DECEMBER 21, 2016
The door to legalized marijuana in California cracked ajar in 1996, when voters approved the Compassionate Use Act, which allowed doctors to recommend cannabis to their patients.
In November, the door flew open as voters approved Proposition 64 by a wide margin, a measure that legalizes marijuana for adult recreational use and could herald the beginning of the end of the federal government’s misbegotten war on weed.
Really though, for nearly two decades, pot has more or less been available to anyone 18 or older willing to pay for a medical recommendation, which you could get without ever leaving your bedroom. It’s as easy as signing onto a website, paying a few bucks, and Skyping with a physician. Dispensaries sprouted like weeds, bedeviling cities like Los Angeles, which has struggled to develop regulations.
Yet as easy as it is to procure, marijuana continues to be listed by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule 1 drug, with no accepted medical benefit, officially considered as dangerous as cocaine or heroin. This strains credulity.
No one has ever died from an overdose of marijuana. And medical literature, though research has been limited in this country by the federal ban, is rife with studies showing potentially beneficial uses for the drug.
Pot has been shown to be effective with certain kinds of intractable childhood epilepsy, for helping the nausea of chemotherapy patients, for stimulating the appetites of people with AIDS. It is believed to help with certain kinds of neuropathic pain. Many combat veterans experiencing PTSD use marijuana to alleviate their symptoms. Professional athletes have extolled the benefits of pot over prescription drugs for chronic injuries.
There are some marijuana activists who reject the idea that pot is ever used recreationally. They believe it always has a medical use, even if that use is simple relaxation after a hard day’s work.
In any case, after medical marijuana was legalized, lots of Baby Boomers who had used pot in high school and college, then put it away as adults, started to rediscover it. In some affluent circles, pot has become as commonplace as chardonnay, and carries about as much stigma.
For others — especially teenagers, and low-income African Americans and Latinos — marijuana has continued to function as a gateway drug … to the criminal justice system. For police, the whiff of weed offered an excellent pretext to stop, to search, to run license plates, and to arrest. Under the new law, that is no longer the case.
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