by Calvin Schoneck
There are few issues that have sparked the political interests in young people more than the recent controversy surrounding legal use of marijuana. Since the legalization of recreational marijuana in our state, a much larger portion of the public has come to view marijuana use more favorably than it has been in the last few decades.
Prior to the legalization of recreational marijuana, the only way for someone to get their hands on legal pot was to go through the medical marijuana system that has been around since the early ‘90s because of the relief it brought to AIDS patients. By 1998, Washington had approved measure 692, which allowed people with legitimate reason a prescription for the flower of the plant.
For the first few years, the system, though legalized on the state level, was still considered illegal under federal law. Until the turn of the century, authorizations for marijuana were incredibly difficult to obtain, and dispensaries often catered to a very small group patients, typically in the single digits. While it was very difficult to obtain an authorization in the ‘90s, patients enjoyed relatively little interference from government due to the severity of their conditions.
In 2000, everything changed. The impeachment of Bill Clinton left the door wide open for a conservative government to come in and take advantage of a discontent public. The George W. Bush administration brought in a new era of “The War on Drugs” and declared marijuana public enemy No. 1, since they obviously needed a scapegoat to keep the public focused on anything other than the war in the Middle East. Overnight, medical marijuana dispensaries went from a small and unknown medical circle to the top story on every major news network.
The Bush years were incredibly difficult for those advocating for legitimate use of marijuana, and when the conservative majority was finally ousted, pot was more popular than ever. In 2008, when Obama came into office, widespread support across the government for the persecution of marijuana users was no longer an accepted norm for most officials, and this is where we find ourselves today.
As soon as regular raids and persecutions of dispensaries ceased, the medical system in Washington exploded with population, profit, and unfortunately, corruption. In 2008, there were an estimated 14,000 medical marijuana patients. Today, that number is nearing 130,000 according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
The reason for this is not that more than 100,000 people suddenly realized that they had a qualifying condition, it was that the public was now aware of the medical system and there was no longer a force to police them.
Dispensaries changed focus from providing qualified patients with medicine to providing recreational marijuana under the façade of a medical authorization. While many people may argue that this is not the case, and the purpose of medical marijuana is only to provide to those who need it, I recant that with a first-hand experience.
As a perfectly healthy 18-year-old I was able to walk in to the Hope Clinic the day after my birthday and walk out with an authorization and some medicine after a 5-minute long meeting with a “qualified professional.”
The issue here is not whether marijuana has legitimate medical uses, it is that the medical system operates within a legal grey area and is focused on catering to the large number of recreational users rather than the people who truly need the plant. Alongside this issue, is the fact that a there are no regulations on who the suppliers for these dispensaries are.
It is no wonder then, that when i-502 came to the ballot in 2014, the medical marijuana industry was the literally the ONLY organized opponent of the initiative. It makes sense that a multi-billion-dollar industry would want to remain in business without regulation since so much potential profit can be lost when dealing with the higher costs of a regulated drug. Dispensaries were living the corporate wet dream, and while they opposed the ratifying of i-502, in their pursuit of profits they unintentionally paved the way for legal recreational use.
Bellingham has seen nearly all of its dispensaries either close up shop, or change to licensed recreational distributors, and I wager that it’s not because they stopped wanting to deliver “medicine,” but that the point was to make money from the get-go.
So next time you think about buying pot from your neighborhood dealer, think about buying from a store where half the taxes are directed towards bettering our healthcare system and helping those afflicted with debilitating substance abuse. Though its more expensive, even Biggie knew the buds were greener on the West side.