The Kids Hate the Weed!

Both use and approval are down.

Houston, we have a problem (with marijuana). No, it’s not that youngsters are getting stoned on the wacky weed and crashing cars or dropping out of school. It’s that they’re starting to dislike the stuff.

A report released last week in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse shows that not only has cannabis use decreased among teens, but disapproval of marijuana is up. (They could have said that approval was down, but the media is so opposed to putting a positive spin on drug use, even academic news is twisted.) Taking data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the survey is stunning for both its duration, from 2002 to 2013, and breadth, with 500,000 kids across the nation polled. Responses were aggregated from 105,903 younger adolescents (ages 12–14); 110,949 older adolescents (15–17); and 221,976 young adults (18–25).

“The proportion of adolescents aged 12–14 reporting ‘strong disapproval’ of marijuana use initiation increased significantly from 74.4–78.9%,” the report states. “Concurrently, a significant decrease in past 12-month marijuana use . . . was observed among younger adolescents.” Not only did the percentage of kids 12–14 who smoked pot go down (from 6 percent in 2002 to 4.5 percent in 2013), but the 15- to 17-year-olds who in my day were out behind the boiler room getting baked between classes also dropped significantly, from 26 percent in 2002 to 22 percent in 2013.

“With decriminalization, medicalization, and in some places recreational use, and adults no longer viewing marijuana use as an immoral act, we were concerned how it would affect teen use and attitudes,” noted one of the report’s authors, professor Christopher Salas-Wright from the University of Texas at Austin (figures). “But, especially at the middle-school age, youth became more disapproving, not more permissive. And certainly this data tells us we don’t see a dramatic spike at the national level in terms of marijuana use.”

The stats from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health looked at teen use and opinions all across the country. But what about specifically in the states where weed is legal? Surely there, kids love the ganja and use more of it! In fact, no. A study published last month in The Lancet Psychiatry (great centerfold, by the way) tells the same tale. Researchers looked at data from over a million teens in the 23 states that have had medical-marijuana laws on the books from 1991 to 2014, and once again the teenyboppers were nonplussed: “Our findings provide the strongest evidence to date that marijuana use by teenagers does not increase after a state legalizes medical marijuana,“ stated the study’s author, Deborah Hasin, a professor at Columbia University Medical Center.

Now clearly I have no interest in youngsters using marijuana. It’s not great for the developing brain and, like booze, should probably be delayed until at least 21. (Come to think of it, so should cell-phone use and driving!) But given my desire to see cannabis legalized federally, we’re eventually going to need these young people to vote for initiative measures when they arise in new states. Luckily, as teen rates have gone down, adult usage has increased: The number of grown-up cannabis users rose from 26 million in 2003 to 33 million in 2013—a whopping 37 percent. (High five?)

As for kids, decreasing interest in weed is probably one of those deals where what’s cool one day is uncool the next. Facebook was once the rage, and before you can say SnapChat, it’s for parents and Grandma. Same could be true with ganja: “We know American adults are starting to view this as a non-moral issue. We’ve seen the country’s adults changing, and we’re trying to get at what young people think and do,” said Salas-Wright. While states like Washington and Colorado have legalized weed, he noted, these laws “have not resulted in more use or greater approval of marijuana use among younger adolescents.”

The pendulum will swing back and forth, and hopefully smart measures will be put in place along the way to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for adult use across the land. It is kind of funny, though: Turns out it’s not Reefer Madness and anti-drug campaigns that are turning kids off to cannabis—it’s legalization.


Washington’s Pot Experiment, Year One

Generating tax revenue and saving money on prosecutions—what’s not to love?

The numbers for the first year of legal cannabis sales in Washington are in, and it’s a bong-half-full situation. Headlines about the tax revenue from weed have ranged from “Rakes in Millions” to “predicted bonanza not materializing.” The fact is, sales brought $70 million dollars to the state’s coffers (off $260 million in sales, through June), which, while perhaps not what analysts had hoped for, isn’t a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, either.

Fact is, legalization in the Evergreen State is a ground-breaking experiment, with absolutely no prior information on what the hell retail marijuana looks like. “Forecasters” (including campaigners originally hyping Initiative 502) made predictions because lawmakers and the public wanted some idea of what we were getting into. Estimates ranged from $75 to $500 million in sales, and the state’s original cannabis tax revenue forecast was $35 million for the first year—which we doubled. If ya had your allowance or salary doubled, you’d be jumping for joy. Here’s what we do know:

It took the Liquor Control Board a helluva long time to begin licensing stores, and even longer to get its own name right (now the Liquor and Cannabis Board). While 161 recreational stores are now open, that’s less than half the number that should be operational by now.

The licensed retailers that are open also had competition from medical dispensaries—though the legislature recently wiped out that competition with the ignorant and oppressive Bill 5052. First-year sales also weren’t helped by hundreds of right-wing local jurisdictions that put moratoriums and overly restrictive zoning rules on our legally approved pot businesses.

What has been proven is that, once we know where to buy our legal herb, we head there in droves and buy the place out. The first month of legal pot, July 2014, saw $3.3 million in sales and $840,000 in taxes; by June 2015, we had $43 million ringing into the cash registers (average $1.5 million a day), and $10.8 mil in taxes. In the end, Washington collected $20 million more in taxes from our rec weed than Colorado did in its first year. Green. Rush.

