OPINION: Marijuana Can Fix Our Economy

June 18, 2012, 5:58 AM HST · Updated June 29, 11:34 AM
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By Nate Gaddis

File image courtesy University of Minnesota.

In another 20 years, all this nonsense will go up in smoke.

The disconnect between federal laws against marijuana usage and the increasingly tolerant views of Americans toward pot will most certainly melt away over time.

For now though, most politicians at the national level still feel the need to present themselves as overgrown altar boys, despite many being perfectly nimble joint-rollers (President Obama included). Despite the muscle memory in their fingers, many exhibit total brain-freeze when asked about their views on pot.

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Short of a sudden infusion of courage and candor at our nation’s capital, the jolly green giant will remain “he who must not be named.” At present, it’s up to the states to start their own grass-roots efforts to loosen law enforcement’s misguided grip on marijuana.

Opponents of the drug usage usually cite the danger of increased crime as their main reason for policing pot. But crime takes a little something called “energy.”

It’s no surprise that a recent study by UCLA found no increase in the likelihood of criminal activity in neighborhoods with marijuana dispensaries. Most full-blown stoners are too laid back to bother with purse-snatching, and their getaway plans usually involve watching lots of cartoons.

The perceived dangers of addiction and dependency are another battle-cry for those that wish to weed out pot. But if math really matters to them, perhaps they should take a deep breath. Despite the loosening of restrictions on its usage, the number of Americans smoking marijuana remained virtually unchanged between 2002 and 2008, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

But for a nation that’s laws are increasingly going green, Hawaii’s climate for cannabis is a relatively stagnant one.

The aloha state blazed a bit of a trail (so to speak) when it began a medical marijuana program in the year 2000, which as of 2010 had over 8,000 participants (it is also the first state to pass a medicinal marijuana law via the legislature, rather than referendum). But Hawaii’s licensing system has failed to evolve after its inspired start.

Unlike California, Hawaii’s medical marijuana licenses take a long time to attain, with minimal program resources and clunky medical records requirements leading to a backlog of requests. Recipients also have limited access to the drug, having to grow the plants themselves in limited quantities rather than purchasing them from a dispensary. A lack of ready availability leads some to purchase their supplies illegally.

Regulating the program is left up to the Department of Public Safety, Narcotics Enforcement Division (NED), not the Department of Health. With much more addictive and potentially fatal substances being handed out at pharmacies, it’s a little bizarre that the NED is being fully vested with policing medicinal pot use while thousands of people are abusing oxycontin.

The Hawaii Medical Association, although neutral over the state laws governing marijuana use, supports changing marijuana to a Schedule 3 classification, away from its current Schedule 1 assignment. Schedule 1 drugs must technically be addictive, unsafe to use, and have no medical purpose.

Big Island residents, for their part, are largely indifferent to marijuana usage. A 2008 measure to make the enforcement of anti-pot laws the “lowest law enforcement priority” passed by a margin of over 10,000 votes. The future of the relatively new legislation doesn’t appear bright though, with recent court decisions effectively ruling against it.

It’s time our state Legislature took the lead on this issue again. Streamline the process for medical marijuana licenses and hand over regulation to the Department of Health. Allow the opening of dispensaries and begin taxing the distribution of the substance.

Our own president glided through grade school on a cloud of Hawaiian cannabis, only to condemn its usage when politically convenient. That may still be necessary for the oval office, but our state legislators can be a little more practical.

We’ve got a hole in our budget, and the perfect substance to pack it with.

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