“These things are like liquor stores,” said Michael Lee, chief executive of Cannabis Therapeutics in Colorado Springs. Lee said that a state crackdown on loose regulation over the last six months has produced more consistent rules for selling medical marijuana and provided a windfall for government. “The city of Denver and the state have collected $18 million in fees in the last 30 days.”
Others noted the revenue potential. “The western states have shown us that you can make a lot of money with medical marijuana,” said Chris Goldstein, executive director of NORML New Jersey, and a spokesman for Pennsylvanians for Medical Marijuana.
However, that new-found commercial power has divided the legalization advocates, looking for a wholesale transformation, and the medical marijuana interests, who are interested in only modest gains or even the statue quo.
“It’s always been an issue,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML. “It’s a reflection of the success of the movement.” He doesn’t see the divisions as meaningful.
“States that lead the way to medical marijuana lead the way on legalization.”
Some would say that’s the point. Critics of medical marijuana have been quick to say that the issue is merely a gateway meant to leverage voters into accepting legalization.
“If it’s a trojan horse, it’s made of glass,” said Portland-based podcaster Russ Belville. He says that legalization advocates have been fairly transparent with their strategies. “Compassion dictates that we legalize it as medicine,” said Belville, who sees medical marijuana as a trial form of legalization. “If things go well … further legalize.”
Though California may be setting the trend, they are not setting the standard for medical marijuana legalization. California’s medical marijuana laws are liberal when compared to Oregon, Washington, Nevada and the 10 other states that permit its use.
For example, California allows more than a dozen medical conditions including anxiety to be treated with marijuana. Most other states average about six medical justifications.
California, therefore, might not be the bellwether for the nation that wishful hearts would like. Locally Oregon’s medical pot dispensaries have shown some recent decline in support.
While paid political consultants like Nadelmann say 2012 is a better time to push for legalization, no one at the convention would say that a slow state-by-state campaign for medicalization is the best path. Indeed, no one could seem to agree that there was a national strategy at all.
“I’d like to see a more professional approach,” said Nadelmann, who sides with a strategic and more uniform approach to reform.
Armentano said that that was unlikely. As the movement grows in popularity, he sees it becoming increasingly piecemeal until mainstream organizations get behind the cause.
“Without the grassroots, we wouldn’t have California and Oregon” initiatives, Armentano said. “The professionals, for whatever reason, didn’t want to put something on the ballot. You aren’t going to see the Democrats or the Sierra Club taking on legalization as an issue. Until that happens, the grassroots are the only people who will stick their necks out.”
The Story Continues: 1 2