Puff, puff, pass

Clark County commissioners voted this week to extend a moratorium on allowing collective medical marijuana gardens, but they can’t just pass it off forever.

The issue was passed to them by the state, which said collective pot gardens for patients are legal but local governments need to figure out the messy details.

Among things most people really don’t want in their neighborhood? A legal grow operation.

Kathryn Wells Murdock, attorney for Vancouver Public Schools, spoke during Tuesday’s public hearing. She asked commissioners to not allow gardens within 500 feet of any elementary or secondary school or along any established route students use to get to school.

Is it conceivable that students would consider such a garden a U-pick? Yes, she said. And if a student shows up at school with Schedule 1 drug? The student will be suspended, she said. (Apparently the “but I picked it at a government-sanctioned garden” excuse won’t work.)

Murdock was the only speaker, of about a half-dozen people, who made a helpful suggestion for commissioners about potential zoning.

Other people talked about how the government, by regulating the gardens, is implying to kids that smoking pot is harmless.

Mike Cooke, commander of the Clark-Skamania Drug Task Force, spoke of problems that have cropped up because of medical marijuana and Sondra Storm of Prevent!, the county’s substance abuse prevention coalition, said more youth smoke marijuana than tobacco.

Clay Mosher, a sociology professor at WSU Vancouver, attended the hearing but didn’t speak. Instead, he sent the following email to Commissioner Marc Boldt:

From: Mosher, Clayton
Sent: Wednesday, August 17, 2011 7:53 AM
To: ‘Boldt, Marc’
Subject: medical marijuana issues

Marc: I debated whether it would be useful for me to speak at yesterday’s hearing, as you know, I ultimately decided not to.

However, I would like to raise just a few points that I think are important as the county moves forward with this, and as you and Commissioners Mielke and Stuart struggle with the “what to do” problem. Let me begin by stating that I have great respect for Mike Cooke, Sondra Storm, and Bill Smith (all of whom I know quite well from CMAT/CDAT and other meetings); I also of course respect the citizens who testified yesterday.

However, I do think it is important to clarify that the medical marijuana issue is not as “black and white” as it was portrayed yesterday. And, as I tell my students “the plural of anecdote is not evidence.” I am basing these comments on my review of research on the issue, some of which appears in my book DRUGS AND DRUG POLICY (I am currently writing a 2nd edition of this book). I should also state that, although it may appear to be otherwise, I am not advocating for marijuana legalization – I just believe there needs to be some balance here.

1) research on marijuana’s medical uses

I believe one of the citizens who testified yesterday stated that there were “20,000 studies” indicating that marijuana has no medical uses. I am not sure where this figure came from, but it is more than just a bit misleading. My review of the literature indicates that while there are certainly studies indicating no benefits, there are just as many that suggest the opposite. It is also important to note that marijuana has been used medicinally for literally hundreds of years. Of course, you as County Commissioners are not the ones who decide whether or not marijuana has medicinal uses, but I do think it is important for you to be informed that again, the issue is not as cut and dried as it was portrayed.

This is the fairly recent American Medical Association statement on marijuana, which supports further research on medical marijuana, and, perhaps more importantly suggests that the substance be removed from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (an argument which has been made by many for several years).


2) marijuana as gateway drug

This is an argument that first appeared in the 1950s, and it is at least somewhat problematic.

Below is a link to an article that appeared in Time magazine on the ‘marijuana as a gateway drug’ issue. It is important to note that, as this and other articles have pointed out, there is nothing inherent in the pharmacological properties of marijuana that leads individuals to other drugs – instead, it is largely the fact that it must be purchased in illicit markets. And while it is true that a high percentage of ‘hard drug’ (cocaine, heroin, meth) users have used marijuana, it is NOT true that a high percentage of marijuana users end up using hard drugs. (there is also evidence from the Netherlands, where people, including young people, have relatively easy access to marijuana in “controlled” settings (i.e., ‘coffee shops’). The rates of hard drug use in the Netherlands are among the lowest of all Western nations.


3) “the marijuana available today is not your father’s marijuana” (i.e., the thc content is higher)

This is true, although again, it is important not to overstate the case. It’s also important to note that the higher THC content is a direct result of non-regulation of the substance (i.e., because alcohol is regulated, we know the alcohol content of various types of alcoholic beverages).

4) Commissioner Stuart’s comments (perhaps partially, at least, ‘tongue in cheek’) that you as commissioners could be charged by the feds were intriguing. Given what has happened in other states, I suspect this is unlikely – and I might add that he shouldn’t give the feds any ideas!

5) As you know, numerous other communities in this and other states are struggling with these issues. I think it is important to give some consideration to how these other communities (especially in California and Colorado) are regulating (or not) medical marijuana. In the end, I am not sure that Clark County can be an “island.” I’m sure you are also aware of the fact that the 2010 marijuana legalization ballot measure in California came quite close to passing (47% in favor). It is likely that the next marijuana legalization ballot measure in that state will pass, and I would not be overly surprised if the same thing happens in our state. Then we will have a real mess!

6) I will end with my favorite marijuana ‘anecdote.” In 1971, the (prestigious) JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION published an article on the effects of marijuana (by Kolansky and Moore). Among other things, the article noted, “Shortly after a 14-year old boy began to smoke marijuana, he began to demonstrate indolence, apathy, and depression. Over a period of 8 months his condition worsened until he began to develop paranoid ideas. Simultaneously, he became actively homosexual.” Wow – marijuana causes homosexuality!

My apologies for the length of this note. Please let me know if you have any questions, and should you be so inclined, please feel free to share with Commissioners Mielke and Stuart.

Have a nice day,
Clay Mosher

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