Sunday, January 13, 2013

Free to Choose/essay

Jack Herer’s vision of unrestricted cannabis freedom is becoming a reality as patients escape the drug war by growing their own

Since the end of days was just another day, 2012 may be best remembered as the beginning of the end of cannabis prohibition.  We have a long way to go before we are all free to choose cannabis, and a long time to wait before Middle Americans look long enough to feel the pain and see the need.  Sadly, the Cash Hyde story was not what everyone in America was talking about before everyone was talking about the Newtown horrors.
Mainstreamers don’t go to cannabis festivals, they don’t watch compelling documentaries like Waiting to Inhale and Hemp and Rule of Law, and they wouldn’t think to read Marijuana is Safer.  While cannabis legalization in Colorado and in Washington State certainly appeared on mainstream screens many times after Election Day, the coverage was often reduced to a sound-bite, a pot joke, or a pitched debate that left viewers sure that there are two sides to every story.
Prohibition propaganda taints us all
The insulation from the truth has been so deeply installed that it could take generations before the lies and the misconceptions about cannabis have been cleared from our collective cultural consciousness.  Consider, for example, this supportive point of view offered by the new Miss Universe Olivia Culpo, the day after she was crowned.  Ms. Culpo, a native of the progressive state of Rhode Island, told Huffington Post Live:
I don't think it should be legalized for recreational purposes, because it's been proven to prevent people from their full potential and I don't think that's a good thing for society. If we're trying to move things forward, a drug like marijuana does the opposite, it will slow things down. But for medical purposes I think it's great, but for every day? No.[1]
Give the woman an A for effort and a C for accuracy.  Those are better grades than many cannabis fans would give NORML these days.  Ironically, even as the medicinal truth is coming out, the original freedom fighter for us all is sticking to its charter that says this fight about marijuana, and marijuana is a smoked recreational weed.  Director Allen St. Pierre has even called the medicinal movement a sham perpetrated by greedy enterprisers.  How last-century is that?
Mainstreamers, of course, know far less about the true nature of cannabis.  They still live deep within the psychic, social and physical bounds of drug war prohibition, and work without complaint in unconstitutional environments where they submit to drug tests to make sure they aren’t using the forbidden flower.  Workplace policies on drugs are forceful but not the least bit drug free:
Pot is not allowed, not even on your own time, and certainly not as ‘medicine’.  Don’t even ask!  Pills are fine as long as you have a prescription for them.  Tobacco breaks outside?  That’s your right.  Drinks after work?  We’ll see you there... 
Negotiated Freedoms
Keeping mainstreamers out of the loop and in the dark is a long-standing prohibition-era practice that both sides firmly agree on.  Leading reform groups like the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) insist that the time to engage voters comes after the terms of reform have been settled and the baby-step bill is ready for sale and debate on the news shows. 
A good example of this incremental march to freedom can be seen in Massachusetts, a decriminalized state that just voted to allow the creation of a dispensary system that will serve patients who are sick enough to qualify.  Northampton lawyer Michael Cutler, a skilled veteran of the movement, recently described the legal framework to The Boston Globe:
The law allows for 35 outlets in the state’s 14 counties, with at least one per county. How the distribution works after that is all up to the state Department of Public Health, which has until May 1 to issue its regulations. Some kind of competition for licenses could open up in the summer, and by the fall those decisions could be made. Then the first dispensaries could begin to open by the winter.[2]
The admirable big picture vision of the baby-step strategy is that down the road, once the safety of cannabis is obvious and the commercial frameworks have all be worked out to the satisfaction of the parties in control, further steps towards liberty will be taken.  In time, they hope, we will all be free to buy cannabis from any vendor we choose. 
Until his death three years ago, Jack Herer was the aggressive ‘free means free’ advocate.  He had no patience for negotiated liberties.  He would be delighted to know that as he foretold, true cannabis freedom is unfolding as a matter of personal choice, in private homes and gardens all over the world.
The Grower Next Door
Private home cultivation is taking off not just because the government is doing everything in their power to limit access while they figure out how to control the game, but because increasingly, cannabis patients feel their choice of medicine is nobody’s business but their own.  The drug war offensive of 2012 drove millions of patients out west back into the shadows.  The ones who went home to grow their own won’t be coming back. 
In Rhode Island patients are permitted to grow in the privacy of their own residences, so dispensary access cards won’t be a huge seller when they’re finally made available.  RI growers are a passionate, cooperative community, as evidenced by the nonprofit model developed by Sensi Organic Solutions.  SOS empowers financially strapped medical cardholders by setting them up with donated equipment, soil and clones, and then guiding them through the first grow.  For help after that newbies can go online or turn to seasoned growers in the SOS network.
The classic stealthy Phototron
Homegrows, especially in urban areas, can still be a seriously risky undertaking.  Growers are keenly aware that their little gardens are lucrative targets for black market thieves, and that in most areas cannabis cultivation remains a deeply misunderstood and socially unacceptable practice.  The solution is secrecy, and after more than 40 years of war, cannabis growers know how to hide.
Serving this market are countless local hydro and grow supply shops, and enterprises like GrowLife, SuperCloset, and BC Northern Lights.  Since these companies are careful to point out that their products are intended to make stealthy home cultivation fun and easy only for legal flowers and vegetables, they are free to sell to anyone; online and in any state. 
Naturally, there is no way to figure the size of the hidden home cultivation market, but it is safe to say there are private grows all over North America—even in neighborhoods where no one ever talks about that sort of thing.  If mainstreamers knew who in their midst was doing what with cannabis and why, they might begin to see the demonized flower in a different light.
Reality in Fiction
With the truth a few clicks away, the power and the task to reveal this hidden world to mainstreamers is in the hands of filmmakers who can command the attention of millions.  Surprisingly, the less a film is about cannabis, the greater the potential reach and impact.
Great flicks like Savages and Pineapple Express certainly took the time to show and tell the truth about the medicinal cannabis community, but most of their viewers were already pretty far along on that learning curve.  Instead, think about movies like Urban Cowboy (1980), Steel Magnolias (1989), Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), and The Bridges of Madison County (1995). 
To be sure when those classics were released cannabis was not being used as medicine by those types of characters.  That is no longer the case.  Patients, seniors, substance abusers, preachers, school teachers, professionals, and neer-do-wells alike are re-discovering cannabis for all sorts of good reasons.  Film audiences are a savvy bunch and they can tell when they are seeing the truth in fiction.  They can feel it in the performance, in the honesty of the character, and in the familiarity of the scene. 
Now imagine a 50-something movie star in a starring role (sympathetic or otherwise) casually flipping open the door to a grow box hiding in a closet near the kitchen; snipping and hanging a few colorful flower tops on a line while explaining to a stunned visitor that the buds will be dried to make tincture…for insomnia…and for hangovers…
Twenty seconds, maybe, but with power!  The power to inform, to awaken, and the power to help dispel the crazy notions America’s unholy drug war hath wrought.