Hard To Rationalize Pot Prohibition

Mar 27, 2012

Norm Stamper’s told the story a lot: He was a rookie cop, work­ing a one-man car  in an afflu­ent San Diego neigh­bor­hood, when he approached a home and smelled  burn­ing veg­etable mat­ter. This was around 1966.  Pos­ses­sion of mar­i­juana  pos­ses­sion of even a seed or stem =96 was a felony.  Stam­per, a young cop eager to score the brownie points asso­ci­ated with nar­cotics busts, knocked on the door.  No answer.  He then kicked in the door and heard foot­steps rac­ing down the hall, where he found a 19-year-old man try­ing to flush his mar­i­juana down the toi­let.  Stam­per scooped out the soggy pot, placed the young man in hand­cuffs and led him from his par­ents’ house to the police car. As I got closer to the jail,  Stam­per said,  I kept think­ing, ‘My God, I could be out doing real police work.’ It was my aha moment.  This kid was not hurt­ing any­body. Nearly 50 years later, a lot has changed regard­ing the country’s approach to mar­i­juana, both med­i­c­i­nal and recre­ational.  And a lot is still chang­ing.  But Stam­per  a for­mer Seat­tle police chief and 34-year cop   is still an excep­tion: some­one from the world of law enforce­ment who believes, or at least is will­ing to say, that our pro­hi­bi­tion on pot is sense­less. In fact, Stam­per says that a lot, and he’s been say­ing it for years   in speeches and essays, and even in a book.  Now he’s part of a group, Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hi­bi­tion, that’s sup­port­ing an ini­tia­tive on the Novem­ber bal­lot that would legal­ize, reg­u­late and tax the sale of mar­i­juana in Wash­ing­ton.  He’s speak­ing around the state in sup­port of Ini­tia­tive 502; he’s also appear­ing in Spokane next week as part of a com­mu­nity panel on polic­ing. I think it’s long past time we rec­og­nize mar­i­juana is safer than alco­hol, health­ier than tobacco and does rep­re­sent enor­mous rev­enue pos­si­bil­i­ties for the state,  he said. That last point =96 money for the state’s bare cup­boards   is no the­o­ret­i­cal mat­ter these days, though it’s hard to say exactly how much a taxed and reg­u­lated pot trade would bring in.  The state’s Office of Finan­cial Man­age­ment esti­mated this week that it could mean $560 mil­lion to $606 mil­lion a year in taxes, depend­ing how reefer mad we go.  I-502 sup­port­ers have pre­dicted a smaller boon, and the truth is, it’s all elab­o­rate guess­work. The OFM paper, as reported in the Seat­tle Times, describes what a state-run mar­i­juana busi­ness might look like.  It assumed 100 grow­ers, sup­ply­ing 300 stores, sell­ing nearly 190,000 pounds of mar­i­juana a year to more than 360,000 cus­tomers.  It’s based on fed­eral drug-use data. Under I-502, the state would reg­u­late stores and tax sales of one ounce of mar­i­juana to peo­ple 21 and older.  It would add max­i­mum THC lev­els to drunken-driving laws. The ini­tia­tive is being spon­sored by New Approach Wash­ing­ton, a coali­tion of health offi­cials, attor­neys, law enforce­ment offi­cials and oth­ers, includ­ing travel writer Rick Steves and for­mer Spokane Regional Health Dis­trict direc­tor Kim Marie Thor­burn. As hard as it might be to envi­sion that future imag­ined in the OFM report, it is equally hard to ratio­nal­ize the country’s cur­rent approach to pot.  It’s ille­gal, but the level of enforce­ment varies.  Med­ical mar­i­juana is legal in some states, but it’s a legal­ity that is imprac­ti­cally in con­flict with fed­eral law.  It’s so con­vo­luted that Lewis Car­roll might have come up with it while smok­ing opium. And as atti­tudes toward pot have relaxed, we’re left with some glar­ing hypocrisies.  Many of the peo­ple who run the gov­ern­ment that still crim­i­nal­izes pot have smoked it.  Obama’s smoked it.  Bush prob­a­bly did, based on the way he avoided the ques­tion.  Clin­ton at least pre­tended to.  Pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates rou­tinely admit smok­ing it. There’s so much wink­ing and smil­ing about it on the one hand that it’s some­times hard to remem­ber that peo­ple still go to jail for pos­ses­sion, as Stam­per points out. It’s this hypocrisy, in part, that makes this such an issue for him, he said.  How many of the peo­ple in posi­tions of author­ity have a lit­tle pot-smoking in their own back­ground  an expe­ri­ence that, had they been caught, might have changed the course of their life for no good rea­son? That galls me,  Stam­per said.  It’s just galling to me that we can pre­side over this sys­tem of law and law enforce­ment crim­i­nal­iz­ing behav­ior that very promi­nent Amer­i­cans par­tic­i­pated in when they were younger. Stam­per tells one more story from his early days as a cop.  He and his wife were help­ing take care of a friend, a young woman sick with kid­ney dis­ease.  As she neared the end of her life she died in her 30s  she started say­ing smok­ing mar­i­juana was help­ing her appetite, allow­ing her to keep food down, mak­ing her feel bet­ter.  Stam­per told her to keep it away from him and wouldn’t help her get it. But other than that, he sup­ported her fully. She was not a crim­i­nal, he said. Source: Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA) Copy­right: 2012 The Spokesman-Review Con­tact: editor@​spokesman.​com Web­site: http://​www​.spokesman​.com/ Author: Shawn Vestal

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