The price of (legal) marijuana has also jumped all over the board. At first, there was barely any supply (go figure, the weed needed to grow before we could smoke it), so prices were sky high, hitting $30 a gram. As expected, as more retailers got the green light and more ganja hit the shelves, prices dropped significantly, to about $13 a gram. Businesses sold more than 22,000 pounds of cannabis in the first 12 months, as well as 700,000 marijuana-infused cookies and elixirs and suckers and taffy. The harvest was six million square feet of plant canopy, producing almost 60,000 pounds. And that’s just the legal stuff—which experts estimate is only 10 to 15 percent of what’s actually grown. (Damn black market . . . we just can’t quit you.)

Another factor has been the tax structure—previously a brutal three-tiered excise-tax sandwich that hit farmers, processors, and retailers with a 25 percent tax for each transaction, making it hard for any of them to make a profit (especially after Uncle Sam takes his cut at the federal level, while still claiming that drug money is a felony). The legislature just changed the law to a still-high-but-not-deadly 37 percent tax upon purchase, which takes effect this month. With the customer paying the entire tax, stores get a break by not having to claim revenue as income on federal filings.

The true tale of legalization, though, isn’t illustrated by dollars and cents, but by the public’s well-being. According to a survey of more than 25,000 students, teen drug use did not rise in 2014, nor did the number of teens killed in car crashes. Violent crime is down (at a 40-year low). Arrests in pot cases are plummeting (down 98 percent!), because it’s legal (duh) and—more important—possession bookings aren’t taking cops off the beat or their eyes off more serious crimes. We’re also saving a boatload that used to go toward weed prosecutions. Oh, and we like the new law: While the same percentage that voted for legalization support it after a year (56 percent), only 37 percent now oppose the idea—a decrease of seven points since the election. Seventy-seven percent of us think marijuana’s legalization has had no impact or a positive one. In other words: It’s all good (man).

The Federal government did not crash the party. The sky did not fall—it revealed a green rainbow which grew into the fastest-growing industry in the entire country. Our citizens weren’t running around “hopped up on dope,” and legalization didn’t ruin lives or the economy, which may be part of the reason Oregon, Alaska, and D.C. have since followed our lead and legalized ganja themselves.

Given 100 years of reefer madness and fear-mongering on the subject, the headlines should have read “First Year of Legal Devil’s Weed Leads to Zero Deaths and Minimal Mayhem or Drug-Crazed Abandon.” Maybe we’ll get to all that in Year Two.

The Good, the Bad, & the Very Ugly

An Afghanistan/Iraq vet faces a life sentence for less than an ounce. Thanks, Oklahoma.

The Good
Oregon has joined Alaska, Colorado, D.C., and our own great state in the Brotherhood of Ganja, officially legalizing marijuana on July 1. In several ways, the Oregonians are doing it better than us, allowing home grows (four plants each), setting the tax at 17 percent (as compared to our newly lowered but still obnoxious 37 percent excise tax), expunging the records of those with cannabis convictions, and even letting citizens fly with weed within the state. Oregon also allows the most pot per person of any of the legal states: up to half a pound of Grade A herb (eight ounces) as compared to our paltry single-ounce (or 28-gram) limit. Adults 21 and over can carry up to an ounce of cannabis and have a pound of edibles in their homes, as well as 72 ounces of cannabis-infused liquids. To get a sense of how much weed you can possess, the Portland Police Bureau’s handy reference guide compares chronic quantities to the city’s famous Voodoo donuts.

As for buying weed at a retail outlet: Not so fast, Portlandia. Because of bureaucratic red tape (green tape?), Oregon’s recreational stores may not be up and running until fall 2016. Governor Kate Brown is considering signing a law that would allow sales of recreational cannabis by existing medical dispensaries to begin October 1. Of course, Rose City residents are always welcome in Rain City if they’re running low in the meantime. Visitors will have to smoke all their legal ganja before they head back to P-Town, however: Ya can’t bring cannabis across state lines in either direction.

The Bad
Rush Limbaugh. Just the mention of his name can make you throw up in your mouth a little bit. The Great Bloated Reefer Madness Fiend was at it again last month on his why-is-this-still-on-the-air radio show.

“I don’t have any experience with this so I’m unable to render an opinion,” said Limbaugh. “Maybe I should go smoke some and find out what this is all about and be able to render an . . . [indecipherable mumbling]Oh, yeah, eat a brownie. That’s what ‘wake and bake’ means, right? Yeah, there’s an NFL player who had a Snapchat or Instagram post. He woke up and he’s all happy, and said, ‘Time to wake and bake,’ and somebody said, ‘Wow, that guy does the weed.’ So that’s what wake and bake means. Bake some cookies or brownies, I guess. Have you had them? . . . [heavy breathing]What do they taste like? . . . [more gasping, munching sounds]I do wonder what they taste like.”

OK, a few notes and we’ll move on. First, “waking and baking” is not about edibles—“baking” is a reference to adding a heated element, such as fire, to cannabis, then inhaling through a device. Secondly, the “waking” part of a wake ’n’ bake, in stoner’s parlance, means rising each morning and taking a hit off a pipe or bong. Lastly, Mr. Limbo, I highly suggest, if you truly haven’t already, trying some of the wacky weed. Unlike the oxycodone you so covet, it’s not addictive, and might even calm you while the last of your rapidly dwindling minions abandon your show.

The Very Ugly
It bears repeating that, until marijuana is legalized federally, hundreds of thousands of Americans will continue to be arrested for possession of the plant, and our veterans and loved ones will not have access to its medicinal properties.

