Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl thinks that marijuana should be treated like alcohol. That's an important thing to know, because she's the one leading the charge on how L.A. County is going to regulate cannabis.
Even though pot's legal in California, the state, cities and counties are still deciding how they should treat the drug. L.A. County is in a unique position, given that it's the most populous county in the United States. That makes it the largest county with legal weed.
Just last week, Kuehl kicked off the county's move towards regulating cannabis in the unincorporated areas — a broad swath of land that stretches from Altadena to Ladera Heights, East L.A. to Topanga Canyon.
When you've got that large of an area to cover and that many different communities to consider, how do you decide which rules are right for a previously unregulated industry?
Below is a conversation that I had with Kuehl about how her own substance abuse issues inform her view of the drug, as well as what she hopes the Board of Supervisors will be able to do for people living here.
HAVE YOU SMOKED MARIJUANA BEFORE?
Oh, I think I did in my twenties. You know, that's 50 years ago now, so it's hard to remember whether I think I did or I [actually] did. But I don't want to deny it. I'm sure a lot of people did it and I probably did too.
WHEN IT COMES TO CREATING REGULATIONS THAT WORK FOR L.A. COUNTY, HOW DO YOUR PAST EXPERIENCES WITH THE DRUG AND BEING AROUND PEOPLE USING THE DRUG, MEDICALLY AND RECREATIONALLY, INFORM YOUR DECISIONS?
It has a very big influence on me, but so does my youthful drinking and being in recovery. I mean, not a big fan of alcohol either, I have to say. And I don’t drink, and don’t do any of these drugs. Those are my choices, because I came to understand the impact on me, and millions of other people have as well.
I think the biggest question for governments now is how to shift from kind of an underground illegal economy, which is thriving, to fulfill what the people have in mind by voting for legalization, which is to treat this more like alcohol was treated after the 21st Amendment, when Prohibition was repealed.
So, it shifts from 'this is an illegal drug' to 'this is a kind of substance that affects your vision and your judgement while you're under the influence and needs to be regulated.'
Making sure that when we do regulations, we worry about strength and potency, the way we do with alcohol.
I think that’s an important role of government, not to over-terrorize people, but to say, 'look, you need to understand.' And we’re going to regulate strength, we’re going to regulate distribution, we’re going to try to make sure all of these businesses are licensed, so at least there’s some quality control. And that’s a big lift for the county, because we have to create a whole new process for this, and that’s what I hope to do.
Read more here.
Susan Soares has written for Cannabis Now Magazine, Alternet, and Sensi Magazine.