Pot possibilities: Locals imagine a state with legalized marijuana

illustration

All illustrations by Danielle Genzel

On November second, California voters will check yes or no on Proposition 19, the measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use.  Since the proposition itself is yet to be finalized, it is hard to guess what the repercussions of either outcome – yes or no – might be.

“It’s all hypothetical at this point,” said Alex Katz, communication director for the Oakland City Attorney.

But, as with all controversial issues, there are many ideas, theories and strong opinions about Prop 19 and what will happen if it passes the vote.

Many people would be indirectly affected by the legalization of marijuana.  Doctors, parents, law enforcement officers and local business owners are just a few of the Californians potentially feeling the impact.

Oakland North reporters Abby Baird and Teresa Chin asked a former Bay Area police officer, a smoke shop employee, a retired emergency physician, and a Berkeley parent to share their best guesses.  All except the physician, citing concerns about the current illegality of recreational cannabis, asked that their full names not be published.

Former Bay Area Police Officer: Increased access as parents and police look the other way

The Oakland Police Department just laid off 80 officers, and will face the prospect of losing 100 more if Measure BB, a “fix” to the Violence Prevention and Public Safety Act of 2004, doesn’t pass on November 2nd. A recently laid-off Bay Area police officer shares his views of the effect Prop 19 will have if passed, especially concerning the continual reduction in the police force.  He will be voting “no” on Prop 19.

"If you're going to smoke I'd rather you do it in the house next time."

"If you're going to smoke I'd rather you do it in the house next time."

If you make it legal, then people aren’t going to just be in their houses smoking anymore.  It will become something you see more out in the open.

I think that there’s going to be a lot of widespread abuse, and I think that it will get worse.  A lot of people will be using.  Anytime you have more access to something, it changes how you normally behave; you are opening up to more problems.

Kids will have access.  Kids will either have parents, who are using it themselves and feel like it’s not a big deal, letting them use it, or kids will have friends who are older and will allow them to have access to it.

You will have even less law enforcement involvement.   Local agencies will be forced to look the other way.  And there is a good chance that the feds might rescind some of its aid, because marijuana is a huge problem across the country. The drug cartels coming out of Mexico are dealing in marijuana.  The feds are dealing with that, not the local law enforcement.

The DA won’t even file on most misdemeanor charges anymore; they did not have the money.  It would be a waste of everybody’s time.  If the law changes, the felony marijuana charges are probably going to stay, but it’s going to be harder to prove them.

Smoke Shop Employee: Fewer teen smokers, higher quality pot

Walking along Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, you’re sure to pass at least half a dozen smoke shops – glass-blown pipes and tarnished-looking hookahs glinting from store windows under signs that proudly read, “Open since 1969.” Unlike most of his colleagues who won’t discuss the issue, one smoke shop employee weighed in on the future of smoke shops if Prop 19 passes. He asked that his name not be used because he wanted to talk about recreational teen pot use, which would remain illegal under Prop 19. He is voting “yes” on the proposition.

I don’t think it’s going to change businesses around here too much. They have really strict zoning on smoke shops, so it’s not like you’re going to see a lot of new ones pop up. The smoke shops are already here, and you need a special license. I think that we might get fewer kids in here, actually. If pot is legal, their parents might have to talk to them more about it because, you know, they can’t be in denial anymore. I also wonder if we’re going to have the way we sell things because right now you can buy pipes if you’re 18. If pot is legalized and the age is 21, the government might want us to change things.

I also don’t buy this tourism thing. People are not going to come to California to smoke pot or buy pot. Pot is easy to get now. You can get it anywhere. Why would people come here to get it? The only thing that I think will change is the product. If they regulate it right, it’ll probably be higher quality. A lot of people who smoke it now burn the leaves, and that’s not good. I think it’ll be healthier if it’s legalized. It will definitely do more good than harm.

Retired Emergency Physician: Pot tastings and tourism, over-the-counter pharma

In 2005, Doctor Larry Bedard retired to his hilltop home in Marin after practicing emergency medicine for more than 30 years.  In his late sixties, with white unkempt hair and a couple days’ worth of silver scruff on his chin, Bedard is welcoming and excited to talk all things marijuana.  Bedard currently chairs the Health Professionals Coalition in favor of Proposition 19 and has been politically active in the fight to legalize marijuana for many years.

