Marijuana 2: The Wild West?

This is PART TWO about living in a state with legal medical marijuana, and why Attorney General Eric Holder is getting involved, concerned that this is de-facto legalization. To read part one, CLICK HERE.

After applying for a license to use medical marijuana, Sam* drives to the closest dispensary to his home in Boulder, Co. It’s called Holy Herbs and looks like a crash pad, with shabby display cases containing jars of grass and an old refrigerator filled with pot-laced edibles. A live iguana, the owner’s pet, sits in a corner.

Stepping over the iguana’s tail, Sam finds that at Holy Herbs, there’s no pretense about “medicine;” it’s about getting stoned. The clerk, Rebecca, who has a Ph.D. in physics but was recently laid off from her teaching job, asks Sam what type of pot he likes.

“I don’t know,” Sam says. “I’ve just bought whatever the dealer had.”

Rebecca tells him there are two types: sativa, which is more cerebral and stimulates creativity, and indica, which works more to relax the body. There are also hybrids of the two, with names like Bordello, Skywalker and Train Wreck.

They move to the refrigerator and Sam picks a tiny round raspberry cheesecake made by the “Twirling Hippie,” who’s pictured on the label.

“How much of this should I eat?” Sam asks.

“Depends on how much you smoke,” Rebecca says. “How long will an eighth of an ounce last you? A few days? A week?”

“Oh…six months,” Sam says.

“So you’re a non-smoker,” Rebecca says with a laugh. The cheesecake is marked “one dose” but she tells him to start with half, although it takes her two cakes to feel anything. That night Sam splits the little cake with a friend and neither can move or complete a sentence for the following 12 hours.

The dosage, he learns, is geared to heavy smokers who’ve built up a tolerance. With smoking, one can tell right away how high one is getting but with edibles, the effect takes about an hour to be felt. As a marijuana attorney in Denver said, “Either the dose doesn’t work, or your legs don’t work.”

Most of the strains are now organic but growers have yet to develop a strain that’s low-cal — that doesn’t bring on the munchies. As Sam puts it, the problem is: if you’ve eaten half a brownie and start craving something sweet, the other half of that brownie will pull you like a magnet even though you don’t want to get more stoned. “It’s an attractive nuisance,” he says.

Sam was happy with Holy Herbs. The cheesecakes were $5 and as Rebecca said, “Where else can you have a great time all night for $5?”

A few months later, though, Sam discovered that other dispensaries were giving products free to people who assigned them their growing rights. He checked around and switched to Majestic Mountain Meds, which gave him $50 worth of products as a signing bonus and one free gram of pot each week. All he had to do was fill out the “change of caregiver” form and Majestic Meds notarized and sent it to the state registry. In a short time, Sam had collected enough free pot for a year.

It was the Wild West. No one was monitoring the quality of the marijuana or integrity of the dispensaries. Nobody was making sure the product was all being accounted for and not slipping out the back door and being resold.

Politicians and local communities had been caught unprepared. They scrambled to regulate the booming new industry, with some cities passing laws to limit the number of dispensaries that could operate and preventing them from being built within so many yards of a school. As if! Kids don’t move around town and see the dispensaries? This year, on April 20, also called 420–the national pot smoking day—more than 10,000 young people gathered on the commons at the University of Colorado to smoke, while the police stayed away.

The big question was: how much tax revenues were being generated by medical pot sales? Nobody knew. All sales were subject to tax by state and local governments, but merchants weren’t required to report what they were selling. It could be shoes or marijuana.

The authorities did know how much they were getting in application fees: $90 for every person seeking a license and $7,500 to $18,000 for each dispensary, plus $1500 for a grow license.

In 2010, the state took charge and passed a law setting up a regulatory board for medical marijuana centers. They also passed 70 pages of regulations, starting with the requirement that all pot sold in the state be grown in the state, and all patients must be state residents. All edibles must be produced in the city or town where they’re sold. No such rules apply to any other product sold anywhere.

