Among the most surprising things I’ve witnessed in writing Weed Between the Lines for two years now is how quickly the cannabis debate is evolving in Congress. Back then, a small group of representatives, including Colorado’s Jared Polis, were trying, with little success, to get their colleagues to wake up to the fact that states were finding marijuana laws distasteful and changing them on their own.
Today that debate has moved across the aisle. On May 20, the Senate Appropriations Committee, on a bipartisan vote of 18 to 12, passed an amendment that will allow Veterans Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana to vets in states where it is legal. This will only allow VA doctors to do what other physicians can do for anyone else in those states, but it’s the first time any marijuana legislation has gotten out of committee in the “world’s greatest deliberative body.”
The Veterans Equal Access Amendment, sponsored by Montana Republican Steve Daines and Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, was added to a $77.6 billion funding bill for military construction and veterans benefits which is expected to pass the full Senate. A similar VA cannabis-access amendment was narrowly defeated (213-210) in the House version of the veterans’ bill. If this passes the Senate, and most people expect it will, the chambers would have to reconcile the discrepancies.
Statewise, in 2015, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia have passed medical marijuana legislation, Louisiana, Ohio and Texas still have bills pending, and Georgia, Idaho and Kansas have all turned down medical marijuana bills already this year.
Next year is shaping up to be an important year for marijuana legislation. Several states have already gotten enough signatures to place measures on the ballot, and more are expected as time goes on. Presidential candidates now regularly admit to cannabis use when they were young, and with polls showing almost 80 percent support for medical marijuana of some kind or other, it’s going to be more difficult to win votes if you’re still among those, like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who want cannabis to remain illegal and its users to be criminals.
At home, two years ago at this time, legislation was being written by state lawmakers who had mostly opposed Amendment 64, and there was great anxiety on both sides of the issue. Today Colorado is the cannabis capital of the world, and the state seems none the worse for the changeover. People and governments around the world are watching us carefully, and our legislators are sought after for opinions about the pros and cons of legalization.
Another surprise is that it’s already no big deal. Marijuana, which has existed outside the law since at least the 1930s, now exists within it. It has permeated the culture and brought more visitors and tourism dollars to the state. Colorado is the weed state, and, like it or not, late-night jokes and social media ridicule come with the territory.
There has been no major increase or decrease in crime around the state. No big rise in the number of traffic accidents. No major influx of people into the emergency rooms. No increase in the number of underage users. Is the system perfect? No. Many businesses still face serious banking issues. State and local taxes are high enough that some are still buying through the black market. Though it is legal for tourists to buy cannabis, there are few options for places to use it. Regulations will continue to need tweaking. But in a state where only two legislators came out in favor of Amendment 64 before its passage, the signs are encouraging that the brave thing Colorado voters did in 2012 was the right thing to do at the right time.
I am reminded of the subtleties of the change every time I walk down the Pearl Street Mall. Legalization has become part of everyday Colorado tourism. Entire areas are now devoted to cannabis trinkets. There are tables and sections devoted to “Gifts for Your Buds!” Green, cannabis-themed “pot” holders and coffee mugs sit next to flasks, ganja cookbooks (Baking With My Homies and The Marijuana Chef) and baked Blundt Cakes. “This is my potsmoking T-shirt” is on the wall right next to a Led Zeppelin model. Pick up a pair of socks with cannabis leaves on them along with your Go Buffs hosiery.
My favorite is something Billie spied at McGuckin Hardware. Our bumbershoot had selfdestructed during all the recent rain, and she found a nice, deep-green model that, when it opens, has marijuana buds beating back the raindrops from your face. We be styling now.