Monday, June 17, 2013

My mother was a marijuana user

Late in life, my mother became a marijuana user.

If, for some reason, that sentence brings up an image of an old person smoking a joint (like the picture above) let me hasten to clarify.

When mom was in her early 80’s, she developed glaucoma, which is a very common ailment for older people. Glaucoma is defined as an increased pressure within the eye, and it’s the 2nd leading cause of blindness in the world. There is no cure for glaucoma, but it can be controlled through the use of surgery or medication.

In my mother’s case, her doctor felt the THC drops would be the best remedy. The full medical name for the stuff is Tetrahydrocannabinol, and it’s the principal psychoactive component of the cannabis plant.

In addition to its use in treating glaucoma, medical marijuana can be used for a variety of other medical symptoms, principally as a pain reliever.

As of today, 18 states permit the use of medical marijuana. Strangely enough, Minnesota isn’t one of them, so her doctor must have used some creative language to get the drops for my mother in the late 1990’s. Arizona is, however, and Flagstaff just opened its first center recently.

The very first medical marijuana location in Arizona opened in downtown Glendale last December. For the patients who genuinely need it, the treatment isn’t cheap, since it sells for close to $500 an ounce. Patients are limited to 2.5 ounces every two weeks.

There are currently 33,000 patients in the state who have permission to use medical marijuana. If you assumed that each of those 33,000 people averaged one ounce per week, at an average price of $500 an ounce, the state of Arizona would collect $85,800,000 a year in sales tax just from that very select group of people.

It’s a well known fact that there are PLENTY of folks who use marijuana for other than medicinal purposes. Marijuana continues to remain as America’s favorite illicit drug. Although it’s difficult to determine exactly how much “pot” is consumed every year, the size of the market ranges from a low of $10,000,000,000 a year up to $120 billion a year. The price per ounce varies from a low of $258 an ounce in Oregon to a high of $486 an ounce in Washington, D.C..

A few enlightened lawmakers, aware of the fact that the “war on drugs” has been a dismal failure, have come to the realization that the sales tax revenue on a market that is estimated to be a minimum of $10 billion a year would amount to a LOT of money. To date, Colorado and Washington are the only states to legalize recreational use of marijuana, but others will follow soon. Alaska will more than likely be the third state.

According to Virgin Chairman Richard Branson, the “war on drugs” has been a “trillion dollar failure” for the following reason:

1) The United States has the largest prison population in the world, with 2.3 million people behind bars. Of that total, more than 500,000 have been incarcerated for a drug law violation. Since it costs an average of $40,000 a year to house an inmate, our country is literally wasting an astounding $20 billion a year housing inmates who shouldn’t be locked up at all.

2) Just as Prohibition didn’t stop the consumption of alcohol, our drug laws haven’t reduced drug use. The United States is the number 1 nation in the world in illegal drug use.

It’s unlikely that all 50 states will follow the lead of Washington and Oregon. In the meantime, there’s a wide variety of laws regarding the possession of marijuana. Some states call the violation a felony, even for small amounts, while others are far more lenient.

Even the children of drug court judges can occasionally find themselves on the wrong side of the law. The 20 year old daughter of a Cook County judge was recently arrested for possession of marijuana and ecstasy. Since her marijuana possession was considered a felony, her life is going to be needlessly screwed up for a long time. As my son learned last fall, even a felony conviction that was dismissed YEARS AGO can come back to haunt you when you apply for a job.

It’s been roughly 40 years since I sampled some “weed”, and I’m not planning in starting the habit anytime soon. I’m absolutely certain that discussions of the legalization of marijuana were well below my mother’s radar, but her “illegal” eye drops DID provide some comfort for her in her old age.

My opinion is that more of our cash-strapped states will legalize recreational marijuana use within the next 5 years, due to its potential revenue stream from taxes. States currently capture nearly $100 billion a year from legalized gambling, and nearly all of them have operating deficits in their current fiscal year, in spite of their revenue from gambling.

In 1967, the late Timothy Leary coined the phrase, “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out”, and there’s no question that his drug use was legendary. It’s unlikely that the entire country would suddenly get as crazy as he was if all drug laws were abolished, but in times like this, it’s time that we start applying more common sense to our existing laws related to marijuana.

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