And To All Our Friends Who Celebrate 420...

"It is time. There are no more arguments or excuses that work. Let’s legalize it."

-Rep. Marie Newman (D-IL)

As a teenager, I learned how to drive stoned on pot. In my 4 years at college there were only 2 days that I wasn't stoned-- and I had car accidents both days. WhenI found myself addicted to heroin, it was marijuana that saved my life. That said, I haven't smoked any pot in something like 4 decades... and I'm all for legalization.

Yesterday's Chicago Tribune got its readers ready for 4/20 with a brief essay by business reporter Robert Channick. April 20-- 4/20-- is something like a national holiday for dedicated stoners. Channick explained why: "Born of teenage stoner lore, 4:20 p.m. was allegedly the weekly meeting time for a group of five California high school students nicknamed the Waldos, who in 1971 would gather to smoke pot and search for the holy grail of weed-- a flourishing crop supposedly left untended in the forest. While alternate origin theories abound, former San Rafael High School students Steve Capper, Mark Gravich, Larry Schwartz, Jeff Noel and Dave Reddix have told their story in multiple reports since the 420 term first surfaced in High Times in 1991. Somehow it stuck, and the five have been anointed grandfathers of the international phenomenon. Over the years, 420 has become slang for getting high, a time of the day to partake and a date on the calendar to celebrate all things weed. As legalization sweeps across the country and cannabis goes corporate, the grassroots event has turned into a marketing opportunity for billion-dollar, publicly traded marijuana companies to commercialize."

Recreational marijuana use is now legal in 17 states and Washington D.C., with New Mexico, Virginia and New York the most recent to approve it.
In 1996, California became the first state to approve the use of medical marijuana through Proposition 215. Colorado and Washington were the first states to approve recreational marijuana sales in 2012, opening the floodgates to a broader retail industry.
Illinois legalized recreational marijuana use on Jan. 1, 2020.
As more states legalize recreational weed, 91% of U.S. adults say marijuana should be legal in some form, including 60% that approve of recreational use, according to a Pew Research study published Friday.
One in four Americans used cannabis in some form during the past 12 months, according to a YouGov study released Monday that was commissioned by Chicago-based cannabis firm Cresco.
Nearly one fourth of cannabis users said they tried it for the first time within the past year, according to the YouGov study.
Midwestern cannabis users consume more edibles and beverages than other regions of the country, the study showed.
More than four in 10 cannabis users believe 420 should be recognized as a national holiday, according to the YouGov study.
An April report by cannabis research firm Headset projects legal U.S. weed sales to hit $28.3 billion in 2022, up from $22.8 billion this year, a 24% gain.
Marijuana sales in Illinois have soared since the state legalized recreational use, reaching $1.03 billion last year. That included $669 million in recreational weed sales and more than $366 million in medical sales, according to the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which regulates dispensaries in the state.
The pace has accelerated in 2021, with nearly $377 million in total marijuana sales through March, including $279 million in recreational sales and $98 million in medical sales, according to the state.
States collected $2.5 billion in sales tax revenue in 2020, with California topping the list at just over $1 billion, according to a study released last week by US Drug Test Centers.
Illinois generated $175 million in marijuana taxes in 2020, ranking 5th among all states, according to the study.

This morning, Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) noted that "In 2012, Colorado and my home state of Washington became the first states to legalize marijuana. Over the next seven years, nine states joined us. And in November, voters in four more states-- red and blue-- brought the list to 15. While we move the MORE Act through Congress, let's keep the momentum for justice going by legalizing marijuana across the country, expunging the records of those serving time for it, and ensuring BIPOC communities who have been disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs own the profits of this new industry."

Alexandra Hunt is the progressive candidate running for Congress in Philly (PA-03). This morning she told me that there should be "no legalization without decriminalization" and told me why she supports the full legalization, and more importantly, the decriminalization of cannabis. "For more than a century, the American government has been using cannabis as a tool for incarcerating, institutionalizing and disenfranchising our people-- disproportionately preying on Black and Brown communities. We must put an end to the War on Drugs, expunge individuals’ records, and decarcerate all with current drug convictions. As more states reap the financial benefits from cannabis sales, they have been able to substantially increase funding for education, infrastructure and other public programs. Our country must seize the opportunity to use this new economy in a way that would drastically benefit and improve our public resources and programs. Legalizing cannabis will create MILLIONS of new jobs all across the country-- jobs and economic advancement that can serve as one form of reparations for people whose lives have been devastated by the criminalization of controlled substances like cannabis. We must support these efforts in a way that puts the people closest to the pain to the front of the line when it comes to profiting and benefiting from the cannabis industry. I intend to lead the fight for legalization and decriminalization here in Philly. Cannabis legalization is only the first step in ending the War on Drugs. Let’s end unnecessary human suffering, begin repairing devastated communities, and create a country that is equitable, just and livable for all."

McKayla Wilkes is the progressive Marylander running for a seat in the DC suburbs occupied by Steny Hoyer, the K Street-owned congressman who slows everything down to a crawl. "The prohibition on cannabis," she just told me, "has needlessly resulted in the incarceration of so many people, disproportionately folks who are Black and brown. It is long past time to legalize cannabis, but we need to simultaneously expunge all cannabis-related records and invest in communities that the War on Drugs has destroyed. This isn't abstract to me-- I myself have been arrested for possession of cannabis before. It's not something I hide or something I'm ashamed of. I am tired of so many privileged politicians admitting that they've smoked before and received no consequences and yet still standing in opposition to legalization. My representative, Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer not only voted for the crime bills of the 1980s and 90s that helped intensify the War on Drugs, but he erroneously called cannabis a "gateway drug" as recently as 2019. We need leaders who understand the impact that our unequal criminal justice system has had on people's lives."

