Cannabis in California : The Growing Storm

Marijuana campaign image from Photo Bucket.

Cannabis is on the ballot:
All eyes are on California

By Jonah Raskin / The Rag Blog / March 26, 2010

The man in the dark slacks and the blue jacket counted out 100 $100 bills and handed them to the woman in jeans and a faded T shirt that said “Eat the Rich.” She handed the bills to another woman with dark glasses and turquoise rings on her fingers, and she sat down and counted them. They added up. There was $10,000 on the table.

The man in the slacks and jacket walked out of the hotel room with two-and-a-half pounds of organic California-grown marijuana. He was a happy man; he had customers from Pacific Palisades to Pasadena in Los Angeles who were eagerly awaiting their ounces, half ounces, pounds, and even grams. He had a price and a product for everyone no matter what their budget.

Call them potheads. Call them stoners. Call them what you will. They smoke marijuana daily and they go to work. They pay taxes, and on election day this coming November they will go to the polls to vote up or down on a state-wide measure that would allow dealers to sell ounces legally, an ounce at a time.

All the big-time politicians are against the measure. Jerry Brown, the State Attorney General, and the former Governor, known popularly in the 1970s as “Governor Moon Beam” is against it. So is the former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman, a rabid conservative, who is the leading Republican candidate.

Oddly enough, or perhaps not so oddly, many of the marijuana growers themselves — some of them cultivating indoors and some in greenhouses — are also opposed to legalization. “It will mean the end of my business,” one long-time grower told me. “I won’t be able to compete and to make the kind of money I make now. Legalization will ruin me.”

But the growers are in a minority. So are the dealers. The overwhelming majority of people in the pot equation are the pot smokers. There are millions of them in California (and elsewhere of course) and by and large they are sick and tired of being made to feel like criminals. They want pot to be legalized. They want to be able to purchase marijuana in the same way they purchase shoes, hats, tomatoes, and olive oil. They’re perfectly willing for it to be taxed.

Many of them are “true believers.” They feel that pot is practically a sacrament. They insist that it is good for them — good for their hearts, their eyesight, their digestion, and, if they are cancer patients, a remedy for loss of appetite and nausea. The medical evidence increasing shows that they are right.

In the state of California, a place in which there are very few “true believers,” the true believers in the goodness of marijuana will play a decisive role in whether or not the measure to legalize the drug will pass or fail. Every day, in almost everything they do and everything they say, they campaign for marijuana. When they smoke it they share it; when they cook with it they hand out brownies to friends and family members. They push pot constantly, and promote it endlessly.

Ever since 1996 when medical marijuana became legal in California, they have been smoking in public — in pot dispensaries, bars, and on the streets. After 14 years, it is out of control — at least by law enforcement standards; it is not possible to take pot out of the culture and the business of California without also imposing martial law.

And even that will not stop it. Thousands of Californians — and thousands of Americans — have been arrested for possession of marijuana in the last decade. And still the numbers of marijuana smokers have grown. Arrests have inflicted hardship and pain on California citizens from the Oregon border to Mexico.

At a time when the California budget is in deep financial trouble, the promise of tax dollars from the sale of marijuana will be hard to resist. And the call of marijuana as medicine will be hard to resist too.

In the next eight months, marijuana will be in the news in California every week, if not every day. The opponents of legalization will bring out the same old arguments. They will talk once again about that old bugaboo “reefer madness.” And in a way they are right.

Indeed, the pro-marijuana forces are mad. They are mad about the persecution they have suffered. They are mad about the lies and the distortions. They are so mad they are willing to fight in the open, to take their cause everywhere in the State of California.

The gap that exists between the citizens of the Golden State and their elected officials will become clearer and clearer. Marijuana will be a wedge that will drive them apart — except that some politicians like State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano from San Francisco, want legalization too. Ammiano is a true believer. To some he is a saint, to others a devil.

The growing storm will focus in part around him and in Sacramento, the state capitol. But no part of California can or will escape the issue of the legalization of marijuana. And the eyes of the nation will be on California.

[Jonah Raskin co-wrote the story for the marijuana feature length movie, Homegrown, that stars Billy Bob Thornton, Hank Azaria, Kelly Lynch, Ryan Phillippe, Ted Danson, Jamie Lee Curtis, and John Lithgow. Raskin teaches media law at Sonoma State University.]

