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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Proposition 19 & the Wild West

So, Proposition 19 has been and gone and the road to marijuana regulation was missed by the Californian populace.  Some may see this as a loss for harm reduction and regulation, and without wishing to sound like a dribblerly politician who emphatically pronounces victory as he cleans out his desk and pets the office fish one last time before being removed forcibly from office;

“I told you I won!  Please let me stay, just for one more day?”

“No, but here’s your fish.  Enjoy.”

…this is by no means a step back in the effort for regulation.  To understand why, you have to understand the “cannabis fraternity” of America.  The situation in the UK and California are leagues apart, we’re humming on the same issues, but we are not whistling the same tunes.

The UK is now firmly the proverbial wild west with cannabis in a literal sense, it has become as feral as prohibition America in the 1920's, we have the same degree of gang involvement, (although maybe not as high profile but no less dangerous) and we have the same by-products of the health fallout and distinct lack of health education. Not to mention the crucial point of quality control on the substance itself.

In California, and North America in general, marijuana is not the enigma that the UK still loosely tries to portray.  The substance is so mainstream that all other arguments in the debate are futile.  The stance of “It’s here, it's prevalent, how are we to deal with it” is now the full debate.  This is also true of the UK, but we still chose our best King Canute act.

For decades, California has been the unofficial home of marijuana, and its leap into medicinal cannabis was somewhat abused.  Many true medical campaigners, although pleased access was granted to non toxic mediation, many felt that the Californian model didn’t do any favours for anyone but the actual state itself.  Todd McCormick, (a prolific figure amongst medicinal cannabis campaigners who served 5 years in prison despite defeating numerous different cancers with cannabis) spoke of the mockery of the Californian model recently.  The ease and malaise of the prescribing doctors of California may have diminished respect for the true issue of medical use.  This is purely the result of a lazy attempt of regulation due to the politics that inevitably run alongside of the subject.  It’s also worth noting that indolent regulation has not fully appeased the gang problems of California.

The reason the marijuana proposition was not passed is not due to a left and right issue of political gesticulation, it’s not based on health and related campaigns, it was based purely on who gets control of cannabis and the profits.  When the Tea Party and Sarah Palin (perhaps one of the furthest right in the U.S) back the regulation of cannabis, you know this is no longer a battle of politics, this is a battle in capitalistic terms.

Abstainers of the vote included:

The student vote who didn’t care one way or another, being de facto legal anyway, they did not see it as any degree of change.

Then we have the actual cannabis community; feeling protective over the plant due to the rocky history with politics and big business, saying no to prop 19 was a vote for personal empowerment and to deflect big business away from marijuana.  Proposition 19 was also seen as path that would directly effect product quality detrimentally, and consequently, health.  The whole debate was indeed turned on its head and fragmented.  When viewed from the polls of 46.2% for - 53.8% against, this paints one picture, but when on the ground and embroiled in the issue, the disjointed cannabis community were the breakers of Prop 19 - it was seen as not good enough by a weighty portion of voters.  Not to mention a conflict of interest for existing cash croppers.

Cannabis in California and North America tends to be viewed cheekily and many users are blazon in their use, celebrity culture also surrounds cannabis.  Marijuana is talked about openly, and therefore, is not feared and perspective has been reached on responsibility of user.  Although many would not consider marijuana a problem in North America, the fragmented laws and lack of regulatory consistency may be the point of contention and harm.

Comparing the UK to this, and the distinct lack of understanding due to the cries of “heretic” any time it's up for discussion and debate, the consequences are tragically inventible.  We have entered the dark ages, and as said, the UK is now the wild west.  Due to the UK’s totalitarian ethic with cannabis, information has been the casualty.

What is the specific difference between California and the UK?  Well, to know cannabis is to know how to reduce potential harm.  Basic emplacements are needed.  In essence, California have a quasi age check system through their less than perfect model, and any user will be aware of simple factors;

  • Dosage
  • What strain (there are thousands)
  • What THC and CBD content
  • Harvesting traits
  • Ingestion methods and potency therein.

If you do not know these factors, then you do not know cannabis; therefore, you should not ingest.  I ask, how many in the UK are actually aware of these simple measures?  California, to a degree, have always had this baseline knowledge, and certainly have with their current existing system.

It is also interesting how we talk of the same subject with our American cousins, but each country has differing media weapons.  The UK focuses mainly on the word “psychosis” whereas America’s version is that marijuana kills brain cells, this is mainly due to the Rupert Heath study on monkeys in 1974.  [8 minutes in]

The Heath study turned out to be a tragic exercise in trying to make the facts fit the picture as opposed to the actuality of scientific study; the monkeys tested were starved of oxygen to achieve the desired and decisive result.  Pseudo-science is transatlantic.

So, it is a strange world we live in where social perspectives are awry from all manner of outlooks, California rejected a model of regulation due to it not being good enough while the UK adopt the burying of the head stance.  Neither are perfect, but at least the former model of California addresses personal harms of users and abates accordingly - and dare I say it - act as grown ups.  Whereas the UK’s method of full and undulated prohibition adds exponentially to the potential harm.

If there is one thing that can be agreeable, it is that big business should not get a hold or be involved in cannabis, this is not a wise move for anyone.  So, proposition 19 has failed, and for some strange angles of reason; unless of course, we negate the power of the alcohol lobby… I wonder.  I wonder...

One thing is for sure though, when the UK paper - The Daily Mail - put out a well reasoned, logical and progressive piece for regulation, you know change is coming.  The lessons to be learned from California is to get regulation right and you won’t have to mop up the insidious loose ends of half measures.

Perhaps Britain is set to lead the way after all...


  1. You make a good point about needing to get it right. Clearly, changing policy is not an easy task. Public and political opinion are one thing, but if we create a(nother) legal drugs industry with vested interests we'll also be fighting that if we ever want to change policy.

  2. Interesting read HGO. I never knew the Daily Fail could write a well reasoned logical and progressive piece of writing for anything, never mind go against the cannabis scaremongering they've been getting away with for years, if thats the case maybe there is change on the horizon.

    Not sure if we need the level of knowledge that Californians appear to have to legalise it, that would be more for the regulation of production rather than for the consumer as i would assume anybody prescribed it would be told what to take and the recreational smoker would be more concerned with strength, type/quality of stone and flavour.
    The Dutch and Portuguese seem to have handled decriminalisation pretty well so maybe we should base our policies on theirs