Pot leads to confusion

Nicholas Thimmesch II Media and Communications Consultant
Font Size:

If the byzantine “health care reform” legislation put forth by President Obama and his willing accomplices in Congress wound up running more than 2,500 pages, putting to shame the complications of Hillary Clinton’s previous government health care chart—worthy of Rube Goldberg—as well the current U.S. Tax Code (the IRS Web site features this disclaimer, “Finally, the IRC is complex and its sections must be read in the context of the entire code and the court decisions that interpret it.”) then imagine how complicated laws pertaining to the legalization of marijuana are and will be in America.

What can be made of the recent spat of conflicting arrests or lack of prosecution by law enforcement authorities—both federal and local—of so-called medicinal marijuana patients nationwide?

Indeed, gone are the days when a single “joint” could get you life in “the joint” in Texas, and nationally, public support for marijuana laws reform has “hit” an all time “high” (there, is that enough “pot” jargon?). From the Web site of NORML (the seminal National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) comes the following:

“Pew: Broad Public Support for Legalizing Medical Marijuana. No fooling. On Friday, April 1st the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released a report looking at both public support for medicinal access to cannabis as well as the larger issue of legalization. The results of the Pew survey confirm previous NORML reports about the overall popularity of cannabis law reform despite 73-years of cannabis prohibition, (that) strong and undeniable public support now exists nationwide for medical patients having access to cannabis (and) a fast growing plurality of Americans now support outright legalization of cannabis.”

But arrests, or if one is lucky enough to be in such a state, citations, for both “recreational” and “medicinal” possession of marijuana remain at record “highs”: over 800,000 arrests in 2008 according to the FBI.

Confusion abounds: “medicinal” marijuana “patients” blindly believe they are executing their legal right to possession in the dozen plus states that allow for “medical” marijuana; efforts by law enforcement in those and other states are stymied if their arrests for possession get thrown out of court; “medicinal marijuana” dispensaries flourish throughout the Golden State (a multi-million-dollar-a-year ”industry”) but many are still being shut down; and I can’t tell you the number of people who have said to me, “Pot’s legal in California.”

In many ways, “medicinal marijuana” laws have not empowered or clarified, rather, they have created a mare’s nest for law enforcement, “patients” and the courts.

Witness a recent headline and story from the Associated Press: “Many Felony Pot Cases Getting Tossed Out Of Court”:

“Police in a northern California town thought they had an open-and-shut case when they seized more than two pounds of marijuana from a couple’s home, even though doctors authorized the pair to use pot for medical purposes.

San Francisco police thought the same with a father and son team they suspected of abusing the state’s medical marijuana law by allegedly operating an illegal trafficking operation.

But both cases were tossed out along with many other marijuana possession cases in recent weeks because of a California Supreme Court ruling that has police, prosecutors and defense attorneys scrambling to make sense of a gray legal area: What is the maximum amount of cannabis a medical marijuana patient can possess?

No one can say for sure how many dismissals and acquittals have been prompted by the ruling, but the numbers are stacking up since the Supreme Court on Jan. 21 tossed out Patrick Kelly’s marijuana possession conviction.

The high court struck down a 7-year-old state law that imposed an 8-ounce limit on the amount of pot medical users of marijuana could possess. The court said patients are entitled to a “reasonable” amount of the drug to treat their ailments.

Law enforcement officials say the ruling has made the murky legal landscape of marijuana policy in California even more challenging to enforce.”

Keith Stroup, the ageless founder and current legal counsel to NORML sums it up this way:

“The Kelly case made a distinction between the terms of Prop 215, which they say only provides an affirmative defense, but does leave the possibility that those with large amounts of medical marijuana can try to convince the court that they needed that amount, regardless of the limit; and SB 420, the piece of legislation that attempted to implement Prop 215, by saying that authorized patients were permitted to have maybe up to 6 plants and 8 ounces of medical marijuana.

The court said that SB 420 established the amount that authorized patients should not even be arrested for; but that those with larger quantities could still be arrested and put to trial, but they would have an affirmative defense, if they could demonstrate their legitimate need for the larger quantity.”

Huh? This is sort of like having to make an “affirmative defense” for purchasing and possessing 50 cases of Excedrin because you never know how bad of a headache you might have in a number of given months. If a substance is supposedly a legal one for “medicinal” purposes, what difference can it make how much one stockpiles? How much is too much?

