Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Legalized marijuana! How is that going to play out?

Whoa, dude!  Legalized marijuana!  How is that going to play out?

Marijuana for recreational use (as opposed to industrial use) is now legal in Colorado.  How is this going to play out?

I have expressed my views on pot before.  Yea, it saps the life blood out of people - particularly when you are young and trying to get ahead.   Pot smokers are more likely to see themselves as passive victims of external forces, rather than proactive people who take charge of their lives.  But as I noted in my many postings, you can't tell a po-thead anything, so don't bother wasting your breath on that issue.

And part of me wants to see how this experiment works out.  After all, just as prohibition expanded the role of organized crime in the USA, the illegalization (word?) of marijuana has lead to a lot of criminal activity both here and around the world.

It also will be interesting to see how it plays out with regard to the users.  Will they be the responsible stoners that claim they will be?  Now that pot is legal in Colorado, will their legal troubles be behind them?  Or, will their lives continue to be a series of "hassles" with authority figures - that turn out to have nothing to do with pot being legal or not, but rather how it affects their brains.

Like I said, it is an interesting experiment, and the pro-legalization forces will have a lot to prove.

From a practical standpoint, there are still going to a whole lot of problems.  Marijuana is still illegal on a Federal level, and while the present administration might decide not to enforce the laws in Colorado, you can be sure they will do elsewhere.   And bear in mind the present administration said they wouldn't bust medical marijuana dispensaries, but went ahead and did, anyway - and then changed their mind yet again.

Can you imagine how this will play out if the GOP takes the White House?   The legalization in Colorado may become meaningless in short order, if the Feds decide to enforce Federal Law in the State.

But taking that aside, what is going to happen?

Denver Airport has already announced that they will fine anyone carrying marijuana through the airport - if they are searched for some other reason and marijuana is found.  The fine is a whopping $900, which to a lot of pot smugglers is chump change.

Yea, pot smugglers.   It doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out that a LOT of people are going to fly, drive or walk to Colorado and buy "legal" marijuana and bring it back to their home States.   This will surely piss off the drug cartels in Mexico, but they still have the lucrative cocaine business to deal with.

Speaking of which, another aspect of this experiment will be to see whether legalized marijuana leads to more consumption of other drugs.   In other words, the legalization folks will be able to show whether marijuana is a "gateway" drug or not.   Stay tuned, it will be interesting.

There is also the issue of products liability.  One article already notes that some companies are offering "marijuana tours" of the State and mentions that one couple on the tour "got so paranoid, we had to take them back to their hotel room."   The marijuana of today is very potent compared to years ago.   Will people be able to sue for a bum trip?   Interesting possibility.  What about the liability of a dispensary who sells to a mentally disturbed person?  Or if someone tokes up and wrecks their car - is the dispensary liable as a bartender would be?

And do they have to put warning labels on the packaging - like the cigarette people do?  Smoking anything is bad for your lungs - is marijuana exempted from this?   And who handles quality control?  Do they monitor THC and other content and is this printed on the packaging - or should it be?   A lot of questions, to be sure.  When you productize marijuana, it has to pass the basic safety tests that other products have to.

But getting back to smuggling - the worst that can happen in the Denver Airport is you are fined $900 and they take your pot.  OK, that's cool.   But what about when you land in Dallas or LA?   Will there be drug sniffing dogs meeting flights from Colorado?   It would seem like a no-brainer from the viewpoint of law enforcement.

And if you drive to Colorado, you can be sure the police in Nebraska, Kansas, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming will be waiting at the border to search cars that look suspicious.   Think I'm kidding?  They already do this at the State lines and near Indian reservations to search for illegal fireworks.   All it takes is one broken taillight for a Tarry-type stop, and a drug sniffing dog for "probable cause" for a search.

But those sort of risks are already know to drug smugglers today, so I doubt it would deter them.   What remains to be seen is whether the supply in Colorado will replace illegally imported marijuana currently coming into the country.   Rather than crossing an International border, smugglers need only cross a State Line - and that is pretty easy.  So I think you will see importation of marijuana from other countries drop off the map.  Why bother when you can just move it from State to State?   And it is such a hassle to smuggle across borders, due to its bulk.

I just got done reading Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition by Daniel Okrent.  In that book, he describes how ridiculously easy it was to smuggle booze across the border from Canada.  Prohibition, in addition to making the Mafia a national organization, also created the house of Segram.   The Canadians were making a lot of booze - more than enough for every man, woman, and child in Canada.  It was the worst-kept secret that the huge excess was crossing the border into the States.

