In response to my post yesterday, my brother sent me an article from The Field. Written in October, 2009 it drew the opposite conclusions to me about the impact of the medical marijuana movement on the future success of wholesale drug law reform. Al Giordano wrote:

The history textbooks will note forevermore, when looking back at how the United States repealed pot prohibition (something that will likely now come in most of our lifetimes) that it was the strategy of incremental change that opened the floodgates to fundamental change. The same will be said of how the US embargo of Cuba was ended (granting Cuban-Americans the right to travel there inexorably will extend that freedom to all US citizens). The same will be written of immigration policy. And – if you can weed through the griping about whether this year’s health care reform goes far enough or not – I think a similar path of incremental steps to change will provoke a very similar dynamic toward wholesale change. Short of revolutions – which happen when incremental change is made impossible by the authoritarian nature of regimes – that is how change usually happens.

His article was written on the back of a Gallup poll from October 2009 which reflected markedly shifting views about marijuana legalization over the past 40 years:

In addition to that, an Economist/YouGov poll published today suggests that we’ve reached a tipping point:

Maybe I am just hopelessly cynical, but I’m not sure it’s as straightforward as Giordano would like to believe. Has success with medical marijuana made legalization inevitable, and caused these shifting attitudes, or have shifting attitudes towards legalization made medical marijuana inevitable? His article was written before Prop 19 was defeated in California last November, and in the Economist’s analysis they suggest that Prop 19 possibly lost,”some potential supporters because the drug is already very widely available and possession is no longer treated as a crime.” There’s a marijuana legalization bill under debate in Washington State right now. It’s worth watching closely. Legalization of other drugs is still off-limits in mainstream political debate.

I’ve just been at the DC Town Hall meeting organized by the DC Patients Cooperative about the implementation of medical marijuana in DC, and here the battle is barely won, even for legitimate medical marijuana patients. Learning from the lax implementation in California and other Western states, the law (if/when it actually does get implemented) is seriously restrictive. Recommendations from doctors will only be accepted for five specific conditions (HIV/AID, Glaucoma, Multiple Sclerosis, Cancer or conditions characterized by severe or persistent muscle spasms).Each patient will qualify for 2oz a month, which only they or an officially designated care giver is allowed to pick up from one of five licensed dispensaries in the District. Each patient will have to fill in an application form and pay a $100 application fee to get a card to access the dispensary. Patients aren’t allowed to grow their own weed. Any designated care giver also needs to be licensed, and can’t have any prior convictions for drug-related offences, or any felony convictions. The restrictive licensing and regulation of the initiative means that there’s a high chance that street marijuana will still be cheaper and easier to get, even for patients.

I’m not denying that even these laws (when/ if they get implemented in DC) are good for the people that they help, and I admire the hard-won successes of dedicated patient advocates like the DC Patients Cooperative and the people at Safe Access DC. They themselves would argue that this is just the beginning. But I don’t think the blind progressive optimism of Giordano is warranted. We may have made it this far, but there’s a hell of a long way to go and I don’t think success for the medical marijuana movement necessarily makes the rest of the war against the war on drugs any easier.

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