The Rag Blog

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7 Responses to Cannabis in California : The Growing Storm

  1. I’m sure the income from the taxes will be just what California needs since they’re in financial dire straits.

    There will be licenses; inspections – conformity to the production – regulation – all will add more $$$ to the ‘coffers’ just as liquor and cigarette taxes have.

  2. California is our wedge in the door of senseless prohibition of one of the most valuable plants known to humankind.

    When we get mad, we get effective. Damn skippy, pot users are finally getting mad. I would merely add that we’re not simply “made to feel like criminals” as Raskin says, but actually made into criminals, with all of the collateral damage that goes with that classification.

    I have worked for legalization for over 40 years. Yes indeed, illegal growers and dealers are as opposed to overthrowing prohibition as are the police and informers who make a living from it, the prison guards, and the career “reform” bureaucrats.

    “The Revelator” of cannabis’ hiddeen history, Jack Herer is still alive, still hanging on. California has a chance to show him, and all of us, a chance to turn things around. I urge everyone to support California’s cannabis legalization proposition!

  3. BadTux says:

    Jerry Brown has actually *NOT* come out against the measure, but, rather, has stated that since he is Attorney General and charged with writing the ballot language for the thing, he’s not going to adopt any position at all on it because if he did he’d end up in court on charges that his ballot language favored one side or the other. Cool, Jerry gets to take a political mulligan here!

    – Badtux the News Penguin

  4. Joe says:


    Mr. Herer is still with us and doing great. I’ve seen him on a recent Oregon Hemp Fest video. He deserves all the credit for the position hemp is taking in the public debate. He and Captain Adair are responsible for educating this country on pot and the history of pot. They did the research and Bless their hearts; they should be mentioned in every hemp conversation.

    Say…I think Cali., New Mexico, Arizona,…all the States that first broached legalization should get first dibs on all agricultural products and machinery for hemp planting, growing, harvesting, product research and development – fuels,plastics,paper, etc. It’s only fair that they should benefit first.

    States like Texas, who pawed the dirt and grunted a bunch, but didn’t get any legislation passed (for all these years!) for medical… much less industrial should be allowed to develope and produce the equipment along with the States that tried harder, but we can’t grow until one month after the “go git’em” States have planted.

    I know all these States have great schools with great Ag. Dept., Mech. Eng.,…on down the line. I just bet that the Texas A&M crowd along with Tech,UT,Rice,SMU and the rest of them could catch up. It would be fun to try.

    There is 7 out on Hawaii, who is close to passing his bill 2210 or 11 (I’m not sure) for medical. He’s doing a great job. I pray for him everyday. He and some hempsters have a grow page on “The Daily Show” Forum. OP-ED “What do u have for or against marij..”

    Thanks again Mariam Wizard for remembering Jack Herer and Captain Adair ( Jack would mention the Captain.)

    Joe W. Gaddy

  5. Wizard says:

    Joe — good man; I’m glad to know St. Jack the Revelator is talking again — what a mensch!

    Don’t forget Alaska in your list of states that have put legalization on the ballot — in 2004! Talk about your agriculture — honey, they grow some BIG vegetables up there, and some kick-ass bud!

  6. Richard says:

    I collected signatures for the 1st CMI in San Diego, 1972. Seems like only yesterday.

    I don’t like the 21 year age limit, a continuation of the war on youth that began when I was a youth. But our kids are inventive and flexible. They’ll figure it out. The herb is much more fun when you are young.

    You’ll be sorry that you put the weed in the hands of the state to “regulate.” What ever happened to just decriminalization, it’s a plant treat it like carrots.

    This will cause all the heads who normally don’t vote to be sucked into the voting scam.

    Too bad this law will still make the kids prey to the pig.

  7. Mariann says:

    I should have said “SOME illegal growers and dealers” are opposed to legalization; obviously, many will welcome it.

    There are several provisions in the Cali proposition I’m not fond of, and repeal of prohibition at the federal level is eventually gonna be needed to root out all of the insidious branches of the drug war throughout our national life. But legalizing commerce in one state will have giant benefits, economically and in terms of propaganda, like in medical states and states that recognize gay unions: it decreases and makes ridiculous the fear-mongering; it makes people more willing to speak out and say, “yah I smoke weed and here is why… but you sure don’t have to; more for me!”

    It’s a long-overdue step. If people can live with this outrageous health-care reform bill and call it progress and say it will be “fixed” as time goes by…

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