Similarly, one wonders what will happen when marijuana production in Colorado skyrockets, and it becomes embarrassingly clear that a majority of production in Colorado will be for "export" to other States.

I think, at first, it will be like prohibition was.  In the early days, people drove their boats across the river into Canada (or even drove across the ice in the Winter) loaded up with a case or two for their own consumption, and then drove home.

But more ambitious operators made a business of it.  And pretty soon, there was a lot of competition for the business - and fights for control of the distribution of booze.   And organized crime stepped into the picture, marking out "territories" for distribution and setting basic ground rules - and killing each other off in turf battles.

This is already going on in some cities today - as gang members vie for control of distribution territories for drugs, including marijuana.  I wonder how they will feel about amateurs taking a cheap flight to Colorado and coming back with a suitcase of pot?

(Note: The new Colorado law limits possession to one ounce.  So a smuggler would have to employ a number of buyers to each buy one ounce at a time, from numerous dispensaries, in order to accumulate enough to export to other States.   While the State Police can't bust people for buying an ounce legally, they could go after people "accumulating" marijuana for smuggling purposes.   It is unclear whether dispensary records could be used to track users and establish consumption patterns.   A person buying several ounces a day would certainly raise eyebrows, if the records could be reviewed or subpoenaed.    Will smugglers hire non-users to buy marijuana for them?  This would not be illegal, as you can "gift" an ounce to another person, after you buy it.   Perhaps Granny might derive a second income by being a straw-man in such transactions.   The law raises more enforcement questions than it answers!)

Like I said, it is an interesting experiment.   And these sorts of ancillary problems are the result of marijuana being legal only at the State level, for the time being, anyway, and our crazy patchwork of laws from State to State.

The new law forbids smoking pot in public - just as public consumption of alcoholic beverages is generally illegal.  But what about in a bar?  Or does that go against the general ban on smoking (I checked, Colorado Statute 25-14-204 covers "tobacco and marijuana smoke").   So no pot bars, unless they have an outdoor enclosed patio - or is that smoking pot in public?

There are other foreseeable problems as well.   Many employers now require prospective employees to take a urine test - and randomly test existing employees as well.   For some jobs involving security issues and the like, such tests are required.  I know a fellow who lost a job as a safety inspector, in Colorado, after failing a urine test.   Does he get his job back, now?

I don't think so.  While marijuana may be legal in the State, I don't think the law requires employers to hire pot smokers.   So while you may have the right to use the drug, your use of it may limit your options, in terms of employment and economic success.

Again, it will be interesting to see how this plays out - will someone sue over this, claiming that an employer cannot discriminate based on legal drug use?   I am not sure they will have much of a case.   But laws can be changed, as the Colorado legalization initiative illustrates.

Some are arguing that Colorado may become America's Amsterdam - with pot tourists flying into the State for a marijuana vacation.   I am not sure if this is going to play out or not, as marijuana is pretty readily available as it is (at leas the people who smoke it never seem to have trouble finding it) and flying to a State just for a weekend high seems kind of costly.

But it will be interesting to see if resorts and bars and other establishments offer the drug - or have licensed dispensaries located within or nearby.   It will be interesting to see if licensed dispensaries crop up in border towns - just as liquor stores do near the borders of dry counties.   Back when the drinking age was raised (State-by-State) to 21, some States lagged behind.  Many New York teens would drive to Connecticut to buy booze, with predicable results (drunk driving accidents).  Will similar things happen to thrill-seeking kids in Nebraska.

Which brings up another interesting question - drug use by youth.   Teenagers are a huge market for marijuana as it is.  While the Colorado law limits the drug to those 21 and over, will there be "leakage" into the youth market, via intermediate buyers, fake IDs, and the like?  Will the Police setup sting operations to see if a dispensary will sell to a minor (I'm betting they will, as they do this for alcohol now).   Will drug use rise among teenagers?   And if so, how will this affect school performance, grades, etc.?  It will be interesting to watch.

These are just a few issues that I can think of, off the top of my head.  I am sure there will be others that crop up as well.  It is an interesting experiment, and both sides of this debate will no doubt use the results to "prove" their point of view is correct.

Good luck, stoners!   You'll probably need it.....