Just south of McKayla's district, Ally Dalsimer is running for a seat occupied by another corporate Democrat, Gerry Connolly. Ally, of course, is glad that when Virginia legalized marijuana this year the governor added back a couple provisions stripped from the House version by the state Senate so that the law goes into effect on July 1, making Virginia the first southern state to legalize cannabis. "As with all change," Ally said today, "there will no doubt be important kinks to work out as the new law is implemented. For example, we must ensure that small and family-owned growers are not pushed out big businesses growing mono-cultures on a huge scale, and we must begin implementing growing strategies that reduce the carbon footprint of indoor growing (e.g., shifting growing to outdoors in warmer climates and finding remediation strategies for the carbon pumped in to enhance plant growth). For me, as someone interested in change at a broad scale, I’d like to see marijuana fully decriminalized and fully legalized for all amounts at a national level. By legalizing, we would save the $20 BILLION we currently spend on marijuana enforcement and the millions spent on incarceration. By regulating, we’d bring in tax revenue that could be used for other priority needs and we’d saved lives by reducing product contamination with fentanyl, mold and spores, and pesticides-- which are so heavily over-applied to illegal pot farms in California’s national forests that the runoff is literally killing fish in streams. So, basically, change is beginning to happen but it’s not nearly enough. Marijuana was incorrectly labeled a Class 1 drug in the 80s and has been demonized for decades, with Black and Brown people being disproportionately incarcerated for violations-- in other words, pot has been used a means of systemic racial oppression. Myriad studies have shown that marijuana use is not only less addictive than alcohol use when used recreationally, but has many medicinal benefits as well. There really is no valid reason that pot shouldn’t be legalized nationally."

Rishi Kumar, the most recent congressional candidate endorsed by Blue America (today) thinks about legalization rationally. "43% of America has legalized marijuana for recreational use. The beta project from 2012 initiated by Colorado and Washington is now real with two-thirds of the American public supporting the change-- marijuana is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco. It is time the federal government ends the prohibition-- the industry is worth $18billion and growing."

Dallas Navy vet and progressive congressional candidate Jessica Mason added that "The legalization of marijuana has taken far too long, but I’m not surprised. While working in the Virginia State Legislature, I saw firsthand how big tobacco and alcohol are lobbying against legalizing marijuana; they don’t want to lose business. Big Pharma is also fighting against the legalization of marijuana because, in many cases, they want to continue selling addictive drugs. Additionally, the stall in nationwide legalization allows hedge funds and wealthy investors to enter the market before anyone else. It is a problem that in states where marijuana is legal, the majority of owners and employees are white. Juxtapose this with the fact that the majority of people incarcerated for marijuana offenses are black and brown. We are failing to do the right thing once again."

Jason Call, Washington state's top progressive congressional challenger, had a lot to say on the subject this morning-- all of it worth reading. So...

There’s so much I want to say about cannabis it’s hard to know where to start. Let’s start with the obvious and most pressing issue: marijuana should not be illegal. Not for use, possession, sale, or production. It is a plant that has been part of human culture for millennia, and we all know that the federal laws on marijuana are designed to oppress the working class and marginalized communities. I call on the Biden administration to immediately fully decriminalize all cannabis, in any form, for any person, and for any purpose. Furthermore every person currently jailed or imprisoned on nonviolent cannabis charges should be immediately released and depending on the length of sentence, be fairly recompensed for the injustice done to them and their families.
I’m dead serious about that. Look, I’ve been using marijuana since I was 14. It’s time we were able to have honest conversations about the dangers of drug use, and when it comes to marijuana the laws are the most dangerous aspect.
Did marijuana use affect me? Sure it did! I wouldn’t be the person I am today with cannabis (and LSD and shrooms I might add), and that’s a good thing! I’ve philosophized a great deal about the meaning of life and our place in the world while under the influence, and I believe it brought me to a far better place than the purpose intended for me by my Reagan Republican parents.
I cringe when we have leading politicians like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and now Kamala Harris, joke with us about their own use, while we likely have over a million people locked away, lives and families destroyed. Like so many things, it seems that if you have power and wealth, you can avoid negative consequences. The only arrest I was ever placed under was for marijuana possession (a paltry 1.73 grams) and I paid a lawyer $500 to get it tossed. I did a week’s substance abuse counseling, a six month probation, and it literally no longer exists on my record. I don’t have to tell anyone about it ever. The judge wasn’t going to hurt the future of a 25 year old white boy with a college degree and no priors (and who could come up with $500). The laws on weed are racist and classist, we’ve known that forever.
I was a top volunteer signature gatherer for I-502 in 2012, the ballot initiative that legalized cannabis for recreational purposes in WA. I still have my commemorative t-shirt, and I’m extremely proud of my state and the team that started the wave. It wasn’t lost on us that the Seahawks and the Broncos met in the 2014 Super Bowl, the teams from the two states that were the first to legalize, that very year.
So let the states tax and regulate it, but also let the people grow it in their backyards and closets. It’s a medicine to many, and one they should have a legal right to. My own sister, who suffers from a painful genetic disorder and all of the accompanying depressions and anxieties, was able to cut her meds in half once she started using cannabis (in a state where it is not yet legal btw, she goes to a neighbor state, how ridiculous is that?)
Which goes to the heart of who opposes legalization. Namely the pharmaceutical industry, the tobacco industry, and the alcohol industry. It’s a matter of business competition, as well as oppression of people. So let’s end that corruption also.
In the spirit of 4/20, roll one up or pack a bong, put on some Bob Marley or Cypress Hill depending on your mood, and remember to always pass on the left hand side. (Hey, don’t Bogart that...)