Sunday, July 19, 2009

Musings: Out of the Closet

Kauai is so delightful in the dead of night when the world is silent, save for cricket songs, gecko clicks and the roar of the sea in the distance. Then came the patter of rain, falling on the roof, dripping from the eaves, lulling me back to sleep until the roosters broke the peacefulness, followed by the whooshing of cars, and soon Koko and I were up and out ourselves.

A thin slice of white waning moon appeared briefly before it was overwhelmed by gray clouds racing mauka on the trades, sliding down the face of Makaleha, weighing heavily on Waialeale. As we walked, I was struck by the juxtaposition between the brilliant blossoms of the shower and Poinciana trees and the dullness of the rain- and sun-faded trash that lined both sides of the street.

One streetlight after another clicked off as we passed beneath, signaling the official end of night, but a few others inexplicably stayed on, stubbornly refusing to yield to the light of a new day.

And the same, it seems, is true of the debate over marijuana. Some folks are still clinging to the old “Reefer Madness” propaganda, while others are embracing decriminalization and legalization as a way to introduce some justice into the criminal justice system, weed out overcrowded prisons and generate dough for revenue-starved municipalities.

During last week’s KKCR radio show discussion on the drug wars and Green Harvest, Roger Christie of the Big Island’s THC Ministry discussed the concept of “ganjanomics,” while attorney Dan Hempey pointed out that marijuana is the most valuable crop in California, a state that also produces one helluva lot of food.

And I noted that prior to the implementation of Operation Wipe-Out, Hawaii’s eradication campaign, the value of the marijuana crop surpassed sugar cane, pineapple and everything else grown here combined. Now it’s gone, and so is pine and sugar in any meaningful measure, leaving us with the GMO-dominated, Roundup-intensive seed crop industry.

Two people sent me links yesterday to a SF Gate article that reports marijuana has become “a major economic force” in California, prompting discussions there of legalization as a means for taxing it like liquor, which could generate revenues of $1.3 billion a year.

The crop itself has an estimated value of $17 billion, “dwarfing any other sector of the state's agricultural economy,” according to the article, and it also “props up local economies, mints millionaires and feeds a thriving industry of startups designed to grow, market and distribute the drug.”

You know, a free-marketer's dream.

Advocates point out that making pot legal would create millions if not billions of dollars more in indirect sales — the ingredients used to make edible pot products, advertising, tourism and smoking paraphernalia.

With a recent poll showing more than half of Californians supporting legalization, pot advocates believe they will prevail. And they say other states will follow.

Now why can’t Hawaii, whose ganja, like its beaches, is already world-renowned, capitalize on that trend, too? We’re talking about true community-based development that would also prop up the sagging agricultural sector.

Some of the tax revenues could even be earmarked to fund treatment centers for the plethora of ice addicts, which in itself would prove to be an economic and social boon for the Islands.

While California is taking giant steps toward easing the cannabis clampdown, Hawaii is taking baby steps. We do allow medical marijuana use, although you’ve got to register with the Department of Public Safety, aka the prison complex, which is a deterrent to some.

Due to the efforts of Roger and other activists, Big Island voters approved a measure that requires the police there to make marijuana for adult personal use (not to exceed 24 ounces or 24 plants) their lowest law enforcement priority.

When I asked Kauai Police Chief Darryl Perry what he thought of such a measure, he replied:

I believe from a professional and personal point of view that they are making a terrible mistake. It sends the wrong message to our community; particularly to our youth.

If a similar ordinance were attempted here, I would be against it, and I believe the people of Kauai would also be in opposition to such a law.

The chief then went on to cite short- and long-term health effects related to marijuana use, an issue that The New York Times took up in an article yesterday on whether marijuana is addictive. Opinions ran the gamut:

“We need to be very mindful of what we are unleashing out of a Pandora’s Box here,” said Dr. Richard N. Rosenthal, chairman of psychiatry at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan and professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. “The people who become chronic users don’t have the same lives and the same achievements as people who don’t use chronically.”

“I see people every day dying from alcohol, stimulants and opiates,” said Dr. Matthew A. Torrington, an addiction specialist and clinical researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Marijuana may be an up and comer, it may be transforming into something that will become a bigger problem in the future, but at the moment I don’t see that.”

What is clear is that marijuana is the country’s most widely used illicit drug, many people smoke it without developing a dependency and some people have a propensity to become addicted to just about any substance.

And the fact remains that it has not been linked to a single fatal overdose or major health problems, unlike say, acetaminophen, which is widely available over the counter even though about 100 people OD on it each year and high doses are linked to liver damage and failure. Even the Tylenol website now includes a caveat about how “it is safe when used as directed.” Yet no one is talking about making Tylenol illegal, but merely changing the label.

A couple of people who called in to KKCR thanked us for the show and commented that we were “brave” to take on the issue. To me, it’s not a question of bravery, but common sense. When we look at the human and economic costs of suppressing and criminalizing marijuana, and compare it to its low potential for harm and high potential for revenues, it’s kind of a no-brainer.

It’s time to get marijuana out of the closet and into the open, and one of the best ways to do that is through public discussion and looking to the reform models already created in The Netherlands, Spain and, much closer to home, California.


Anonymous said...

--With a recent poll showing more than half of Californians supporting legalization, pot advocates believe they will prevail. And they say other states will follow.--

It would be important to know WHERE those polls were taken. Although Northern California and the Southern Urban Metropolis' may be forward thinking, there are a LOT of conservative thinkers in CA...look what happened with the Gay Marriage Issue. They were broadsided with their mission because they thought they "had it in the bag"....

I think on the Island of Kaua`i, pushing for decriminalization FIRST and then legalization next would be more palatable to the conservative thinkers and more likely to pass. Ease into it...