In our least favorite state, Oklahoma, Marine veteran Kris Lewandowski is facing a life sentence for possession of less than an ounce of weed—which he was using to help cope with PTSD. Lewandowski, who served three combat tours of duty that included stints in Afghanistan and Iraq (thank you for your service), was attempting to wean himself off a fistful of pharmaceuticals that he’d been prescribed for a variety of ailments, including severe PTSD after being honorably and medically discharged from the Marine Corps.

In June 2014, neighbors called the police after Lewandowski had what his wife described as a PTSD flare-up. Comanche County sheriff’s deputies responded to a report that Lewandowski had been chasing his wife with a knife. Cops searched the house, finding six small cannabis plants that did not total a single ounce; in Oklahoma, that’s bad news no matter how many tours you’ve served. Among other offenses, including a disputed domestic-violence charge, the war veteran and father of three was charged with felony marijuana possession and cultivation, and could potentially serve a life sentence under Oklahoma’s draconian weed laws.

Both Kris and his wife Whitney were arrested and charged with felonies, and were told their children were being taken to Child Protective Services. The police told Whitney her kids could avoid that fate—and she’d avoid the felony charge—if she pressed assault charges. Though she opposes the domestic-violence charge, she understandably took the deal. “They’re trying to use me as a victim and to make it look worse on his case,” said Whitney in an interview with Truth in Media. “My husband has absolutely never laid his hands on me ever. He is not an abusive man, ever . . . quite the opposite. He is extremely doting.”

Since the arrest, the family packed up and moved to California (with the Oklahoma DAs approval), where Kris legally obtained a medical-marijuana card to treat his PTSD. After inadvertently missing a court date—while under supervision at a Veterans Administration psych hospital!—Lewandowski was arrested in a guns-drawn raid as he was picking up his kids from preschool. The veteran is currently in police custody at the Orange County Jail, where he awaits extradition to Oklahoma to face his charges. There’s a GoFundMe campaign for those wishing to help with the family’s legal defense, as well as a Weed for Warriors Project. Lewandowski’s next hearing is scheduled for July 22. #SupportOurTroops.

UPDATE (July 20, 2015):
According to the Weed for Warriors project, all felony charges have been dropped against Marine veteran Kris Lewandowski, he has been released from jail, and the remaining charges have been transferred to veteran’s court. Lewandowski had been charged with marijuana possession which he had been growing to treat his PTSD. Under Oklahoma’s sentencing guidelines, he potentially could have served life in prison for the possession and cultivation of cannabis.

The Cusp

“It’s either understanding one another, or destruction!”

Ricardo, it turns out, is Honduran, but he looks black to me. We’ve known each other for several years in passing; he plays percussion in Faith Beattie’s jazz trio at the Queen City Grill, where I frequently drink heavily. We’ve exchanged smiles and nods, and I’ve thrown a few quid into the tip jar on nights I feel flush.

Last week we sat outside at adjacent tables to beat the heat and smoke, Ricardo sucking on a cigar and me with my Firefly vaporizer (both illegal, as we were too close to the entrance). I noted Ricardo’s swank Panama hat, and we started in on small talk. Eventually we got around to the issues of the day in a week that had some doozies: The Confederate battle flag had come down and same-sex marriage had been approved by a venomously divided Supreme Court, along with key rulings supporting national health care and fair housing. Marijuana, too, had had a major victory thanks to the White House, which lifted a longstanding restriction on research on medical marijuana by eliminating the Public Health Service review imposed in 1999 and allowing scientists to legally investigate the health benefits of cannabis.

“It’s funny, man,” Ricardo told me while chewing on his Cuban, “I feel a real change coming on. We’re at the cusp of something. It can go either way, you know?” I did. “It’s either understanding one another, or destruction! I’m just holdin’ on, hoping things tip toward the positive.”

Despite the victories, Ricardo and I had something heavy on our minds: the recent murders of nine members of a bible-study group, gunned down at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopal) Church in Charleston. We had both been inspired by the President’s eulogy (featuring a chilling rendition of “Amazing Grace”), but more so by the families of those who had been massacred.

“I don’t think I could have shown that much grace, man,” I said, referring to the relatives who showed up at the killer’s bond hearing, each of whom forgave the shooter. “Hell, I could barely forgive my ex-wife—and she didn’t kill anyone.” (That I know of.)

“Oh, I hear you. But hate is a lie,” Ricardo said, with his own preacher’s cadence. “You may not be able to change those who hate, but through forgiveness you can lose the cynicism and anger in your own heart. For lost souls like that murderer, it’s possible to bring light to the darkness. Through love, we can truly create heaven on earth. With my thoughts and actions, I can change myself. It’s truly profound.”

Gay-pride revelers, tourists, and drunken partiers passed by, making the Belltown street scene even more festive than usual. Maybe it was the buzz from our vices of choice, but Ricardo and I realized our discussion—-from men truly worlds apart—was invigorating and important. Though we clearly shared liberal values (starving artists and all), in a way it felt as if we were practicing—emphasizing our similarities rather than our divisions and differences. “Lately, I’ve been having great discussions with people who may not have even talked to me a decade ago,” he said. “How can we advance love and not fall into complacency? I think it?s by engaging with one another. Listening.”

While the Trio played an enchanted set of samba-inspired grooves (he’s Honduran, man!), I thought about something our President had said during his eloquent eulogy for Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney: “To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change—that’s how we lose our way again.”

