrest. I have seen numbers that are even higher than that, so D.C. could have been higher or lower, but taking the average, that means that D.C. payed roughly $1,759,500 in 2011 to arrest people for marijuana. This year that number would be $5,250. And I would be curious to know why there were even seven arrests in a city that legalized marijuana. There’s potentially even more money to be saved, because no one should be arrested for a plant that is 114 times safer than alcohol.
This is just one city (albeit a large one) in America. Imagine if every city in America was doing this? And that’s just the savings for arrests. Add to that the savings from detainment/incarceration, and court proceedings. Then add to that the tax revenue and other benefits that would be brought to each city from a taxed and regulated industry. All of that would add up to a benefit package that no city in America should deny.
A research team at Washington State University has been developing a breathalyzer that could accurately detect whether a driver is under the influence of marijuana.
Police officers use blood tests to determine if a driver has THC in their system, usually administered at the police station. Blood tests can take up to 24 hours for results.
In Washington state where recreational marijuana is legal, Initiative 502 set the legal limit for 5 nanograms of active THC per mililiter of blood.
Currently, police officers are limited in their choices of reliable portable THC measurement technology in the field. Washington state cops have indicated they would be open to a new portable breathalyzer, but only if it was accurate and reliable.
WSU Chemistry professor Herbert Hill is leading the research team through a second round of testing with the goal of making their marijuana breathalyzer available in 2016.
Hill says the test is designed for immediate accurate results for THC, not the metabolite that is more likely to stay in a person’s system for weeks, and can give false positives.
Over the last five years, Spain has come to rival the Netherlands as Europe’s cannabis hub. The country’s legal framework around weed, which allows its use and sale within private members clubs, has been fully taken advantage of in the north of the country, particularly in the Catalonia region, where clubs reportedly make an estimated $6 million in sales each month.
These private spliff societies—which, unlike Amsterdam’s coffee shops, only allow entry to members, rather than any old sweat-suited stoner straight off an EasyJet flight—haverisen in number from around 40 in 2010 to over 700 today, according to smokers’ groups. And just as America’s “cannabis revolution” was initially centered around California and Colorado before spreading boisterously throughout a number of other states, southern Spain is now also enjoying its very own network of private members cannabis clubs.
I recently visited the pearl of south, Marbella, to get to grips with what a burgeoning “green economy” looks like on the ground, and how a number of British nationals are playing their part.
Arriving in Marbella, it didn’t take long to notice the amount of “cannabis expats”—foreigners who’d moved to Spain’s sunny south to take advantage of freedoms not afforded to them in their home countries. One British guy who calls himself Paz (which, fittingly, means “peace” in Spanish) is in the process of opening a new association in Marbella, and also founded the online community “Medical Cannabis Spain.”
His intentions—as you may have guessed from the name—are centered around improving access for medical users of plant, as opposed to catering to recreational users. There are very few clubs focusing solely on medicinal cannabis products, so Paz hopes to open a location that will operate purely as a medical dispensary, and perhaps one day serve as a model for future clubs with a medical slant.
“I was recently informed that only two of 38 associations in Marbella were actually catering for medical, nonsmoking consumers,” Paz told me, alluding to the range of cannabis products that can be ingested without inhaling the smoke of burning plant matter. “Medical patients can still struggle to receive the right medication, but it’s a changing culture worldwide, so I do expect this to change.”
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While Paz was realistic about the current access available to medical cannabis patients in Spain, he was optimistic about the country becoming the most important player in Europe’s cannabis scene. “With the sun, the solar technology, and the cultivation skills, if you were planning things on a resource-based viewpoint, then you would select Spain to supply the whole of Europe,” he said.
Considering Marbella’s Andalucía region is nearly on the same latitude as the legendary cannabis-filled Emerald Triangle in California, boasting similar conditions and climate for cultivation, he isn’t far off.
Away from Paz and his medicinal aspirations, there are plenty of clubs following the established Dutch model of simply providing somewhere for weed smokers to get high. However, locations here vary tremendously compared to those in the Netherlands’ capital. While the majority of canal-side coffee shops are characterized by their wooden bars, neon signs, and complete lack of natural light, those in Marbella range from the unpretentious to the upmarket. There’s the Honey Bud Club, for example, a pretty standard space with a pool table and a painting of Tupac on the wall; all the way up to Joe’s Marbella Smokers Club, which looks a bit like the VIP lounge of a Milton Keynes nightclub.
