Can You Sell Pot? Go Ask Your Mother!

What you permit, you promote. I received a swift demonstration of this lesson when I was a high school principal. During Breast Cancer Awareness Week I chose to ignore a student’s T-shirt sporting a smiley face declaring, “I Love Breasts!” He was a good kid after all. Happy go lucky. His shirt reflected breast cancer awareness, right? Next day, a half dozen of his buddies donned similar shirts, now depicting happy hands reaching toward the breasts they loved. By the end of the week, awash in inappropriate references to healthy breasts and all that affection, I learned another lesson: It’s a whole lot easier to loosen up than it is to tighten up.

It looks like the federal government is about to be schooled in those two truisms. The Justice Department practiced benign neglect when Californians and voters in other states made it legal to cultivate and sell medical marijuana. They did nothing, thereby promoting the actions of enterprising vendors who established dispensaries across the country. Sure enough, business boomed and expanded into lucrative markets. “Research and Development” introduced new, improved products. All aspects of the marijuana industry flourished, from cultivation to sales. One Northern California dispensary reports selling $51 million worth of medical marijuana between 2004 and 2007. It paid no sales tax, citing the state law exempting prescribed medicines.

Even President Obama declared he had little interest in going after state policies related to legalized cannabis in spite of the fact that they contradict federal laws. Why? Civics 101 taught us that states can make laws stricter than federal laws, but not more lax. Yet Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder gave the issue low priority. OK. Just look the other way.

Now, after15 years of inattention, the Feds have wakened from their benevolent snooze. And they woke up cranky. U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said, “[Prop. 215 was intended] to allow marijuana to be supplied to seriously ill people on a nonprofit basis, but it has been hijacked by people who are in this to get rich.”

You can see she’s shocked. Seriously.

This week, the Justice Department notified dozens of California’s dispensary owners, as well as residential, commercial, and agricultural property owners involved in activities deemed to be drug trafficking, warning them to cease such operations within 45 days or face consequences, including bank account and property seizure, civil lawsuits, and criminal prosecutions.

“These actions should surprise no one,” the Justice Department said. “[The DOJ is] simply making good on the threats they’ve been issuing for years.” Like the permissive parent who warns and warns and warns a child, but fails to follow through, they’ve now reached a threshold and lost their temper. Let the punishment begin.

That’s the unpleasant business of tightening up. Reason doesn’t always prevail when you’re trying to save face.

In the name of logic, and at the risk of showing my naiveté, I wonder why isn’t medical marijuana dispensed from pharmacies? No other drug prescribed by a doctor can be sold from a dispensary unless it’s a licensed, regulated pharmacy. Even those who might object to recreational use of the drug accept its medicinal benefits. At the very least, the medical community itself endorses marijuana as an alternative to mainstream drug therapy.

So, why is it OK for those patients to acquire their medicine out of a storefront? Why is it acceptable for those patients to fire up their Maui Wowie on the premises, essentially getting high in public? Oops, we can all stop at the drinking fountain and take our pills. We can even get high at the brewpub without so much as a fare-thee-well. Best not to cast those stones.

The better question is: Why must they buy their prescribed treatment in sometimes unsavory and unsafe circumstances? If my grandma has glaucoma, why does she have to traverse the unkempt masses to secure her legally prescribed remedy? (Why do so many medical marijuana patients seem unkempt?) That’s just wrong.

Somebody needs to step up and be a parent, er, leader. Define your terms: what’s legal, what’s not? What’s medicinal, what’s recreational? Set clear expectations and realistic, enforceable consequences. Then do what you said you would do.

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