The victories for equality, cannabis, and individual liberties haven’t arrived out of the clear blue sky. They’re the culmination of grassroots efforts, honing the message, and civic (and hopefully civil) discourse over complex, meaningful, and often hot-button issues. State by state these issues have been fought over, voted on, thrown out, and often, in the end, adjudicated. The key is not only dialogue, but vigilance in the democratic process. It’s never a full Kumbaya moment, because the second there’s a victory, there’s a setback and a need to reorganize and carry on. Yes, the tragic shootings in Charleston were followed by a rallying cry to lower the Confederate battle flag, but that cry was followed by more violence, as seven African-American churches in the South have since been set ablaze.

For some reason they make you stop drinking at 2 a.m. in this godforsaken town, so I gathered my things to head inside and settle my tab. I’d grabbed my keys and phone and vaporizer (and cocktail), but was missing my wallet. Any number of folks could have nabbed it from my coat on the patio: a thousand passersby, other diners, one of the dozen or so street people who’d asked for change—or maybe I’d dropped the damn thing on my way to the john. A waiter helped me half-heartedly search under tables with a flashlight. I was drunk and it was time to Uber home; as a regular they’d let me pay later, and I’d make some calls in the morning to cancel my credit cards.

As I took a last look under the table I’d been sitting at, Ricardo approached with a wide smile and wallet in hand; he’d found it under a booth earlier and was looking for me.

We stared at one another, and in our minds 500 years of oppression and lies, pain and misconceptions, stereotypes and generalizations flashed between our eyes.

“You stole it from me, man,” I said, brow arched.

We laughed and embraced simultaneously. It may be a slow roller, but this momentous wave shall not be stopped.


Fare Thee Well

The Grateful Dead celebrate five decades with five shows.

In this era of fly-by-night fame, one-hit wonders, and lame-ass reality “stars,” any group of artists who can create a true following over half a century needs to be recognized and respected. The Grateful Dead, the legendary improvisational stoner band, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a five-show “Fare Thee Well” tour, which started June 27 in Santa Clara, Calif., and will wrap up July 5 at Soldier’s Field, Chicago. The long-sold-out shows (which will be streamed on YouTube) offer a chance to reflect on what makes this band so unique and beloved.

The original Grateful Dead consisted of lead singer and guitarist Jerry Garcia, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, bass player Phil Lesh, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, and Ron “Pigpen” McKernan, a bluesy genius who played organ and harmonica. The group started under the name Warlocks in 1965, playing house parties during author Ken Kesey’s “acid tests.” (Drummer Mickey Hart and lyricist Robert Hunter were added in 1967, and Pigpen passed in 1973 when his liver gave out.)

Though I’m no Deadhead, I loved Garcia’s soulful, often mournful voice and damn fine picking (including his pedal-steel work on Crosby, Stills, and Nash’s “Teach Your Children”); so when Jerry passed in 1995 at age 53 from a heart attack (pretty good for a chain-smoking, fast-food-chowing heroin addict) I stopped paying attention. Not that the band needed me—hardcore fans have continued to follow the “Core Four” (aka the Walking Dead or Almost Dead): Weir, 67; Lesh, 75; and drummers Kreutzmann, 69, and Hart, 71. Joining them on the last hurrah will be singer/piano man Bruce Hornsby and Phish singer and kick-ass guitarist Trey Anastasio.

As has been well recorded, the Grateful Dead were most likely the original “jam band.” Never playing a tune the same way twice, the Dead performed songs that often went on for 30 minutes or more, filled with blues and hillbilly licks as well as spacey jazz and rock ’n’ roll. Though that formula may not fit the Top 40 format (the band’s only Top 10 hit was 1987’s “Touch of Grey”), the free-form nature of the sets dove-tailed nicely with the drug trips most listeners were taking. My favorite show was opened by Carlos Santana, and then turned into a strange journey of blurring colors and what I thought were flying sheep in the Tacoma Dome parking lot. (It should be noted that a sober group of Deadheads, the Wharf Rats, has been following the band for decades.)

Anyone old enough to be tripping and traveling the country in the ’60s has to be at least 60 by now, which makes Deadheads both a wonderful and dying breed. But behind the tie-dye and LSD and bootleg tapes comes a dedicated (deadicated?) vibe that’s still the backbone of the counterculture. Peace, love, and understanding are great notions for any generation. Tell me we couldn’t use a little more peace in the Middle East, love among our races, and understanding in our individual lives, no matter the situation.

And if ya think hippies are lazy stoners, take a hard look at the band members. They’ve toured pretty much nonstop in various forms since 1967 (including incarnations as the Other Ones, Further, RatDog, and the Dead), selling more than 35 million albums. Officially, the Guinness Book of World Records has the band etched in stone, with 2,318 live concerts (thus far) in front of a collective audience of more than 25 million, the most in history.

And if ya think hippies are a bunch of commie-pinkos, take another look. While they had wonderful progressive values (the loyal road crew were given both benefits and insurance), the gents were money-making ganjapreneurs long before the latest Green Rush. Led by Hal Kant, an entertainment lawyer who’s made Harvey Weinstein look demure, the Dead scored merchandising deals galore (have you tried the Steal Your Face wine?), and was one of the first acts to retain the ownership of its songs and all-important master tapes. The combo also didn’t put up with TicketBastards, forming their own ticketing company and raking in more than $300 million. The band was always socialistic when it came to bootlegs, allowing fans to record and trade at will . . . so long as they weren’t sold.

