“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
K2 — the street name for plant matter sprayed with synthetic chemicals, designed to mimic the effects of marijuana’s active ingredient — is currently America’s cheapest way to get high. But the drug’s dangerous side effects have taken a toll on a wide variety of communities, particularly in New York City.
In “The Dangerous Rise of K2: America’s Cheapest High,” VICE News gets a glimpse of the challenges New York City is facing with K2 through the lens of volunteer ambulance corps and harm reduction specialists in its outer boroughs.
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This November, Ohio will vote on whether to become the biggest state to fully legalize marijuana. But the measure is very different from what’s come out of other legal pot states — and not in a good way, according to drug policy experts and legalization advocates.
Ohio is already an unexpected candidate for full legalization compared with the four legal pot states. It isn’t especially progressive like Colorado, Oregon, and Washington state, or libertarian like Alaska. It doesn’t even have medical marijuana yet, although it was one of the states to decriminalize pot back in the 1970s.
But what’s truly unusual is how Ohio’s Issue 3, as the legalization measure is called, is structured. It doesn’t just legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes; it puts the wealthy contributors for the legalization campaign in charge of growing all the pot in the state — as an explicit gift for their support. That hasn’t just rankled opponents of legalization, it has also pushed away some of the major national advocacy groups that would typically back a marijuana legalization measure.
The distinction has left even supporters of legalization wondering: Is ending the failed war on marijuana worth locking Ohio into a potentially disastrous system of legalization?
Ohio’s measure puts the campaign’s wealthy donors in charge of all the state’s pot farms
Under the measure, Ohioans 21 and older will be able to possess up to an ounce of marijuana in general and, with a $50 license, up to four flowering marijuana plants per household and up to 8 ounces of pot in their homes. Ohioans won’t be able to use pot in public spaces. The limits are fairly typical for a pot initiative — Alaska, for instance, allows adults 21 and older to possess up to 2 ounces of pot and up to six marijuana plants, and doesn’t allow public consumption.
Where Ohio’s measure really differs from other states is how marijuana is commercially produced.
Knowing that a ballot measure would be very expensive, ResponsibleOhio, the group behind the state’s legalization measure, structured its initiative to reward the top contributors to the campaign — and therefore get them on board. As a result, the state will only allow 10 marijuana farms, and more than 20 wealthy contributors signed on to the campaign will get guaranteed licenses to all 10 sites. These contributors vary — ranging from 98 Degrees band member Nick Lachey to the local Taft family.
The contributors and future pot farm owners vary — ranging former 98 Degrees band member Nick Lachey to the local Taft family
These 10 farms will then sell marijuana to more than 1,100 retail outlets, nonprofit medical dispensaries, and manufacturers. The measure charges a regulatory commission with overseeing all of these businesses, with a particular focus on making sure that Ohio’s demand for marijuana is met by the industry.
Tim Blakeley, manager of Sunset Junction medical marijuana dispensary, fills a marijuana prescription on May 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
California has implemented a series of regulations aimed at one of the state’s booming agricultural products—medical marijuana—and far from balking at government interference, producers seem pleased that lawmakers are ready to treat them as a real industry.
The Los Angeles Times reports that three bills, creating a system of oversight for the production of marijuana for medical purposes, were signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday:
The new laws create a state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation to issue and revoke licenses for the cultivation, storage and sale of cannabis and collect fees to pay for the agency’s work.
Cities and counties will also have the power to issue and revoke local permits, adopt tougher restrictions on dispensary operations and ask voters to approve taxes on marijuana growers and dispensaries to pay for local public safety expenses.
Currently, some cities and counties have ordinances allowing them to license and limit the number of dispensaries. The new laws preserve the ability of Los Angeles to prosecute businesses that violate rules set by voters in 2013.
The Sacramento Bee notes that while the governor’s approval was expected, since his office was heavily involved in drafting the bills, an unlikely coalition of support had sprung up among some of the state’s most powerful interests, from labor unions seeking worker protections to the head of the state association of police chiefs.
And the target of this regulatory intrusion, proprietors of marijuana businesses, have made it known that they don’t mind the new rules. One grower told the Los Angeles Times that, even though he’ll have to modify his plans for a new indoor cultivation facility in order to comply, he welcomed “this well-thought-out set of guidelines.”
`GOP presidential candidates are by and large staying away from the debate marijuana legalization, an issue once embraced by Republican occupants of the White House.
They have stayed largely silent as support for legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana has gained public support.
Fifty-three percent of adults nationwide say marijuana should be legal while 43 percent say the opposite, according to CBS News poll from April.
A Pew Research Center poll from March found a similar margin.
Colorado, Washington State, Oregon and Alaska have legalized marijuana for recreational use while another five will vote on the question in 2016.
Only New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and long-shot candidate Rick Santorum support a federal crackdown on state policies legalizing cannabis, which is still classified as a Schedule I drug — the most dangerous category, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Christie delivered residents of Colorado, which passed a legalization initiative in 2012, a blunt warning earlier this summer.
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it. As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws. That’s lawlessness,” he said.
Other candidates have soft-pedaled the issue, preferring to focus on the economy, the federal deficit, national security and immigration.
It’s not easy being the DEA these days. After an unprecedented losing streak on Capitol Hill, the once-untouchable Drug Enforcement Administration suffered last week what might be considered the ultimate indignity: A Senate panel, for the first time, voted in favor of legal, recreational marijuana.
Last Thursday, the Appropriations Committee voted 16-14 on an amendment to allow marijuana businesses access to federal banking services, a landmark shift that will help states like Colorado, where pot is legal, fully integrate marijuana into their economies. As significant as the vote was—according to drug policy reform advocates, it marked the first time that either house of Congress has voted to advance legislation concerning legal marijuana—it’s only the latest vote in a remarkable run of success marijuana advocates have had this year on Capitol Hill.
“The amendment was a necessary response to an absurd regulatory morass,” Montana Sen. Steve Daines, one of the three Republicans to support Thursday’s amendment, tells Politico, referring to the multifaceted and complex system of laws that have been enacted over the past four decades to prosecute a war on marijuana. It’s a war that began on or about May 26, 1971, when President Richard Nixon told his chief of staff Bob Haldeman, “I want a goddamn strong statement on marijuana …I mean one on marijuana that just tears the ass out of them.”
But that war appears to be winding down—potentially quickly. The summer of 2015 could be viewed historically as the tipping point against Nixon’s war on pot, the time when the DEA, a federal drug-fighting agency created by Nixon in 1973, found itself in unfamiliar territory as a target of congressional scrutiny, budget cuts and scorn. In a conference call this week, the new acting DEA administrator repeatedly downplayed marijuana enforcement efforts, saying that while he’s not exactly telling agents not to pursue marijuana cases, it’s generally not something anyone focuses on these days: “Typically it’s heroin, opioids, meth and cocaine in roughly that order and marijuana tends to come in at the back of the pack.”