Medicinal and Recreational Use

Marijuana is steadily winning supporters and grateful patients.  The recreational use of marijuana is now permitted in 7 states (AK, CA, CO, ME, MA, NV and OR) and the medicinal use is permitted in 29 states.  In 1969, 12% of Americans thought marijuana use should be legal; today, 58% want it to be legal.  A handful have not moved beyond “Reefer Madness.

Contrary to legend and recent warnings, there is no evidence that marijuana is evil, causes debauchery, or promotes gangs of lazy or unemployed potheads.  Where recreational use of marijuana is permitted by the state, there are no queues of eager customers waiting to enter the “dispensary.”  There are rarely billboards pointing to dispensaries.  Advertising seems limited to the back pages of community tabloids.  Consumption seems limited to homes, although the aroma is sometimes evident at mellow outdoor music concerts.

One component in marijuana called THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) can alleviate anxiety or pain, and can cause euphoria, a sense of well-being and relaxation.  THC delivers the “high” effects favored for recreational use.  Marijuana users must not drive an automobile while “under the influence,” much as with alcohol use.  When overused or abused, marijuana can lead to dependency.  Some speculate that marijuana is a gateway drug, leading to use of more harmful drugs, but the evidence seems vapor thin.

Marijuana’s common medical uses include treating for nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, pain, tingling, numbness from nerve damage and mood and sleep problems.  Control of nausea and vomiting are especially useful for those using chemotherapy.  Marijuana is also used in the control of Glaucoma, Epileptic seizures, the pain of Multiple Sclerosis and Dravet Syndrome.  A marijuana component called Cannabidiol (CBD) has reduced severe epileptic strokes by 44%.

By comparison to the hayday of the hippie era, today’s marijuana is about 3 times stronger and adjusting for inflation, it is cheaper.  The developers and growers exert better control over the strains in cultivation.  Where it is lawful to grow, they can use modern farming techniques and equipment, make better use of sunlight and irrigation, and they no longer need to hide in the forest, facing the risk of crop destruction by state and local law enforcement.

Including Colorado taxes of 10% at retail and 15% wholesale, an ounce of high quality recreational marijuana is priced around $150 to $300.  A single joint is priced at about $5.  Twenty THC-infused edible “mints” (5 mg of THC each) are priced at $22, and they must not appeal to children.  Items purchased for medicinal use (with a state-issued card) do not incur taxes.

The federal government had not been focusing on marijuana since Obama quietly decided to focus on other topics.  Twenty-nine states have lightened enforcement and legalized medical use.  Those 7 states permitting recreational use have imposed regulations on the cultivation of marijuana for personal use and on retail sales.  State-licensed outlets must restrict their sales area to adults whose identity and age have been verified.  Licensed marijuana outlets must limit their stock to marijuana-related items (e.g. dry leaf, oils and edibles), and the outlets must limit the amount of marijuana an individual can purchase to the equivalent of 100mg per day.

Since the federal government still regards marijuana as unlawful to possess, cultivate or trade, funds derived from those businesses can be seized by federal law enforcement.  Banks cannot accept deposits from those merchants without exposing themselves to disciplinary action by their federal regulators (e.g. the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Reserve Board, or the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency).  As a result, merchants have to devise ways to secure the cash that they earn.  The difficulty of dealing with piles of cash has led merchants to pay cash for cars, snowmobiles or other items that they can sell in a nearby state.  The sale receipt establishes a source for the cash or the bank check that they deposit.  It has been suggested that drug cartels are eager to help launder the money that federal regulations make difficult for the marijuana industry to manage.

In early January 2018, Attorney General Sessions announced he “is rescinding the Cole memo, which reflected the Department of Justice’s relatively passive policy under the Obama administration since August 2013 on enforcement of federal cannabis laws.”  For that change in policy, Sessions was met with harsh bipartisan criticism from federal Senators and state governors in states that have legalized marijuana use.  They point out that marijuana is a benign source for medicines and a needed source for tax revenues.

Despite Session’s announcement, marijuana is likely to be welcomed in more states, and receive political backing. It is unlikely that anti-marijuana pronouncements will upend the developments that patients and consumers have made so far.

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