Of course it wasn’t just the band that made money—an entire village of traveling artists and vendors (and dope-dealers and massage therapists) followed the group from town to town for decades on end. I’ve got the Tibetan prayer flags flying off my deck to prove it. For a band that spent so much time rocking in a bygone era, their music has been carefully preserved and modernized, going from tapes and reel-to-reel systems to a digital library called The Internet Archive (, which contains 8,976 recordings of the Grateful Dead. If you’ve never really heard the band, do yourself a favor and scroll to, say, 1973 and click on one of the concert links. You may find yourself on a long strange trip, indeed.


High Court Is In Session

The judicial branch weighs in on employee marijuana rights, drug doggies, and more.

Sooner or later, everything winds up in court. You spilled a scalding cup of java on your nads at the McDonald’s drive-through; the insurance company refuses to pay for “water damage”; you’re tired of arsenic in the drinking water; ya feel like suing Costco . . . just because. And now that cannabis is entering the mainstream, it’s time to lawyer up, in this week’s legal round-up.

Legal Weed, But Not if You Have a Job
Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled last week that, regardless of the state’s legalization of marijuana, an employer can fire a worker who uses cannabis, even for medical reasons. The case couldn’t have had a more sympathetic poster boy: Brandon Coats, a 34-year-old quadriplegic, was a model employee, but was fired by Dish Network in 2010 after failing a random company drug test. (As if we needed another reason to hate television service providers.) Medical pot has been legal in Colorado since 2000, and Coats had a doctor’s authorization. He never smoked weed at work—nor was he ever under the influence during the day; he used cannabis in the evenings to help with sleep, muscle spasms, and stiffness. Even Dish doesn’t dispute this assertion. Nevertheless, a failed drug test won’t fly in the Zero Tolerance zone, and so, even though his home use was legal and off-duty, the company used their drug policy to terminate Coats.

While both medical and recreational marijuana are legal in Colorado, the court agreed unanimously (6-0) with the satellite television company, stating that laws that protect employees from being fired for “lawful activities” hold water only when those activities are legal under bothstate and federal law. Dish officials said they were as pleased as (non-alcoholic) punch with the decision: “As a national employer, Dish remains committed to a drug-free workplace and compliance with federal law.” Obviously, this ruling may waft over to Washington, which, like Colorado, has legalized recreational cannabis and is one of the 23 medical-MJ states. There’s only one solution to all this nonsense: Legalize cannabis at the federal level.

Good Doggy!
Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional for the police to hold suspects at traffic stops without probable cause. That’s good news for folks with trunkloads full of contraband; cops can’t keep you waiting until the drug-sniffing dogs show up. (In Washington, of course, you’re allowed to drive around with up to an ounce of weed in your vehicle, though it’s probably not a great idea.) In the 6-3 decision, the justices ruled that holding a vehicle for even a few minutes violates the Constitution’s unreasonable-seizure shield. Everyone’s favorite justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote in her opinion: “Police may not prolong detention of a car and driver beyond the time reasonably required to address the traffic violation.”

As noted in my cover story (“Fear & Loathing in Legal Territory,” Feb. 4, 2015), drug-sniffing canines here in Washington are being retrained for other tasks, as the smell of ganja is no longer a reason for suspicion.

Blazing on the Front Porch
While I am not a lawyer by training, I have seen several episodes of Boston Legal (big fan of Bill Shatner’s over-the-top performances), and thus can conjecture. That may not be the correct term. Point is, I can extrapolate. So when I read about the Iowa Supreme Court affirming the right of a gal to be shitfaced drunk on her own porch, I’m seeing a green light for cannabis. In 2013, Patience Paye called the cops on her boyfriend. When officers showed up to investigate for domestic violence, they determined she was the aggressor, asked if she’d been drinking (she had indeed, with over three times the legal limit in her blood), and charged her with public intoxication. Paye’s lawyers appealed her conviction, making a case that her front steps weren’t public at all, and that she should never have been arrested. Patience was patient, and the Supreme Court saw her point, ruling last week that the porch of a private home isn’t considered public, so long as the resident hasn’t invited the general public to be there. It just follows, then, that if ya don’t invite the masses to smoke a fatty on your stoop, ya can’t be charged with public stonification. That’s just logical, man.

To make sure that these legal lawsuits and challenges continue to advance the cause, we now have the National Cannabis Bar Association! The goal of the newly formed NCBA is to provide attorneys who are specializing in cannabis a place to get stoned and talk shop. Well, that, and to provide a networking platform to share ideas and strategies for a rapidly changing industry and complex political landscape.

“Attorneys have long been at the forefront of the fight for cannabis legalization,” said executive director Shabnam Malek. “Now that 23 states and Washington, D.C., have some form of legalized cannabis, there is a clear need for an organization focused on the business aspects of law and cannabis.”

The NCBA board comprises legal eagles from six states (including Seattle attorney Mitzi Vaughn of Greenbridge Corporate Counsel). The organization is open not only to practicing attorneys, but to paralegals, law students, and retired lawyers who just want to get their hands on some of the legal chronic. On the advice of legal counsel, we withdraw that last statement.


Call Me Cannabis

Comparing pot use to something else that’s none of the government’s business.

Before I launch into this analogy, I would like to say that I understand how many will find it inappropriate, and that I came up with the notion while stoned out of my mind.

I’m starting to think about cannabis as having a similar journey and backstory to Olympic gold medalist and transgender reality star Caitlyn Jenner. Until recently, like Jenner, trailblazers on the weed front have organized in secret closets and basements, hoping one day to live safely, truthfully, and freely in the great wide open. And, like Jenner, marijuana—aka Mary Jane—has been an accomplished, harmless, and friendly sexpot all along . . . but has recently undergone a full makeover and is beginning to dress things up with PR campaigns, professional packaging, couture oils, and all-important accessories.