"This is a hybrid. It's 10% sativa, 80% indica, leaves a nice oaky aftertaste."

"This is a hybrid. It's 10% sativa, 80% indica, leaves a nice oaky aftertaste."

There’s a lot of talk about having tourism, and if you had coffee shops like they have in Amsterdam, that will draw tourists. All you’ve got to do is to go up to Napa, and I think the amount of money they make on tourism may be more than the amount of money they make on selling grapes.  20 years ago it used to be free.  Now it’s 15 dollars or 25 dollars a [wine] flight, and I think they’re predicting the same thing would happen.

You would see coffee houses with music, and people would sit around, just like they do with wine, and say, “Oh, the bouquet of this,” and “This really smells green.”

I’ve got some friends who are oenophiles, and they’ll talk about, “Well, it’s got 45 percent Cabernet grapes and 25 percent Pinot Noir grapes.” I mean, you’d see the same thing, “This one is 10 percent Sativa, 80 percent Indica.  A combination of Afghan . . .” You know?

There’s a lot of ritual.  You know, rolling or having a bong or like people smoking hookahs in the Middle East.  There’s a whole kind of behavioral aspect to it and I think that’s what you would see in coffee houses or tourism. The same kind of behavior, not only in using the drug, but all the rituals that go with it.

I’ll guess, 80 to 90 percent of people that have, quote, ‘recommendations’ for medicinal marijuana are using it for recreational purposes. I call it wink-and-a-nod medicine. You come in and wink and you give me a set of symptoms, and I’ll nod and say, ‘Gee, I think you’ve got a diagnosis, and I’ve got a treatment. Take marijuana.’  I think anybody could find a physician who would recommend it.

It would be helpful to have some adult supervision and I think there’s a real role for the medical profession to step up and say. ‘Hey, if your patients are using it, you ought to know about it.’  I was in Sacramento two weekends ago, reading a free magazine.  It’s really interesting. You open it up and the front page is . . . half of it was marijuana ads: 420 evaluation, doctors only, 59 dollars for new patients, 49 dollars for repeats, voted the best delivery service in Sacramento. So you could just phone in and they deliver to your hotel room, to your house.   There was a full-page ad saying: edibles, butter, honey, all kinds of stuff, individual joints.  It’s out of control.

I think it ought to be regulated, like over-the-counter Advil, but it ought to say ‘200 mg’ and it ought to say all the other ingredients. You know, if you’ve got a peanut allergy or nut allergy, you want to make sure what kind of oil is in there. Look at a candy bar.  They tell you how much trans-fats in it, how many calories are in it, all that kind of stuff.

We have spent over a trillion dollars since 1970 [on fighting marijuana]. We have the strictest laws prohibiting marijuana of any industrial country in the world, and we have the highest rates of marijuana usage.  The game’s over.

Berkeley Parent: Moral consistency, but in the wrong direction

Doris, a Berkeley native, was born in the mid 1960s. Her older brother used to sell pot from the attic of their mother’s home.  Currently working at a bookstore in Berkeley, Doris is also mother to a 13-year-old son. She’s voting “no” on the proposition, but says that she feels that keeping pot illegal promotes mixed messages.

"Seriously, no weed."

"Seriously, no weed."

Around here, people act like it’s already legal. See that lady across the street? [points out the window of the bookstore] She’s high as a kite right now. As the mother of a 13-year-old, it really scares me. It’s already a permissive culture around here.  We’re not enforcing the law now. It’s like when a parent says ‘no,’ but what they really mean is ‘maybe’ or ‘yes.’ If it’s legalized, at least it will be honest. The police can be consistent. Right now, Berkeley is a bit of a contradiction.

I think Berkeley might get more tourism, but not the kind that people think. We’ll get more homeless people and drug addicts. Telegraph is really the antidrug. I bring people here and I ask them if what they see here is what they want. The streets here are filled with people who have taken it too far. I’m not saying it will be like that everywhere. There will always be certain places where it’s never going to be okay, like Walnut Creek or something. Those places will probably stay the same. I don’t see it as a success that it will be potentially legal. It’s kind of heartbreaking, actually.

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