Monday, September 22, 2014

Musings: No Big Deal

Siri, the voice on my Iphone GPS, guided me to a nondescript tan building in one of the many strip malls that blight the outskirts of Pueblo, Colorado. “The destination is your left,” she said, as I pulled into a parking space between SUVs, a BMW sedan and pick up trucks, beneath a sign that read Hashish House.

I pushed open a curtained glass door that led into a room empty save for a counter, and a guy staring at his smart phone. He looked up, and asked to see my ID. He scrutinized it for a minute, then wanted to know if I'd ever been in a place like this. I shook my head. “Well, then, you're in for a very different kind of experience,” he said, a slight smile playing at his lips as he ushered me into a spacious store.

My heart was pounding a little as I absorbed the reality before me: cannabis, arranged for sale like liquor, or any other regulated product. Glass counters holding a wide variety of pipes, papers and inhalers, which are used for smoking a type of processed marijuana known as wax, without all the harsh smoke. Edibles, like hard candy and cookies, in sealed plastic bags. Dozens of jars filled with many varieties of dried buds.

And all of it entirely legal and completely above-board. No threat of cops, busts, arrests. No rip offs. No being forced to take a crappy product, because that's all the seller has. No furtive meet ups. No long waits for the seller to arrive. No questions about quantities or quality. No wads of cash.

Just merchandise being sold by knowledgeable sales clerks to consenting adults. What a concept!

The customers were a mix, ranging from middle-aged men in knit polo shirts to couples attired in tee-shirts and jeans. It was a Sunday, so many were stocking up before the Broncos game, just as thousands of other football fans were on equally legal beer runs.

The budtenders appeared to be mostly in their 30s, and they worked quickly, competently and patiently, explaining the products and their use, weighing buds and placing them into pharmaceutical-style vials that were clearly labeled with the product name and quantity. As they worked, they carefully tallied up totals to ensure that residents didn't buy more than 28 grams (one ounce) and non-residents more than seven grams.

All the transactions were computerized, and though a customer's state of origin was tracked, names were not.

Nobody was smoking inside or out, or lingering around the building. Customers left with their paper bags of merchandise, got into their cars and went home. Just like any other store.

As I stood there in the Hashish House and watched marijuana being sold openly and legally, without the sky falling or society collapsing, I thought, oh my god, why is it taking so long for the rest of the nation to catch on?

And then today I read Darin Mokiki's two-part piece on medical cannabis in The Garden Island and was reminded that Hawaii is still gripped by paranoia and fear — much of it promulgated by law enforcement and people who make money from treating what they classify as “marijuana addictions.”

Even Prosecutor Justin Kollar, who isn't a reefer madness kind of guy, is quoted as saying:

[R]etail marijuana stores, like those in Colorado, where recreational and medical use is legal, “would not be a good fit for our community until and unless sufficient safeguards are in place to ensure that marijuana stays out of the hands of children who do not have the maturity to make that kind of decision.”

While one can never guarantee that kids won't get legal marijuana, just as we can't guarantee they won't get legal alcohol and cigarettes, it's quite clear that other states have done the work to impose barriers to acquisition by minors. It's not an impossibility, or even a valid stumbling block.

It's not like Hawaii has to re-invent the wheel. Take medical marijuana dispensaries, for example. Though opponents love to portray them as opium den-like places that cater to the scourges of society and attract crime, my own encounters while traveling were quite different.

In a small town in Arizona, a modest storefront was located right on the main street, a marijuana leaf offering the only clue that it was a medical cannabis dispensary. It was deserted.

In Santa Fe, a dispensary operates as part of an herb shop, discreetly selling its wares in a commercial area that includes a yoga studio, water features for gardens and a trendy bistro. I never saw any shady characters there, just regular people, the same kind who would be going to the CVS pharmacy.

No, marijuana isn't risk free, from either a health or a law enforcement perspective. It can be bootlegged and black marketed, just like Dior bags. It can be purchased by people who misuse it, just like sugar and caffeine. And it can fall unintentionally into the hands of kids, like booze and cigarettes.

But it's not a bogeyman, either. It's used by people of all education levels, and socio-economic backgrounds. Most importantly, other states have figured out how to regulate it and sell it, and their communities haven't gone to rack and ruin in the process.

It's easy to get insular and provincial in Hawaii. But hopefully some of the decision-makers will use their travel budgets to actually visit states where medical marijuana dispensaries and recreational stores are functioning well and thriving.

They might just be surprised to find, as I did, that it's really no big deal to move cannabis into the realm of legal trade. In the process, they'll be helping to stop the real horror of the Mexico drug cartel and lives needlessly damaged by criminal prosecution of marijuana possession.

And they just might be able to generate some revenue to help deal with a drug and an addiction that really is tearing Hawaii apart: ice, crystal meth.


Anonymous said...

excellent great example of sanity in Colorado.Great writing too

Anonymous said...

How did Sunday's bliss lead to Monday's purchase?