Let’s start with the name. Bruce took the name Caitlyn (notice her refusal to use the letter K—as in Kris, Khloe, Kourtney, Kendall, and Kimye) to reflect her change (and independence). Marijuana, on the other hand, has reverted back to cannabis, after being identified first as marihuana, then bad-mouthed with slurs such as loco weed, grass, pot, killer bud, the Devil’s weed, dope, schwagg, even shit (as in “THE shit”). Antidrug propaganda created “marihuana” in the 1930s—a sad attempt to scare the public with a “new” and terrifying substance (used by jazz musicians!), even though the plant had been sold in pharmacies for over a half-century in America. Marihuana sounded “foreign” (read: Hispanic), and Reefer Madness was used to incite fear, round up immigrants (especially during the Great Depression), and scare the masses to outlaw it. (By 1931, cannabis was illegal in 29 states, and in 1937 it was criminalized through the Marijuana Tax Act.)

The legal documents for the new Ms. Jenner’s identity will be challenging. It can take months for name- and gender-change applications to be approved (what I wouldn’t give to be in the DMV line that day), and these ID docs—often requiring background checks—affect everything from bank accounts to Social Security cards, to say nothing of her Twitter handle. Similarly, those in the cannabis community have had challenges of their own: States requiring medical-marijuana patients to sign a registry (including Washington) are forcing them to admit to a felony at the federal level, clearly in violation of HIPAA laws. For canna-businesses, both dispensaries and recreational stores have been unable to utilize banking and insurance services for fear of criminal investigations, while at the same time navigating massive tax payments to the IRS.

Sadly, anyone in the LGBT community is butting up against conservative moralists, gender assumptions, and entrenched cultural ideals on a daily basis. The process of cannabis’ conversion has been similarly dramatic and life-altering—going from the tyranny of the War on Drugs to only recently being accepted and fully legalized in four states. It’s as if the subject has lived two entirely separate lives.

As with one’s sexuality, your use of cannabis doesn’t affect anyone else. It’s a private matter (that is, until I Am Cait airs on E! in August), and one your employer, and the government, should have no say or stake in. While it’s been argued otherwise (as in Elinor Burkett’s New York Times article “What Makes a Woman”), Jenner’s transition doesn’t undermine feminism or women’s identities, it doesn’t challenge masculinity, it is not immoral, and it doesn’t hurt others. Correspondingly, ganja doesn’t hurt others—that is, unless you’re hot-boxing or too stoned to drive (or, in Jenner’s case, haven’t had experience driving in high heels and crash while avoiding paparazzi). Pot also doesn’t undermine the other legal drugs you may be drinking, smoking, or popping.

Fighting gender stereotypes and stoner stereotypes, of course, are not the same. Being a pothead is a choice, while Jenner’s identity is baked in, so to speak, a part of her biology (though surgery, plastic or otherwise, is not a requirement). But just as transitioning individuals must be taken seriously and their choices respected, those who partake of cannabis need their rights recognized. Sadly, many parents have their children taken from them for marijuana use (including medicinal), while others lose their jobs; veterans with PTSD cannot access it for relief; and over 650,000 citizens a year lose their freedom when arrested for marijuana-related offenses.

The opposition to Jenner has been fierce, phobic, and ridiculous. (A campaign is underway to take away Jenner’s 1976 Olympic Gold medal in the men’s decathlon.) When a man becomes a woman, it’s a complex issue that may take some explanation, patience, and, above all, tolerance and compassion. The legalization movement is also locked in debate, full of nuances, ignorant tirades, continuing arrests, and Washington’s own version of medal take-aways: Despite legalization’s convincing statewide victory, hundreds of city councils are banning marijuana in their jurisdictions.

Times are changing. Just as Jenner went from Wheaties cover boy to Vanity Fair cover girl, cannabis has gone from “The Marihuana Menace: Assassin of Youth” to this month’s scientific centerfold in National Geographic. In the end, both Caitlyn and cannabis are elevating the dialogue—about personal truths, the right to choose your own path and be legally recognized and protected, and what it means to be free.


Out-of-the-Box Thinking

Imaginative approaches to pot laws.

It’s no surprise that some of the people working to reform marijuana laws are a little out of the norm, shall we say. And with the era of Reefer Madness waning, it also makes sense that weed advocates and drug-policy reformers would begin to try new—some might even say wacky—approaches. Here are some personal favorites.

Hundreds of cities and municipalities in legal states have attempted to ban marijuana with various ordinances, but now there’s one related to the smell itself. The city of Pendleton, Ore., recently banned the odor of weed within the city limits. To counter this ridiculous regulation, a man wrote the local paper, the East Oregonian, suggesting that if they are opposed to the aroma of ganja, they should also ban farts—as that dank cloud truly is offensive. “While farting may be legal in Oregon, many (including myself) are offended by the flatulent stench,” wrote Peter Walters. “Too often, homeowners and businesses fail to contain farts to their property, forcing the rest of us to put up with the smell. Some habitual farters argue that they need to fart for medical reasons, but that doesn’t mean my kids should have to smell their farts. The city council should stop looking the other way and pretending not to notice . . . I call on our city council to set aside all other work and address this problem.”

Recreational cannabis and its sweet—or stinky—scent are fully legal in Oregon beginning July 1. If a person complains about a marijuana odor coming from a person’s property in Pendleton, under the city ordinance, they can be fined $500. I suggest that he who smelt it may actually have dealt it.

