“Dude, you’re gonna throw me under the bus.”
The print media gallery at the House of Representatives is packed with journos right now, breathlessly anticipating debates on the New Mexico budget ($5.6 bil!) and drivers licenses for illegal immigrants. I’ve got my sites set on sillier political game, though.
I wasn’t trying to throw Rep. Eleanor Chavez under any buses. I had a question, though, for the Democrat from Albuquerque. I don’t understand why weed is illegal. I wanted to talk with Chavez about this because she introduced a bill here to classify synthetic marijuana as a controlled substance. Meaning, you can get arrested for buying or selling it.
Chavez said she introduced that bill because a constituent called her to say his daughter had been hospitalized overnight with hallucinations after smoking something called “Spice,” available at smoke shops bearing a wrapper that says “Not for human consumption.”
“It was a bill to keep kids safe,” Chavez said. (It was also pulled from committee dockets because research showed the substances in synthetic cannabis actually are already illegal.)
Alright, then. So tell me why regular marijuana should be banned from use by regular Americans.
“I think that’s a conversation we should look at.”
Do you think it should be legal?
This is when Chavez smiled, took a half step backward, called me “Dude,” and said I was throwing her under a bus.
After his State of the Union speech a couple weeks ago, President Obama answered questions submitted on YouTube and voted for by the internet-going public. According to numerous reports, 18 of the top 20 questions were related to marijuana policy.
From Slate: The top vote-getter came from retired LAPD officer Stephen Downing, who said he’s come to see the country’s drug policies as “a failure and a complete waste of criminal justice resources.” Pointing to a recent Gallup poll that showed, for the first time, a majority of Americans in support of marijuana legalization, he asked Obama “What do you say to this growing voter constituency that wants more changes to drug policy than you’ve delivered in your first term?”
Obama says nothing about that. He wasn’t submitted the question, or any others concerning pot.
“I think it’s political will,” Chavez said, when I asked her why no politicians will try to push us toward legal weed. “I think we should look at the impact on prisons, and what we could make if we taxed it.”
Politicians don’t bring it up, though, because “they’re probably afraid of what their constituents will think.”
Is that because voters skew older and more conservative?
“I think there’s probably more support (for legalization) than people think,” Chavez said.
Sen. Cisco McSorley (D-Bernalillo) isn’t afraid to rap about dope. He’s been working at the Roundhouse to strengthen the state’s medical marijuana policy, and the terms he dropped over a brief conversation in his officer included “vicious assholes in the DEA.”
McSorley has “mixed feelings,” he said, about whether weed should be legal. He wants it decriminalized, though, because he’s worried full legalization would lead to tobacco companies malevolently lording over the pot industry.
McSorley likes the idea of decriminalization, where anyone can grow and possess the drug without worrying about getting arrested.
Weed is illegal, he said, because the feds say it is, and the U.S. Supreme Court has given them that power. Since Nixon, McSorley said, every U.S. president has interfered with universities who sought to study marijuana and its effects, by threatening to cut funding.
What’s motivating the Feds?
“It’s a bounty,” McSorley said. “The DEA, the IRS… There’s lots of federal departments who get to share when there’s a seizure.”
Confiscating marijuana-related properties and materials, McSorley said, is worth between $6 and $10 billion every year to the federal government.
“I think the DEA is a program that’s out of control and in it for the money,” he said. “They’re not in it for the welfare of the people of the United States.”
Among the problems decriminalized weed would help, as McSorley sees it, is violence in Mexico: “If it were decriminalized, who would buy it from a Mexican drug lord? No one.”
New Mexico’s medical marijuana policy is famously strict, with few companies having negotiated the application process. And yet medical weed is still a million-dollar business, with seven percent of that money going into the state’s coffers from gross receipts taxes.
“And it has nowhere to go but up,” McSorley said.
Whether the federal government will ever muster the will to get progressive with this issue remains to be seen. As we stand now, Obama won’t even talk about it, even as his DEA is cracking down on state-legal retailers.
McSorley sees basic rights as one of the several dynamics at play here: “The idea the government would say the First Amendment protects religious beliefs, but is not about the beliefs people hold about their own well being…. Is this a free country?”