Here’s the scenario: You are part of a grassroots movement trying to change a law you perceive as outdated, irrational and just plain wrong. Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that your goal is the legalization of marijuana. How do you go about it?
You begin by educating politicians, the media and the public on marijuana’s medicinal value, the potential increase in tax revenue resulting from its legalization, and the money that could be saved by not enforcing, trying and incarcerating those who use it.
You make some headway, and your timing is good. The one big hurdle standing in the way, however, is a decades old stigma attached to marijuana. That stigma is amplified by the parasites who circumvent the system in the name of greed, who use the sketchiest of logic to operate drug markets and keep that negative perception alive and well. Like remoras, they attach themselves to your best efforts no matter how much you attempt to dissociate from them.
Instead of a clear message, the political battle to legalize marijuana is a blur. End scenario.
The rational voices advocating for legalized marijuana are losing volume against the constant whine of greedy, slippery and impatient drug dealers who operate just over the edge of state law. All the former want to do is discuss marijuana’s medicinal properties, its potential taxability as a recreational drug; all the latter want to do is sell marijuana to anyone who knocks on their door.
In Friday’s Trib (9/7), the City of Tacoma formally, and finally, took a stand: Employees served three marijuana dispensaries with cease and desist orders (a number that could increase to as many as forty). Officials from the city’s Finance Department utilized city business code violations to close dispensaries which, unlike collective gardens owned and operated by permitted private individuals, have chosen businesses which sell marijuana to permitted customers (“patients” would be a disingenuous term given the ease of obtaining a medical marijuana permit).
The audacity of these dispensaries is truly mind-boggling. Though some make a sincere effort to behave as legitimate businesses, many provide one stop shopping for both marijuana prescriptions as well as the product. A large percentage also follow the legal guidance of Tacoma attorney Jay Berneburg, who counsels his clients in “How to Act Like a Collective Garden.”
This imagine and greed-infused method is a distortion. In the real world, our state requires people to officially join as members of collective gardens to harvest their own marijuana plants. In Berneburg’s reality, the customers – sorry, members – join the collective garden with a simple signature upon entry.
Consider further: State law also requires members to give official notice of their intent to leave the collective garden. Berneburg’s reality: Have them sign that form on the way out the door.
But wait, there’s more. When the tax man knocks on the door of your dispensary, the response is, “Sorry, tax dude, we’re a collective garden.”
This is the type of wink and nod sideshow that should make even the most cynical dope dealer blush. Such parasitic, self-centered behavior could negatively alter public perception on the legalization issue just as initiatives (such as I-502) arrive on the ballot. This leaves advocates fighting a battle on two fronts, one against unfair public perception and the other against legitimate public perception.
Whether you agree with the efforts of marijuana advocates or not, the machinations of the legalization process in Olympia are an exercise in democracy. In America, social change often comes frustratingly, maddeningly slow for those trying to affect its pace.
But when the moment comes, when the political, cultural and legal stars begin to align and our state appears on the verge of accepting a new standard, those who have waited and advocated so long for that moment may come up short because some greedy pot dealers who want to have their cake, eat it and then shove it in our face.