The new rules go into effect July 1, and will also prohibit dispensaries from giving free products to patients. The state wants the tax revenue and if products are given away, they won’t be taxed.

The regulations are voluminous and minute, stipulating what locks must be installed on dispensary doors and what kind of video security cameras must be operated at what hours. Marijuana will be monitored “from seed to sale.” Every stalk of weed will be assigned an electronic traceable number–a radio-frequency identity tag like those attached to merchandise at stores to track inventory and set off alarms at doors.

The monitoring of pot from planting to processing to final sale to the patient creates a “closed loop,” whereby no marijuana crosses state lines. This may protect Colorado from intervention by the feds, who recently sent notices to the 16 states that have legalized medical marijuana. Governors were warned that they’re putting state employees at risk of federal prosecution for regulating a substance that’s illegal under federal laws.

This makes no sense. Why prohibit regulation of a controversial and ungainly new industry? Because regulation will make the business seem legitimate. Attorney General Eric Holder promised on June 2 to clarify the Justice Department’s position, which seems untenable. How can the feds, as they’ve threatened, prosecute everyone from growers to legislators and regulators, now that 16 states and D.C.—nearly a third of the country—have legalized medical marijuana?

Jeff Gard, a Boulder attorney who’s an expert on marijuana laws, says, “I’m hopeful that we’re at the beginning of the end of prohibition and moving toward responsible use and regulation, in the same way we regulate alcohol and tobacco.” Gard adds that in 15 years of criminal defense work,”I’ve never seen a guy who smoked a joint and beat his wife and kids. But alcohol is involved in almost every criminal case.”

What seemed impossible just a few years ago—the decriminalization of marijuana—may indeed happen in our lifetimes.

* Because of the shifting sands, the names of marijuana dispensers and users have been changed, but make no mistake, they are real people.

 

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15 thoughts on “Marijuana 2: The Wild West?

  1. Arielle

    There is a pot boutique around the corner from us. I have been there several times as a caregiver for a friend with stage 4 cancer. The waiting room is a complete smelly dump but once you are cleared and “legal” to enter, the back room is a shiny retail space with clean, neat counters and a menu of more than 100 forms of pot from soft drinks to candy & cookies to smokeless etc. The staff person who helped me spent a half hour explaining all the different forms and how they affect the user. I bought 8 different kinds, no knowing what my patient would need. At one point the staff drove with me to a head shop so I could by a machine to use with the smokeless stuff. My friend ended up using just the tiniest amounts of the pot because it was all 1000 per cent stronger than she could handle. I am grateful this stuff is available for those who truly need it and it did seem like everyone else in the shop was just looking to get stoned.

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    Hi Sara,

    I really enjoy your writing and hope someday all pot will be legal.

    It will help our country get out of the red.

    If used correctly, it is not habit forming.

    Thanks for keeping me informed.

    Reply
  3. Ellen

    I don't believe most people believe the “Reefer Madness” scenario now- they know pot isn't dangerous. Fearing legal marijuana is like fearing gay rights: people need to curtail others because they are afraid to have options. If nobody else can legally go there, then nobody gets officially left behind, and the fearful can pretend it's not happening: nobody's gay, nobody smokes).

    Reply
  4. Celeste

    The main reason for regulation is to generate a revenue stream. I'm certain that Prohibition was repealed for that reason above all others.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    You can be almost certain that marijuana is on the road to redemption as big pharma has taken an interest in it in a big way and attempting to drive out all the little guys well in advance and not only in Colorado but everywhere. Your new Colorado legislation and regulations may just be the tip of the iceberg. I suggest you will even have your right to home grow the stuff revoked in favor or having to buy it at your local CVS or Walgreens. Twirling Hippie and Majestic Mountain’s days are numbered. You can be certain the Pfizer’s and Eli Lilly’s of the world will spare no expense to lock down supply and distribution and eliminate any rouge players.