My favorite political strategy in the legalization movement comes from South Dakota, where an activist has proposed several initiatives to ban alcohol and tobacco, to make state policies “consistent” with the penalties related to cannabis. Bob Newland, of Consistent South Dakota, is hoping to put a measure before voters in 2016 that would make it illegal to transfer tobacco or tobacco paraphernalia from one person or one business to another. The second initiative bans the sale of any alcoholic beverage containing one percent or more ethyl alcohol. Breaking either of these laws would be a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishment of which is up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine—similar to the current laws for marijuana possession.

“I think South Dakota law at the very least should be consistent,” Newland said at a press conference. “If you’re going to put them in jail for a benign herb, they should be put in jail for alcohol and tobacco—the deadly drugs.”

The organization still needs to collect 13,000 signatures to place this on next year’s November ballot, though, according to the attorney general, the measure may be challenged in court on constitutional grounds. Regardless of whether it qualifies, it kinda makes ya think. Fair is fair.

What started as a nasty attempt to refuse gay couples service in Indiana has been turned on its head, sowing the seeds of a new religious organization: the First Church of Cannabis. The state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act was supposedly designed to protect religion from government infringement. (There’s so much of that going around these days . . . ) Instead, in practice, it allowed business owners to refuse service to same-sex couples, such as a florist who wouldn’t make flower arrangements for a gay wedding and an Italian-restaurant owner who felt he couldn’t be a good Christian and deliver pizzas to homosexuals.

Seeing opportunity in a burning bush, Bill Levin decided his own fiery faith called upon him to fire up a fatty, and founded the First Church of Cannabis. As the new law requires the state government to have “a compelling interest” if it attempts to impose limits or curtail any religious practice, the Chronic Church is planning to hold services that will include the smoking of a particular holy herb to “light up” the sanctuary.

“This is what I live by, and I have more faith in this religion than any other,” said Levin (who also goes by the name Minister of Love). “This is my lifestyle. This is millions of people’s lifestyle.”

Levin not only preaches the healing powers of the cannabis plant, but says consuming ganja can rid the body of the poisons in processed foods and sugary soft drinks. (No need to preach, brother—I’m a convert!)

The church’s holy bionic is tax free, as last week, the IRS granted the organization tax-exempt status. Even without a Sunday School or hall to hold services, the First Hemp Temple has built quite a following since its founding. A GoFundMe campaign has already raised more than $15,000. Levin, known to the church as Grand Poobah, plans to hold the first official service on July 1, the day the state’s new Religious Freedom Restoration Act takes effect.

And I thought I was the only one who smoked religiously . . .


Smoked Salmon, a Minor Setback, and Hope

Never thought I’d say this, but there’s almost too much marijuana in the news as of late. With cover stories this month in both Time (by local journalist and former Seattle Weekly scribe Bruce Barcott) and National Geographic (“The New Science of Marijuana”), you can’t walk by a newsstand or go online without getting a contact high. Of course it’s great that mainstream publications are finally treating the subject of cannabis in a more mature manner, rather than continuing to deliver cliched jokes about smokescreens and . . . contact highs. Still, I wish Time and Nat. Geo had saved some for later. Like good ganja, ya gotta space the hits out.

In addition to the weed-news deluge, a plethora of cannabis culture stories make me want to roll things back to the days of Reefer Madness. Take marijuana-infused salmon. Please.

The owner of Rosenberg’s Bagels in Denver created a seriously smoked salmon when he recently infused the fish with cannabis. The process involved introducing marijuana into Everclear (which extracts the THC, the psychoactive element in ganja), then spreading the tincture over the fish for 72 hours before cold-smoking it (in the traditional way).

“The flavor is really great, not that weed-brownie flavor that you try to cover up with chocolate,” noted general manager Nicholas Bruno. “The dill, lemon, and cannabis—everything melds perfectly with the fish.” While the deli may have made a news splash, they’re ruining a perfectly wonderful fish, as well as some damn fine weed. (The lox/cannabis combo was more stunt than serious sales effort, as all marijuana edibles in Colorado must be clearly labeled and packaged in single doses of 10 mg or less.) I’ll say this much: Don’t even think about ruining our Copper River salmon by infusing it with pot. (Though Copper River Chronic does have a nice ring to it . . . )

Point is, not everything has to be infused with cannabis. Yoga classes are being combined with getting high, for example. Not necessary. Your yogic bliss should be enough for mind, body, and soul, so that it doesn’t require taking bong hits during bandhasana. A company introduced cannabis K-cups last week (Catapult coffee pods retail for $10 each), infusing your morning by truly waking and baking. How ’bout ya don’t!? Moderation, people.

The state’s Liquor and Cannabis Control Board just busted four of the 22 recreational-marijuana stores they tested for selling to underage shoppers, which is—without a doubt—a serious screw-up. (As a point of comparison, Colorado did this kind of check last June after their retailers had been open six months, and all 20 passed the test.) The biggest reason these failures are so outrageous is that the board had announced to all recreational shops a month before that they would be doing compliance checks. Many journalists are calling the busts a major setback for marijuana (including Seattle Weekly’s own Daniel Person, declaring “Recreational Pot Is Having Its First PR Fiasco”). In fact, I think it’s just the opposite: A legal system, with due diligence, probing for violations and nailing those not in compliance sounds like a well-reasoned plan that moves in the right direction. (And indeed, idiots selling to underage kids should lose their licenses.) The rest of the stoned state gets a second chance—as every one of the 138 retail operations in the Evergreen State will be checked for compliance by the end of June. #getittogetherpeople

Even with bumps in the rasta road, surveys from Public Policy Polling show that in the two states that legalized cannabis, the people like the law—even more than when they voted it in. Fifty-six percent of us here in Washington approve of the recreational weed law, and 37 percent dislike it. In the 2012 referendum, the same percentage of folks approved, but 44 percent voted against the intiative. Better still, 77 percent of voters say the new laws have either had a positive effect or no effect at all. In Colorado, a different poll confirmed the trend. Sixty-two percent of voters there support the new ganja laws, an increase of seven percentage points from the vote tally in 2012.

