The times they are a changin (in the supermarket aisle)

You pretty much know the dam has broken when the CEO of Whole Foods is saying he’d

consider launching a gourmet-cannabis aisle in his stores, as long as local communities approved

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To register or not to register medical cannabis users

The other day I was watching this video from VICE about marijuana in Uruguay.  Reporter Krishna Andavolu (who in the same piece also smokes pot while hanging out with the Uruguay’s former president Jose Mujica) seeks out cannabis advocate, farmer and long time consumidora Alicia Castilla at her home.  Here, they talk about Uuguay’s new law, which was to require all marijuana consumers to register themselves:

Observo que los únicos que irán a registrarse son los jóvenes.  Porque no han vivido con una dictadora.  Todos los que sabemos lo que el estado puede hacer con los individuos, no queremos (registrarnos.)

It seems to me that the only people who will go register with the government are young people.  this is because they have never lived under a dictatorship.  Those of us who know know what the state can do to individual people, we don’t want to register.

Following a coup in 1973, the people of Uruguay — in a similar way to their neighbors in Argentina —  lived under a series of dictators until 1985, when democracy was restored.  You can hear the mistrust of official registries in the voices of people like Castilla who lived through that period.

I myself am very far from being a conspiracy theorist.  I have a general level of trust as well as skepticism when it comes to the governments which guarantee the basic frameworks of my civic life.  Without strong governments, the idea that I have rights and freedoms would be pure fiction — I’m grateful that they exist.  On the other hand, who doesn’t worry about over-reach.  See, for example, the massive over-collection of data by the NSA and other arms of the US Federal Government among many other example of what can go wrong when power concentrates itself in the shadows.

The time as come for my own state of Washington to decide how to regulate our own medical cannabis market, in which I am a participant.  I suppose I’ll never know why this wasn’t done before now.  After all, we’ve only had medical cannabis for about twenty years.   Nor will I really understand why our recreational legalization law was not designed (like Colorado’s was) to responsibly harmonize the medical and recreational markets.  Personally, I’ve never been too bullish on the ability of our state legislatures to attract to its polished wooden chambers something resembling a competent cross-section of the population of this state.  General gripes aside, though, the Washington is now deciding how treat the large number of medical patients who rely on cannabis for health.  One aspect of this decision is whether or not to maintain a “list”.

Ann Rivers, Steve Litzow, Mark Schoesler
These Republicans want the state to register medical marijuana patients. Photo Credit: The Columbian

A couple of days ago, the Washington State Senate passed Senate Bill 5052.  On first inspection, this seems to me to be an incredibly dunderheaded law in many ways (no collective gardens, no home grows for non-patients, etc. etc.)  It also includes a registry of all Washington State medical patients.

Clearly this would not be unprecedented.  Other states — most notably California and Colorado — maintain such lists.  There’s also something slightly precious about those who oppose such lists, particularly if they’re one of los jovenes who as President Jose Mujica ends up pointing out in the VICE interview can’t seem to restrain from chronicling their every meal and fart on Twitter and Facebook, to then say that the fact that they’re doing something legal can’t possibly be recorded by the government for fear of … ?

In the end however, I think that in the US at least there is some rational basis for worry about central registries.  For me, it’s simply the fact that Federal Government still heavily criminalizes cannabis.  Do I have absolute faith that if my name appears on a state list, that this list will never fall into the hands of a federal authority that uses it to impinge on my rights, say by harassing me at the border or otherwise getting all up in my business?  The answer to that question is simply no. I have a modicum of faith about that sort of thing not coming to pass, but it’s only a modicum.

Change often comes from below.  The optimal way for legalization to happen would probably be for the feds to decriminalize cannabis nationwide, no longer enforce possession laws, and leave it to the states to regulate their own local markets.  So it was (pretty much) with the end of alcohol prohibition.  But this is not going to happen.  Instead, we’re left to work all of this out on a state-by-state basis, and this means that for now, at least, states must provide protection for their citizens against federal over-reach.   I think that states who maintain patient databases are failing to do this, and for that reason I hope that Washington State decides to not register patients, at least for now.

Back in Uruguay, the anthropologist Daniel Vidart, sitting next to Castilla reflecting on the propensity of governments to use and abuse the powers they are given:

La ley es como un cuchillo — hay que probarla para ver si corta.

The law is like a knife — you have to try it to see if it cuts.

Heroes: Carl Sagan

Like so many others,  I first encountered the great thinker, astronomer and teacher Carl Sagan through Cosmos (the original PBS series.)  Though too young to have watched it when it first aired, I probably first saw and understood it in the mid-eighties.  I particularly remember sitting on our family room couch with my father watching weekly installments of the show, which, if you haven’t seen it, is as amazing a picture of the scope and contents of the universe as we are likely to ever see.  The updated series, featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson is almost as sublime.  Both series are fantastic straight, but are also really compelling when under the influence of a reasonable amount of your favorite cannabis.

Carl Sagan was a scientific polymath whose career spanned astrophysics, genetics and astrobiology, planetary science (he discovered many early facts about the atmospheres of Venus, Saturn and various moons) the early formation of life and the consequences of nuclear war. He was also a great communicator and teacher whose legacy now includes thousands of scientists now working in all of these fields, and millions of others who were inspired by his television work and writing.

What’s perhaps known by fewer people (though now can hardly be called much of a secret) is that Sagan was also a passionate user of cannabis sativa and a brave advocate for its legalization. Though he publicly endorsed California’s medical marijuana bill before his death in 1996, his most famous and eloquent expression on the subject came long before. Writing as Mr X, Sagan composed a marvelous essay for inclusion in the 1971 compilation Marijuana Reconsidered. Even in those days just before the madness of the mega-criminalization introduced by Nixon and super-charged by Ronald Reagan, it’s likely that his public credibility and possibly his scientific career would have been compromised had he revealed his identity. But Sagan’s anonymity doesn’t lessen the importance or interest of this essay. If you haven’t read it, I invite you to have a nice toke, sit back, and take a few minutes to read it now. Or, for those in a hurry, here’s a snippit from the essay’s last paragraph:

There is a very nice self-titering aspect to cannabis. Each puff is a very small dose; the time lag between inhaling a puff and sensing its effect is small; and there is no desire for more after the high is there. I think the ratio, R, of the time to sense the dose taken to the time required to take an excessive dose is an important quantity. R is very large for LSD (which I’ve never taken) and reasonably short for cannabis. Small values of R should be one measure of the safety of psychedelic drugs. When cannabis is legalized, I hope to see this ratio as one of he parameters printed on the pack. I hope that time isn’t too distant; the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.

If only he had lived to see the day.

Obama talked about legalization yesterday

What you’re seeing now is Colorado, Washington, through state referenda, they’re experimenting with legal marijuana.  The position of my administration has been, we still have federal laws that classify marijuana as an illegal substance.  But, we’re not going to spend a lot of federal resources trying to turn back decisions that have been made on the state level on this issue.  My suspicion is that you’re going to see other states start looking at this. — President Obama on YouTube yesterday