But I am not so certain that Gov't legalization, control, regulation and taxation over this herb is the best case scenario. But decriminalization would be very beneficial!

Now if we could just quit equating the variety of cannabis sativa used to grow industrial hemp plants with the variety of cannabis sativa that is THC laden and revered for its mind altering and expanding qualities, then maybe we could get somewhere with sustainable industry on this island. We could create a thriving sustainable industry of textiles, ropes, nutricious foods which the gov't could regulate, control and tax. Jobs could be created, the aina could be rejuvenated.

But we would have to distinguish between the two varieties. And let the herb with THC be left alone, just decriminize it. Shoots, this would be a sure fire way for Chief Perry to deter kids from smoking pot. They try smoke industrial hemp and get one bad headache!

Anonymous said...

The guests on your show forgot to mention that in Hawaii, medical pot users also have to consent to allow the police to come to their home and "inspect" the crop. Imagine that. You have to give up a constitutional right to be free from search and seizure in order to get your medicine.

Anonymous said...

ya walk into any pot shop in NL and you see 2 groups, more or less: tourists, and the less than the cream of the crop of local society

"may be forward thinking, there are a LOT of conservative thinkers in CA...look what happened with the Gay Marriage Issue"

-- good point

and growing the non thc type is prob a good idea


Anonymous said...

The Lege overrode Lingle's veto of SB 1058

It "establishes a task force to examine issues relating to medical cannabis patients and current medical cannabis laws. Establishes a task force to examine the effects of salvia divinorum."

It's a start.

Anonymous said...

mahalo joan, your's and andy's recent post have provided additional insight to the conversation. here is a link to the website of the marijuana policy project they helped roger christie and the big island community to re prioritize cannabis prosecution.
from medical, economical and ,of course, judicial perspectives this aspect of decriminalization makes a lot of sense.
mahalo again for stimulating the discussion.

Anonymous said...

Is there a correlation: California produces the most food and pot? (snicker)

Katy said...

"Studies have shown that states with more prisons and prisoners do not have lower crime rates than other states. The Prison-Industrial Complex claims to be about safety and order. In reality, the PIC makes the lives of most people – especially the poor and people of color – less safe and more disordered. For example, poor people and people of color are often targeted by the cops based on the way they look. And even in instances where people call the cops to solve problems, the cops are often more disruptive than the original problem. We cannot build strong communities when people are constantly being taken out of them."

Dave Smith said...

Joan, to diverge a bit from the other comments, your opening reminded me of how plentiful and enjoyable (although sometimes pretty loud) Hawaiian crickets were when we moved onto our Puna property in 2006. They may still be around, but we haven't heard them much in several years, drowned out now by the cacophony of coqui, which are probably also eating their competition for the predominant night sounds in our little forest. My advice is to enjoy and protect the sounds you have.

Anonymous said...

Don't do the crime if you can't do the time.

Katy said...

"Don't do the crime if you can't do the time" is a fairly ignorant way to respond to the explosion of the US prison population. The fact is that we don't have more crime, we just have more imprisonable offenses and more prisons to fill and more money than ever to go after people for petty stuff like possession. Pat answers and cliches don't help us figure this out as well as questions might:

Is this really where we want our social resources flowing?

Does locking more people up make our communities safe?

What are the long-term social and health consequences of having so many families separated by imprisonment?

Do we accept such a vast racial and economic disproportionality in the demographics of imprisonment?


Anonymous said...

Mahalo Katy!

Prisons have become the band aid, when we could be pouring money into prevention and rehabilitation. Be it drug abuse, crime, etc.....

Anonymous said...

"fairly ignorant," arguably much like noting that "states with more prisons and prisoners do not have lower crime rates than other states" without also noting how a good number of states export most / many of their cons while other states especially invite and build prison operations resulting in a capacity far in excess of the cons they generate interstate (thereby seriously undercutting that quoted stat)

as to "Does locking more people up make our communities safe?"

-- well of course it does, for a while, as long as they are not let out. but its super expensive to house them, and most do get out eventually (at which point they are more dangerous? less employable? further disenfranchised from society? buddies with more criminals?)

and its what, like $20k+ / yr to house a con? pricey. even if the electorate cant be persuaded to spend some of that on kids (prevention), for $20k / yr or whatever that had better be a pretty dangerous person, not some college age small volume weed dealer

otherwise i guess im unrealistic to hope white collar crimes will now be further pursued. tho the heats been turned on on big time tax cheats, which is good. we'll see what convictions / peal deals / jail times result


Anonymous said...

Give us back our society by reinstating the the death penalty. Especially for the violent and repeat offenders.
Maybe even for some white collar crimanals as well. We can use the money for health care!

Anonymous said...

People who commit crimes, imprisonable or not, are criminals. When caught and proved to have committed the crime, they should bear whatever punishment the law dictates.

So, yes...don't do the crime if you can't do the time.

Obey the law, regardless if you personally agree with it. Most people don't have a problem with this. As to the others....screw them.

Katy said...

Let's build new prison cells for jaywalkers, dammit!

Anonymous said...

If they make jaywalking an imprisonable offense, I'd agree!!

And, I'll bet the frequency of jaywalking will go down once a number of them hit the slammer!

Katy said...

If "they" make it a jail offense? "They" are us - you want to pay $20,000 a year to keep a jaywalker - or someone who gets high on the weekends, for that matter - locked in a cage? Sorry, I'd rather pay for more textbooks and teachers.

Anonymous said...

"They" are the legislators, not "us".

"We" elect them.

Apparently "we, the people" are getting exactly what "we" (as a voting majority) want.

Don't like it? Try to vote them out, if you can find replacements that can push your agenda extremely difficult task.

Can't vote them out? Complain about it on blogs, then.

Anonymous said...

Yah...look how "successful" Obama has been with his "agenda of change".