Cannabis capsules and butane hash oil in Verde
I had a contact at Verde (“green” in Spanish), a club that—like most others—focuses on the recreational and social aspects of cannabis consumption. The building its housed in is perfectly innocuous, with a small buzzer at the door for guests to announce their arrival. Inside, the place is reminiscent of one of Amsterdam’s coffee shops—dark, with a neon back-lit bar—only slightly more homely.
I sat down with Verde’s British manager, Levi, and asked him what the Verde association stands for. “Our ethos is that we are a relaxed, very social, English- and Spanish-speaking environment for people interested in cannabis,” he said. “Everyone is welcome, whether you are a smoker or nonsmoker; whether you are a heavy consumer or partake occasionally—all providing you meet the requirements to become a member.”
So what does the average member look like? “Dubai, London, Paris, the US; pretty much name a country and we will probably have a member from there,” Levi answered. “These guys are all from a mad variety of backgrounds—some businessmen, some lawyers, some hippie stoners… all sorts. We even have one member, who I obviously can’t give any details about, who’s a senior CEO with over 1,000 people employed beneath him. [Our members’] ages range from 21 to 60, including people who use cannabis medically.”
A “Sublimator” pipe in Verde
Looking around, Verde’s patrons certainly didn’t look like stereotypical stoners. Mind you, the more time you spend in that world, the more you realize there’s really no such thing as a stereotypical cannabis user.
Behind the counter there were a huge number of products that reflected the variety in clientele: organic medicated body creams, infused jellies, caramel slices, cakes, biscuits, and CBD capsules—CBD being the chemical component of cannabis believed to have a range of medical applications. Alongside this new breed of products were your standard selection of sativas, indicas, and hybrid flowers—some of them grown organically, some hydroponically—as well as homemade hash, resin, and dry sift, and the on-trend butane hash oil and “shatter,” all made with latest technology shipped in from the States.
So is Spain catching up with the US in terms of cannabis production and variety? “Probably not yet, but there is certainly great potential for Spain to be a leading cannabis market in Europe at least,” said Levi.
Domestically, why has the rest of Spain lagged behind the north’s progress? “The movement had its roots in the north, and with Barcelona being a main city of the north with a relatively big population, it really took off there,” Levi told me. “Now, other parts of Spain are catching on to the movement because of the success in Barcelona. Other local authorities have seen the experiment in Barcelona and have decided whether [or not] they want the same happening in their province.”
A local government’s political leaning plays a large part in how easy it is for clubs to operate unmolested. Malaga’s right-wing local authority has been shutting down the clubs with force, for instance, while authorities in Marbella have generally left them to flourish peacefully, hence why it’s proving a popular destination for people hoping to open a private members association.
Inside Marbella’s Organic Cannabis Club
The Organic Cannabis Club (OCC) is one association that has experienced the problems caused by inconsistent local policy firsthand. The club’s founder and only member of staff, Dominique, who’s originally from the Netherlands, first opened a club in Malaga, but was forced out of the area by police. I met her recently at her new club in Marbella—a bright, airy space with its own terrace overlooking the beach—which is proving to be much less stressful than her previous location.
“Malaga is one of the only places in Spain where the raids are being done by the local police and not the national police. It makes no sense there,” said Dominique. “I’m just glad to be out of Malaga. Here, the atmosphere is much better. Much more relaxed.”
She told me how the development of cannabis clubs will come on even stronger if, in November, the country votes out the current conservative government. Mariano Rajoy’s People’s Party, said Dominique, is the only thing holding the clubs back. “Public opinion leans towards supporting the private club system,” she argued. “In Barcelona, the mayorsuddenly announced that he would close down 80 percent of the cannabis clubs right before the election. You know what happened? He’s not the mayor any more.”
The OCC’s cannabis safe
Of course, it’s highly unlikely that Xavier Trias was replaced by Ada Colua earlier this year purely because of his views on cannabis clubs. But considering the associations in Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital, reportedly boast over 165,000 members (about 2 percent of the Catalonian population) it’s clear that there’s a dedicated network of patrons in the area.
Dominique told me that associations in other areas should use this as inspiration if they want to develop, saying that clubs could become far more influential if they worked together politically. “I think we should get together properly as a united front in order to have lobbying power with local and national governments,” she said. “When we become a significant united body, politicians will listen to us in order to get votes in the elections—but if we are all just hiding, they won’t do anything for us.”
Visiting Marbella, I found a community optimistic about its place in Spain’s cannabis scene, but aware of the fact that there are still a number of forces working against it. So much has changed within the past five years, and there’s scope for more in the half decade to come. However, as Dominique made me realize, that change might never be realized unless there’s a concerted, communal effort from all involved.