And then there is the incremental approach to “recreational” marijuana possession arrests. This from The Philadelphia Inquirer:

“Philadelphia to ease marijuana penalty”

“The city’s new district attorney and the state Supreme Court are moving to all but decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use in an effort to unclog Philadelphia’s crowded court dockets.

Under a policy to take effect later this month, prosecutors will charge such cases as summary offenses rather than as misdemeanors. People arrested with up to 30 grams of the drug – slightly more than an ounce – may have to pay a fine but face no risk of a criminal record.

“We have to be smart on crime,” said District Attorney Seth Williams, who took office in January. “We can’t declare a war on drugs by going after the kid who’s smoking a joint on 55th Street. We have to go after the large traffickers.”

The shift is a major move in a reform agenda being hammered out in an unusual partnership between Williams and two members of the state Supreme Court, Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and Justice Seamus P. McCaffery, each of whom has a long background in criminal justice.

The goal is to sweep about 3,000 small-time marijuana cases annually out of the main court system, freeing prosecutors and judges to devote time to more serious crimes. The diverted cases amount to about 5 percent of the caseload in criminal court.

Police have been briefed on the policy shift, but appear less than enthusiastic about it.

“We’re not going stop locking people up,” Lt. Frank Vanore, a police spokesman, said Friday. He said marijuana possession remained illegal.”

What if you have company in town to attend a Black Crowes concert and expect lot’s of “Phillie Blunts” smoking to take place? How much is too much?

Meanwhile, associated marijuana issues plague users throughout America: drug-testing in the workplace makes it impossible for many otherwise worthy people able to obtain a decent job (“We Drug Test” is a more frequent sign that “We’re Hiring” these days); poor Tommy Chong spent time in the slammer just for being linked to a bong distributor; watch “COPS” on any given Saturday night and you will see suspects acting suspicious because they have but grams of marijuana in their possession; and the ONDCP (Office of National Drug Control Policy) under both Bushies, Clinton and now under Obama administration caveat still run multi-million dollars worth of ads scorning marijuana use at taxpayers’ expense.

The myth of the “Reefer Madness” mentality about marijuana has been fully exposed to the American people: current and past presidents from Clinton to Obama have either admitted to or likely have smoked marijuana. Some actually inhaled. Deaths attributed to marijuana overdoses remain a very flat zero. Marijuana smoking remains a staple in our movies and television shows (Showtime even has an entire program devoted to it named “Weeds”). Journey from New York’s Central Park to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park on a Saturday afternoon and one can smell the smoking of marijuana where they soon might not be able to smell tobacco cigarettes. You, your kids, or even your parents are likely to have smoked or know someone who has smoked marijuana.

Still, there is seemingly no one, single answer to addressing the use of marijuana other than this: Marijuana is an ancient, innocuous plant that has been smoked for millenniums.

It is not going to go away and is more popular among Americans than ever.

The criminalization of marijuana in the U.S. has created a huge, powerful and often violent force of “cartels” and other outlets in order to satisfy America’s craving for pot.

The current state of laws, enforcement, and judicial proceedings are in constant confusion and disarray.

Within the marijuana laws reform movement, there is an emerging conflict: legalization vs. decriminalization.

The legalization advocates point to the costs of law enforcement and lost revenue that could be garnered via taxation. They are willing for the government to regulate, tax and control marijuana as long as it’s “legal”. Basically, it’s a “Will you leave us alone if we pay taxes?” approach, which while pragmatic and more likely to be accepted by the American people (who are always being told by government we’re broke and need more taxes), just further empowers the government.

Then there are the decriminalization advocates who view marijuana as a benign substance, one no different than say, tea or sage; that consumers should be able to grow their own for whatever purposes or amounts they deem; that taxation and regulation is unwarranted, creates another arbitrary government bureaucracy, resulting in more uncertainty or intrusion; and most of all: It just ain’t the government’s damn business.

Although I admire and respect the many, many good people of the marijuana reform movement who have valiantly fought our marijuana laws for decades and are now willing to accept “legalization” over “decriminalization” for pragmatic reasons, I remain among those who believe that “legalization” will only further compound confusion, empower government taxation and control, and that basically, it’s not just a substance we are talking about here, it is the freedom from government intrusion.

Nicholas Thimmesch II, son of the late Los Angeles Times columnist Nick Thimmesch, is a longtime media and communications consultant to numerous campaigns, government representatives and public policy organizations, serving in the Reagan White House as a staff writer.