The Russ Belville Show

Now that marijuana legalization has passed in two states, it will be interesting to see how the battle for medical marijuana plays out in legislatures and initiatives nationwide. As the movement started in the 1990s, opponents claimed it was “the camel’s nose under the tent” for legalization, a “Trojan horse”, they called it.

Well, if it was a “Trojan horse”, it was made of glass, because medical marijuana IS marijuana legalization. Just for a limited subset of its consumers. Still, for that gap of 30% of the people who can look the other way if a cancer patient smokes a joint but feel compelled to punish a healthy person over marijuana, having two medical marijuana states pass marijuana legalization is going to make the “no, really, it’s only for sick people” talking point impossible to sustain.

Unless medical marijuana reformers go out of their way to make sure that it really is only for sick people by ensuring only the very sickest can get it after clearing some very high hurdles.

That’s the theory of the medical marijuana “Box Canyon”. It’s the idea that if you fight only for medical marijuana, marijuana has to become increasingly medical. Medical marijuana laws have to become increasingly restrictive in order to “keep the potheads out”.

It’s a look at the trends in medical marijuana legislation from 1996-2012, where we went from a California with hardly any limits on medical use to a New Jersey, where it’s almost three years since the law passed and patients, who have just recently gotten registry cards, are forbidden to grow at home, have no place yet to shop for medicine, and when they do, they will have the choice of three varieties of

It also takes into account the rapidly developing field of cannabinoid pharmaceuticals, the development and approval of which will neuter much of the argument for medical marijuana as a plant patients grow for themselves. When patients can get a spray or inhaler that works as well, as fast as plant marijuana, and is legal and covered by health insurance, what incentive will there be for passing a medical marijuana law or initiative?

Now certainly medical marijuana in Colorado and Washington opened people’s minds to a different frame of marijuana, something other than “dope”, and that helped to pass marijuana legalization. It should be noted, however, that in both states, it was activists always dedicated to marijuana legalization and not just medical marijuana who led the successful legalization campaigns and the primary opposition to legalization came from the activists who’ve always been devoted to medical marijuana.

The Box Canyon isn’t just that medical marijuana gets stricter and that we’re driving our issue into the hands of Big Pharma. It’s also that we’ve intentionally divided our political base and created an interest group vested in keeping us in the medical marijuana canyon. I can’t think of a single “legalizer” that ever campaigned against a medical marijuana law, but I can name plenty of “medicalizers” who campaigned against a legalization law. It’s also fostered in that interest group an almost holy reverence for marijuana that precludes rational compromise for political gain.

In previous posts on the Box Canyon, I’ve noted how possession limits that are 1.5 pounds in the Pacific Northwest have dwindled to 1 or 2 ounces in the latest medical marijuana states. Where most states allow patients to grow some plants for themselves, the latest states force patients to shop at dispensaries. Chronic pain in the latest states gets harder and harder to qualify for.

However, there have been some improvements of late. Most of the newer bills include protections for patients against discrimination in employment, housing, child custody, and organ transplants. Many are excluding patients from DUID charges for marijuana metabolites. Some are including reciprocity for other states’ medical marijuana patients to protect them from arrest when they visit. These are all superior clauses to what can be found in the earliest medical marijuana states. The problem is most Western patients would have trouble qualifying for medical marijuana under these newer laws.

So what’s happening now? Illinois is looking at a medical marijuana bill that allows 2oz possession and 3 mature / 3 immature plants, going by Oregon’s absurd definition that a plant >12″ tall is “mature”, even if not budding. It contains the usual qualifying conditions (cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, etc.) but chronic pain or nausea can only qualify if you’ve tried every other option first and they’ve failed (or as I call it, “medicine of last resort”.) It features reciprocity for out-of-state patients. It protects against the discriminations listed above. Amendments to the bill include a three-year sunset clause, prohibition of driving within twelve hours of cannabis use, forbidding dispensaries from making campaign contributions, and sets up a non-refundable $5,000 application fee for dispensaries plus another $20,000 for their license.

In New York, patients could possess 2.5oz, but could only grow up to 12 plants if they live more than 25 miles away from a dispensary. This is the “halo rule” created by MPP for the Arizona 2010 medical marijuana law. Thanks to that provision, patients in Phoenix and Tucson who have been growing for two years now are forced to take down their gardens because dispensaries have finally been approved for those cities. However, New York is including a hardship provision for home growers who qualify.

Ohio has put together a very broad medical bill, with 6oz (200g) and 12 plants allowed, including a scientifically accurate description of a mature plant. It includes all the standard conditions for medical marijuana qualification and a few not included in many early medical marijuana states. It includes reciprocity and most discrimination protections except organ transplants.

Pennsylvania is considering a bill that allows for 1oz and 6 plants and includes dispensaries. It includes the standard list of qualifying conditions and nothing in the way of discrimination protection.

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