Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Marijuana legalization is on the way

The 30 marijuana plants are ready for harvest. Sunning themselves under
grow lights in a room lined with white plastic, they are a lush green,
with not a dead leaf on them. Their fist-sized buds bend each stem
downward like branches laden with snow.

The secret grow operation supplies one of Seattle's oldest
medical-marijuana dispensaries, Compassion in Action, in a Seattle
industrial zone in a building with no sign. It offers marijuana smoking
mixture, oil, cookies, peanut brittle and Rice Krispies bars to 3,300

Each patient has a letter from a physician certifying that he has
multiple sclerosis, AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, intractable pain or one of
the other conditions named in Washington law.

The dispensary has been here five years, and was in other places before
that. Founder and longtime leader Dale Rogers says police and
prosecutors know where it is.

The feds, too?

"I'm sure the feds know," he says. "Public officials know I'm trying to
do this in good faith."

Originally Rogers kept no business records. It was too risky. In the
past two years he has hired an accountant, put his growers on salary and
begun reporting their pay to the IRS. He says controlling payments to
growers allowed him to lower prices by $100 an ounce.

The operation is set up as a not-for-profit co-op. Appearances seem to
confirm this. I see no gold chains or fancy cars. An employee jokes that
Rogers owns only three pairs of pants.

Other dispensaries are more frankly commercial, some of them supplied
from California.

"The California guys are entrepreneurs," says the co-op's attorney,
Douglas Hiatt. "We're socialists, compared to those guys."

The whole ecosystem of medical marijuana here, cooperative and
capitalist, operates under an umbrella of black-market prices that is
not sustainable. Already dispensaries are operating openly in Los
Angeles under the green cross, and in other places: I saw one two weeks
ago in Garberville, along the Redwood Highway. In November, Californians
will vote on a statewide ballot measure for full legalization.

Legalize marijuana, and the world-class farmers of the San Joaquin
Valley will be cultivating hemp in big, flat, open fields. No one will
have to pay $400 an ounce — and the grow-light guys will be gone.
The Humboldt County entrepreneurs, with their small, secret plots in the
woods, will fold up — which is why they are now passing out bumper
stickers saying "Keep Pot Illegal."

When it comes, legalization in California will lower prices here. So
would Washington Initiative 1068, a measure sponsored by Hiatt and
others that may be on the statewide ballot here in November.

Then what? "Everyone worries about Philip Morris coming in," says Vivian
McPeak, director of Seattle Hempfest. "But you can't hold freedom back
for that reason."

The recent invasion and shooting at a marijuana grow operation raises
another issue: security. "We're entering into a very scary, unstable
time," says Rogers, who wants no part of gangland rule, either as a
business operator or a patient.

Rogers, who uses marijuana to keep his AIDS medicine down and his
appetite up, has worked for years for the social changes that are now
happening. They will change the world of his growers and his "socialist"
cooperative. Nevertheless, he says, "I'm calling for full legalization,
and taxing."

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