Survey says: It’s all good.

Finally, in a bit of good news related to a previous column (“Prisoners for Pot,” May 13), the governor of Missouri commuted the sentence of a man serving a life term for marijuana. Gov. Jay Nixon’s commutation makes Jeff Mizanskey, 61, eligible for parole after being jailed for 22 years under Missouri’s three-strikes law. Part of the reason for the governor’s move? Four hundred thousand people had signed a petition requesting clemency. Mizanskey’s not free yet, but he’ll plead his very strong case before a parole board this summer. A nonviolent offender, Mizanskey has been a model prisoner—and has served a longer term than many rapists, child-molesters, and murderers. (Parole accepted!)

Checking Your White Privilege

It’s good to be white.

For example, as a white guy, I’m statistically more likely to be selling drugs than an African-American man. (I’ve always been too scared of going to jail to actually sell pot, but I’m using this to make my point.) If I were black, however, it would be three times more likely that I’d be arrested for dealing. It gets even better for whitey. Though five times as many of us use drugs, African-Americans are sent to prison 10 times as often for the same crimes. And once ya get to jail? On average, African-Americans serve as much time in prisons for drug offenses (58 months) as white folks do for violent ones (62 months).

While we may have legalized weed out West, these stats—and the ongoing federal War on Drugs—feed into a vicious loop that gives officers the pretense of probable cause to search, detain, and arrest African-Americans in droves. It is a short line from our national drug policy to police abuses. And by now we’ve all seen the dozens of cell-phone videos illustrating exactly how this often turns out for (eventually deceased) black men and women—who are after all under the law innocent until proven guilty.

While it might be good to be white, it doesn’t exactly feel good; seems like we should be further down the line on the apparently not-so-self-evident “All Men Are Created Equal” thing. Recently I’ve been trying to put myself in the shoes of young African-American men in Baltimore and Atlanta and Ferguson. Can I relate? At what point have I been targeted or profiled or discriminated against?

I’m Jewish. Does that count? Over the years I’ve heard offensive stereotypes and jokes. (“Jew ‘em down” is my least favorite.) But while that’s painful, it’s simply not the same. I have no fear of being pulled over for the way I look; I don’t worry that some armed jackass playing Neighborhood Watchman will follow me for no other reason than the color of my skin. I have no problem getting my foot in the door in business meetings, obtaining loans, or hailing cabs in any city in the world. And because I don’t have those life concerns, I may not actually “get it.”

My upbringing didn’t help either. I grew up on Mercer Island, where we called the only black kid in our entire elementary school “Chocolate.” (I apologize, Hayden.) Eventually basketball icon Bill Russell and his family moved to the island, and our black population tripled. Without people of color to relate to, there was very little chance in my youth to experience diversity, much less economic or cultural differences or division.

It took a steady diet of Toni Morrison, classes at Berkeley, and the recent slew of well-documented abuses to understand that the color of a person’s skin can clearly change their circumstances. I’m now fully aware that blacks are more likely to be pulled over by police, stopped as pedestrians (and frisked), and “randomly” searched at airports. The national unemployment rate for African-Americans is double that of whites. Black kids, according to the Department of Education, are more likely to be punished in schools, as well as get rookie teachers, which—go figure—affects their drop-out and graduation rates. But far more problematic than these are the institutional barriers that still exist.

In Missouri, the Justice Department’s own report following the shooting of Michael Brown found that “nearly every aspect of Ferguson’s law-enforcement system” negatively affected and severely impacted African-Americans.

Nationwide, while blacks are only about 13 percent of the population, they make up 37 percent of drug-related arrests and almost half of the prison population (one million of the 2.2 million incarcerated individuals). Overall, they’re incarcerated at six times the rate of whites.

The ongoing police brutality against unarmed black men, women, and children has clearly triggered the anger that accompanies such injustice, resulting in ongoing protests and riots throughout the country. There’s a point at which truly marginalized groups get backed into such a corner that an equally valid option to putting up with the jerry-rigged system is raising hell and overturning the apple cart. Intellectually, I get it; I’ve reached a boiling point over slow-moving traffic and lousy bar service. But I also understand that, for true change to occur, those in power must somehow seek to share that power.

How to do we make a seismic shift happen without all hell breaking loose? I don’t know. I’m in over my head. But here’s a start: I’d like my tax dollars to be directed to communities that have been decimated by mass unemployment and social neglect. And I’d like the government to explore new efforts and ideas to aid the poor and the vulnerable—many of which may fail. And that’s OK. As a white person, I can relate to plenty of social experiments that have been colossal flops: Apple’s Newton, for example, and Microsoft’s Zune. Enron and MCI. Jazzercize. The Delorean. Solyndra. MySpace. And the War on Drugs.

Priorities must change. And any argument about government getting out of the way is yet another attempt to keep the status quo—and racism—alive and well. Indifference or passive support of the current dynamic is unacceptable. If you need a more self-centered reason to change the system than the common good, consider this: We’ll be the minority soon enough.