While the exact origin of the holiday is, pardon the expression, clouded in haze, there’s no denying that April 20 or “4/20″ has become a worldwide day for celebration of marijuana, particularly now, with the movement to legalize weed on the upswing. It seemed impossible to imagine just a few generations ago, when the 1936 cult classic “Reefer Madness” offered a fearful view of pot, but today, an estimated 43% of Americans live in a state where recreational use of marijuana is legal. Medical marijuana is even more commonplace, with 36 states giving the nod to prescriptions, including Maryland. Legal cannabis has quickly become a $20 billion industry in this country, and it’s growing fast.
The move from medical marijuana to recreational marijuana may seem like a big jump. After all, members of the Maryland General Assembly took a hard pass on full legalization this past session, as legislation to do just that never made it out of committee. What held back the bill is not some moral outrage that legalized pot will turn Marylanders into zombie stoners, however, but concern over the specifics of licensing and taxation, as well as how revenues might be used to help restore communities ravaged by the drug wars of the past. Even Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s announcement more than one year ago, that her office would no longer prosecute marijuana possession regardless of the amount, didn’t cause much of a political stir. How could it have when people are openly voting on favorite “budtenders” at their local medical marijuana dispensaries?
The truth is that the days of legal pot in Maryland are already here. Not so much because of prosecutorial discretion, but because medical marijuana was always the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent for full-fledged legalization. Certainly, there are legitimate maladies for which consuming pot (or its components such as CBD or THC) may have some beneficial effect, such as cancer patients with chronic pain or reducing eye pressure in glaucoma patients. But if one has the resources, it appears to be quite easy to get a prescription for pot where the benefits are, shall we say, debatable. PTSD, slowing Alzheimer’s disease, relief for arthritis or Crohn’s disease, or even treating alcoholism by switching out cannabis for liquor — all have been offered as conditions treatable by marijuana use, with varying levels of corroborating evidence.
It’s simply no secret that an adult living in Maryland need not work especially hard to get a marijuana prescription, since the program became operational in 2017. They just need the income, internet access and desire to obtain pot “legally.” The web site of marijuana startup Veriheal even offers clients a guarantee: “get approved or your money back.”
Legal or illegal, marijuana is now under the influence of the fuzziest of laws. In some parts of this state, a small quantity can still be used by authorities to slap you with a $100 fine for a single joint — unless you have the magical medical card. Say what you will about pot consumption, the current circumstance is not only absurd, it’s yet another means to discriminate based on socioeconomic circumstance. The poor don’t just get poorer, they get busted for not being able to afford their carve-out, whether it’s real or fake.
It would surely be better of the nation to confront the use of marijuana head on, honestly debate the pros and cons and then develop one uniform and sensible national policy instead of going down this road of state-by-state patchwork laws and less-than-proven medical claims for which, wink-wink, you can get a card in Maryland. The hypocrisy is rich, but the chances of compromise in Congress are poor. The District of Columbia may be one of those legalized pot consumption regions, but even that doesn’t explain the chronic lack of clear thinking in the federal legislative branch.
The Baltimore Sun editorial board — made up of Opinion Editor Tricia Bishop, Deputy Editor Andrea K. McDaniels and writer Peter Jensen — offers opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. It is separate from the newsroom.