    Reply
  6. richardrossner

    Great article, Sara. You show the situation clearly, with wit and style.

    It is so interesting to me that the essence of the issue continues to be avoided in any genuine public discussion. I see the the “truth” being that the medical uses of marijuana are a convenient way for the “legalize pot” community to open the door. But as long as we talking about legitimate medical uses, the overshadow behind that argument isn't really addressed. So you have arguments like taxes on pot helping governments (which desperately need money and are happy to close an eye to any other issues for the quick fix buck), but real medicine isn't taxed. I suppose that is because people need their meds and medical care is expensive enough.

    We're just not being truthful about this issue. If it's about medical uses for pot, then let it be about a palliative solution that is cheap and effective. But if the issue is about getting pot legalized as a great way to get high along with alcohol, fasting and spinning to get dizzy, then put it to a vote. If our society says “yea,” then “yea” it is. Just don't Trojan Horse the issue on the pain of people with medical conditions that can truly benefit from the stuff.

    Reply
  7. wildgeese

    I don't understand the distinction that richardrossner made in his comment. Even if people just want to get high, underneath that need is the desire to detach and relax. In that respect, all marijuana use is medicinal. Many people use it to calm anxiety, and I believe it is probably more healthy than pharmaceuticals for that purpose, and also alcohol, esp. if using the no-smoke appliance.I think our world can stand a whole lot more relaxing and having fun and a whole lot less fighting and warring on each other. If mj helps, well, I'm proud that Colorado is leading the way.

    Reply
  8. Beverly

    There is a house in Waikiki which looks a lot like the description of “Sam's' original dispensary, the one with the PhD saleswoman. At the Wikiki house, surfboards are visible, probably guaranteeing some self-discipline. You can't do anything athletic while stoned, especially in the wilderness of the sea. I doubt the police pay much attention, it is close to a quiet residential block full of retirees who wouldn't tolerate drug parties.

    The only notable thing about this house is its style. It makes one ASSUME. And it is local color –something to titilate the Visitors from the lands of the pale people.

    If Colorado has put in the time and energy and scholarship to regulate weed and tax it – -I wish the Hawaii legislature would do the same. I can get scrip if I hunt down an MD who doesn't answer to an HMO. Then I would have to register with the State as an official “user.” One can possess and grow, but there is no legal way to obtain or buy. I would have to search for the product.

    This is too much trouble for this old lady. I have BEEN to the party, and my aches are tolerable. 'Oh, nonono I don't do that no more, I'm tired of wakin' up on the floor . .. . .”

    This Hawaii plan led to folks flying into the state to obtain prescriptions. When this became known, the Social Worker who was promoting legalization of sales was leaned on, very very hard, and his ads disappeared.

    It would be very difficult to restrict weed to residents only, when so much oregano is purchased by tourists nightly in Waikiki . .

    Remember when some states had State Liquor Stores. .. or one had to join a 'private club” (read: Segregated) to get a drink in the Bible Belt?? Perhaps something like this arrangement, without the racial overtones, could be promulgated in certain districts. I agree that tight regulation will suck things up. But let the folks have as much fun as I did, back when.

    Reply
  9. brigitte

    Boulder has been voted:
    Happiest City in America
    Brainiest City in America
    Fittest City in America
    Foodiest City in America and one of the top 20
    Safest City in America
    We must be doing something right.
    Legalize it!

    Reply
  10. Lucinda Shirley

    Excellent piece, beautifully presented. Everything you write is warm, clear and lively.

    Legalizing and taxing weed, on the federal level, would go a long way toward cutting the deficit. Far better than the “conservative” ideas for screwing up Medicare.

    I'm excited about your book, Sara. Still researching agents for my first one, managing to remain positive about publishing–mostly. (BTW, Trisha and Nina had a great time in Boulder!)

    Reply
  11. Eugenie Martell

    Creative commentary – I am thankful for the analysis ! Does someone know where my business might obtain a sample 2007 CA JV-290 form to fill out ?

    Reply