While the Best Coast has just about legalized the growth & sale of cannabis from the Mexican to Canadian borders, us poor unfortunate souls stuck in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and what’s traditionally thought of as the Deep South, remain mired in drug reform purgatory. In New York state, medical cannabis laws allow for purchase of concentrates, edibles and, non-plant matter containing products that have THC/CBD, but dispensaries are few & far between, and there is a steep fee to obtain an MMJ license. In Massachusetts, cannabis became legal a full year before dispensaries are allowed to open, providing legal cover to people who can already access the stuff, while propagating the same patterns of arrest and harassment of gray/black market channels as before the law was passed. We’ve seen similar patterns of arrest for dealers who don’t play by the “tax stamp” rules in Colorado, but Washington DC takes the cake when it comes to cannabis market dysfunction.
In Washington DC, cannabis was legalized, but a congressional committee gets to review all laws the District of Columbia passes. Some asshole named Andy Harris, an anesthesiologist member of the “Freedom Caucus” who opposes the cannabis legalization, got a rider passed that prohibited DC from spending cash on figuring out how to tax or regulate pot. So, it remains legal to possess, but illegal to buy or sell. While this is one of the dumbest things you’ll hear all month, that hasn’t stopped DC. Businesses all over the city have started selling mugs, t-shirts, calendars, and tons of other swag with “a little something.” With DC police in no hurry to stamp out anything but the most in your face abuse of this system, we’re starting to see what happens when something that starts as Mutual Aid or gifting, turns into a market economy.
With the country currently gripped in fear that ACA will be repealed, I’ve started to ponder what options will be left for Americans in the throes of physical dependency if the cuts to medical/addiction funding are as deep as the ones currently being floated. While some proponents of the 21st Century Cures Act note that there’s been a scheduled $1 billion increase in funding for treatment, a repeal would remove at least $5.5 billion in funding to almost 3 million people suffering from substance use disorders. As dozens of states grapple with ever-increasing rates of opiate addiction and overdose, states that have legalized cannabis have discovered something startling.
A study published in the Journal of Pain by a trio of researchers out of the University of Michigan documents a reduction in opiate consumption in Chronic Pain patients who use cannabis. Specifically, medical cannabis uses was associated with a 64% reduction in opioid use. Additionally, 45% of the patients (118 out of the 244 sampled), reported reduced side effect frequency & intensity. In states that have medical marijuana available for their citizens, drivers between the age of 21 and 40 who were killed driving accidents tested positive for opiates significantly less often than drivers of the same age in states that didn’t have medical marijuana available. For example, Montana saw a 1.7% reduction in the number of drivers who tested positive for opioids after their MMJ laws went into effect. And that’s just numbers associated with people behind the wheel. When we evaluate the effect of cannabis consumption on opiate overdoses, the evidence becomes even more compelling.
A caveat: things are heading in the right direction in places where cannabis has been legalized for recreational use for adults. We can all agree that Colorado, Washington, Alaska & the District of Columbia didn’t become the pot-drenched “Beyond Thunderdome” dystopias that pearl clutchers & puritans envisioned. My aim is not to deride legalization efforts, nor question the dedication or motives of anyone associated with the fight to get America’s head out of its ass. Because Burning Man can be seen as a laboratory for progressive thinking & ways of living, and because a lot of Burners live in states that are currently grappling with the “how” instead of the “if” of legalization, medicalization or decrmininalization, I felt compelled to mention them. We’re legalizing in uneven steps across the country, which has brought us into unknown economic, cultural & law enforcement territory and produced some worrying side effects. Continue reading →