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.