POSTED ON NOVEMBER 21, 2012:
T-Town & "Weed Futures"
Will we be laggards or leap-froggers?
Did you smoke any weed this week?
If your answer to this query is yes, don't feel lonely. One reliable array of studies, from the National Survey on Drug Use & Health and U.S. Department of Human Health and Services indicates that over 100 million U.S. citizens over the age of 12 have used marijuana, and a 2008 survey found that 35 million Americans told government researchers that they had consumed weed in the past year. If you watched Ken Burns' mesmerizing documentary Prohibition last year, you might be excused for thinking that our disastrous, 40-year War on Drugs is a redo of America's feckless, highly dysfunctional prohibition era.
For my part, I'm a recovering asthmatic: somebody who had asthma, pretty serious episodes of it, as a child and who has had minor attacks infrequently as an adult. So smoking marijuana, or anything else, is simply out of the question. But like most Americans, and a boatload of Tulsans, I have a passel of friends who smoke weed with regularity. With huge, voter-driven changes afoot in places like Colorado and Washington, and in a bevy of metros including Denver, and a near miss on a marijuana decriminalization initiative in Arkansas, are Oklahomans and specifically Tulsans up for an extended conversation on "weed futures"? Are we up for a local vote or a state wide effort to change the status of our marijuana usage laws?
This Cityscape essay is the first of a three part series I'm writing, over the course of the next two months, on "weed rules" and what mounting a grass decriminalization or pure legalization initiative might mean for Oklahoma. I'll be taking a look at who would be for it, who might oppose it, and whether or not a standalone, purely local initiative -- with all of the political controversy, revenue potential, and social cross cuts -- is a prospect with any legal/political and social viability.
There is a social change zeitgeist in the air in America; virtually overnight we have seen massive changes in how Americans perceive gay people and undocumented people. And the laws that go to weed regulation are part of this new "reformation" matrix. Query: will Tulsa be a player or a bench dweeb in this coming sea change?
One of the most insidious, expensive, and morally repellent practices we have in Oklahoma is our overuse of extended incarceration for criminal offenders. What we do routinely to smalltime drug offenders is one of the most tangible instances. Some time ago, in a powerful series devoted to women in prison in Oklahoma, the Tulsa World published a set of "tracking" articles that highlighted the journey of Patricia Spottedcrow, an Oklahoma women who was released recently from a 12-year sentence in prison for selling $31 worth of marijuana to a police informant. Spottedcrow's voyage is simply one of our most visible incarceration dysfunctions. In addition to the changes in Colorado and Washington, enacted just two weeks ago by voters, there are at least 18 other states, including the District of Columbia, that currently have medical marijuana laws. And aggressive efforts are underway to secure more permissive regimens in a slew of additional states and U.S. cities.
I spoke the other day with a close watcher of the Oklahoma political scene who monitors our legislature. He reminded me that State Sen. Connie Johnson of Oklahoma City has been a persistent, energetic advocate for re-thinking Oklahoma's marijuana laws. Johnson has introduced marijuana change legislation for over seven years, on a more or less annual basis, since her first term in 2005. She is leading an effort to look this year at medical marijuana and the draconian penalties associated with even trivial marijuana usage in Oklahoma. This state's medieval drug laws drive our extraordinary incarceration rate, particularly among minority people and women, and have spawned our huge state prison outlays: big bucks that could be re-employed for education and other front-line challenges that continue to hobble Oklahoma.
As it write this, I'm planning to hear Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, a nationally renowned writer, a new wave doc and health care guru. Weil is being hosted by Kathy Collins and her wonderful crew at Tulsa Town Hall: this long standing operation has brought a bevy of shiny writers, science pros, media stars, and other awesome folks to T-Town on a regular basis.
Writing on one of his blog vehicles in 2010, Weil wrote:
"Meanwhile, as a medical doctor and botanist, my aim has always been to filter out the cultural noise surrounding the genus cannabis and see it dispassionately: as a plant with bioactivity in human beings that may have therapeutic value. From this perspective, what can it offer us? As it turns out, a great deal. Research into possible medical uses of cannabis is enjoying a renaissance. In recent years, studies have shown potential for treating nausea, vomiting, premenstrual syndrome, insomnia, migraines, multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injuries, alcohol abuse, collagen-induced arthritis, asthma, atherosclerosis, bipolar disorder, depression, Huntington's disease, Parkinson's disease, sickle-cell disease, sleep apnea, Alzheimer's disease, and anorexia nervosa."
Like so many so many transformations that are rolling out before our eyes, prospects for decriminalizing weed or an outright legalization effort come with a cautionary note. As many UTW readers will know, teenage use of marijuana has exploded in the last 15 years. This development coincides with amazing, quite powerful work in neuroscience, cognitive research and studies of intellectual development in teenagers that suggests that excessive marijuana usage may have profound impacts on the very "plastic" brains of teens. An August report by Bloomberg Businessweek on findings from the National Academy of Sciences outline the problem:
"Teens may lose IQ points later in life if they smoke marijuana before age 18, according to a study that follows a survey showing use of the drug has increased in this age group for four straight years. The research reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found an average decline of eight points on IQ ... tests done at age 13 and 38 among those who began using marijuana as teenagers."
So any progressive change in weed usage/rules in Oklahoma should be tethered to a powerful social marketing effort designed to discourage teen use of weed: as it happens, new tax revenues from marijuana "reformed" communities are being used, in part, to carry out these efforts.
In a couple of weeks, I'll post the second part of this "weed futures" series. I'll report on my conversations with a couple of fascinating local advocates and with a very visible national voice -- the leader of the successful Washington state effort: a brilliant lawyer who has tight ties to T-Town.
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