Joan Conrow said...

It didn't. I visited the store a while ago but was prompted by TGI's articles to write about it today.

Anonymous said...

Your police chief is against MJ the way Hooser is against GMO. They are both running for council. It would be interesting to press council members to state if they each prefer more MJ freedom or more prohibition.

The Prosecutor's fence sitting is disappointing. What you described does not seem like anything at odds with your community. Keep it away from kids, Duh. Politic speak instead of leadership.

Hawaii is missing an incredible revenue source. And your local jail is overcrowded.

Anonymous said...

"Your police chief is against MJ the way Hooser is against GMO. "

Big difference: GMOs are legal.

Anonymous said...

Right. Pot is illegal because no one can prove it is safe. And GMO is legal because no one can prove it is not safe. The insane society

Dawson said...

Big difference: GMOs are legal.

As would be marijuana, were it not for our century-old tradition of irrational drug laws.

Dawson said...

Pot is illegal because no one can prove it is safe.

No, pot is illegal for reasons that are religious, political, economic, hysterical and irrational.

Anonymous said...

Every now and then pure journalism appears in this blog. Today is one of those days! Well said!

Anonymous said...

Don't be so naive, Kauai doesn't want to legalize marijuana because the drug syndicates would lose there cash cow. The dirty syndicate KPD pigs would lose their side jobs:protecting the drug dealers or dealing drugs their damn selves.

Justin Kollar said...

No fence sitting here. The lege has been sending pretty clear signals for some time that dispensaries are going to happen. I've been saying from day one that the medical mj system in Hawaii is broken; it makes sick people into criminals and makes criminals into sick people. Reform needs to happen, and it needs to happen responsibly. I think the Task Force is a good step to make sure that happens.

Great writing, Joan, per usual.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kollar's comments seem to have him off the fence - good job Justin. I like a prosecutor who endorses a piece about a happy day of shopping for pot.

The Chief's past writings on this issue are very troubling, however. I support some fresh faces on the council - but the drug warrior mentality is so last century. I cannot vote for someone clings to the drug war dogma. It has been thoroughly discredited. Really, only people keeping it illegal are on the drug warrior payroll. Po Po, prison guards, drug czar types, oh and the cartels.

Personally, I think it should be totally legal. I resent every tax dollar taken from my hard earned salary used to arrest, trial, prosecute and jail people for using herb.

I think of what we could do if we had all that drug war money back. How many improvs owned fathers missed raising their children over this ill-advised war on drugs.

Anonymous said...

Actually, this is the perfect time to monitor Colorado's educational system to see how the new law affects their youth, per performance / drop out ratio.

Again we should protect our youth's health and safety.

MJ is a drug not like tobacco it has a whole different effect on the users. Being politically correct!!! Each individual user has gone in different directions. A lot has been great contributors to society (on Kauai) and others went in the other direction to harsher drugs, and in most cases it started in our young intermediate / high school level.

Best is get the data first after several years of observation to see what's the effect on the Colorado's community.

I'm speaking from the stand point of observing lots of people I've known for years, and even their kids who are users and are survivors / just getting by in their adult lives.

Don't turn a blind eye, and shy away from caring for your youth's health and well being.

Believe it or not, Kauai's society has many industries that make this great island survive. The MJ industry generate income for the under world that most of us don't understand. but this world contributes to our above world society. The money does revolve in our society that is beyond just criminal activities.

Joan, let's get some case situations before the final call is out.

Being politically correct, let's error on caution and watch Colorado. Remember, Kauai is an island that we all know each other and each others kids, so we see first hand how MJ affects families.

I'm not against your article, I enjoy your efforts to being FAIR to Kauai's society. Thank you for understanding. It's just one person's opinion.

Anonymous said...

7:22 The Police and Prosecutor are sworn to uphold the law. It is not up to them to pick and choose what laws are worthy of enforcement.
Law is the basis of civilization, laws are what make it work.
Great article, Joan. Your description of the paranoid quick dealings of pakalolo purchases is something that many have felt. I guess there won't be many seeds and stems in the lids sold in Colorado.
And to think not so long ago Kauai Electric, Maui Wowee and Kona Gold were the epitome of best weed. A real agricultural product.

Dee Morikawa said...

It's too bad that my comments were not included in the garden island newspaper's article. Perhaps they were too boring. The Legislative Reference Bureau's report is a good guide for legislators to use in developing future policy to determine what is needed to better address the delivery of medical marijuana. There are too many silent assumptions, such as how to get the seed, how and where it can be transported or used, how to control legal growers from dispensing to other people, etc. Marijuana is a drug with many possibilities. If you are terminally ill, this is a drug that can ease your suffering. The oil extracted is a proven effective way to control seizures. The research, growing and cultivation of the plant and dispensing of the drug would be best addressed through a dispensary system...a dispensary system that is secure and controlled. This may be hard to do until the Federal Government approves the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes. There's still a long way to go and we still need to fix a few areas of the current law.