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Santa Maria Sun / Canary

The following article was posted on April 19th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 7 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 18, Issue 7

Blowing smoke

I don't really smoke weed.

OK, maybe sometimes when a friend passes a joint at a reggae concert, then I might partake, but that's a pretty rare occurrence.

Or maybe the odd marijuana cookie or brownie, you know, if I've got some back pain. And I do take a quick toke before bed each night, but that's just to get some sleep.

Aw what the hell, let's just be honest about this: Lots of people smoke or otherwise imbibe marijuana, this yellow bird included! If you haven't already, celebrate this 4/20 by coming out of the smelly, smoke-filled closet, and declare your use!

You'd probably be surprised by the number and diversity of people who use weed either medically or recreationally. It's not just college students taking bong rips anymore. There is everyone from veterans who toke up to ease anxiety to seniors getting a bit of arthritis relief, and there are athletes who imbibe before training or artists who use it to get the creative juices flowing.

The history of the prohibition on cannabis—yes, that's the plant's actual name—in the United States is not a long one. It only began in 1920, not even a century ago. The plant was actually cultivated and utilized in America by colonizers, indigenous peoples, and Europeans long before that.

Ever wonder why everyone calls it marijuana? It's because at the time prohibition was pushed for, cannabis was associated with Mexican immigrants, along with black Americans and Asian immigrants.

The stalky, flowering cannabis plant was painted as a dangerous narcotic that excited blacks, Mexicans, and other minorities into a violent, sexual fervor—at least that's what Harry J. Anslinger, the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics said at the time.

Hey, a government appointee scapegoating racial minorities and inciting racial fears to push through some senseless and oppressive law? Good thing we don't have that problem anymore, right?

But seriously, the fact that cannabis, marijuana, weed—whatever you want to call it—is federally illegal under the Food and Drug Administration's Controlled Substances Act, in the same schedule as drugs like heroin and ecstasy, is a big reason why so many Americans doubt the validity of the so-called War on Drugs.

It's evidently true that weed is nowhere near the same thing as heroin, but that's how the justice system has treated it for generations. There's no way of measuring the human cost of criminalizing the generations of users of this flowering plant, which causes munchies and giggling, not physical dependence and overdose.

But now, thanks to California voters who approved Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the prohibition has been lifted statewide. Hooray! But, that may not stop the feds from coming in and shutting down the party if they want.

Plenty of local cannabis farmers—that's right, they're just farmers after all—are wary of the feds, and wonder if the state will protect them from the DEA.

Who could blame them? Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown came out against Proposition 64 pretty hard before the election, essentially making a public safety argument. That kind of argument certainly has merit, but it leaves those excited to produce wondering if the Sheriff's Office would tip off the feds for any tiny infraction.

Even local representatives have made it more than clear that they wish Proposition 64 never passed, like 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf, who told the Sun that she "would love a total ban," earlier this year.

At least 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino isn't wasting time bemoaning the new law—he's excited to tax the hell out of the county's upcoming cash crop! He's been studying up on states like Colorado that made recreational use legal and are raking in serious cash.

Taxing cannabis production and sales in Santa Barbara County might help with that whole budget deficit problem we've been having, couldn't it? The Board of Supervisors heard in March that the county is in the hole a lot worse than they thought, to the tune of at least $17 million. And it's projected to approach $35 million by the end of this fiscal year.

That's a lot of green.

But hopefully, another green machine can come to the rescue. Cannabis is said by hopefuls to be a billion-dollar industry, so taxing the hell out of it could easily get the county out of a tough spot, but only if cultivation and distribution are feasible, according to growers.

If the county and its cities ban commercial grows or brick-and-mortar shops, then they lose out on piles of cash. If they tax producers too much, they won't be able to turn a profit, and the black market will certainly stay strong. It's a tough tightrope to walk, but if they approach the subject soberly (pun totally intended) then maybe that budget deficit will go up in a puff of smoke.

That would make a lot of people happy in Behavioral Wellness, which was among the first departments suggested for cuts, along with public safety and road and facilities maintenance.

The county's Behavioral Wellness department has been in need of more funding for quite some time. Sheriff Brown called the County Jail the county's "de facto mental health institution" a few years ago. So why are mental health services some of the first suggested for cuts? The North County Jail project was supposed to include a mental health rehabilitation center for inmates with mental illnesses, but that was nixed thanks to budget shortfalls.

Is anyone else tired of applying Band-Aids to deeply complex problems, or providing minimal funding to important projects and agencies?

Take the recent suggestion by the Santa Maria Police Department to the city's Planning Commission to draft an ordinance that would fine businesses for shopping carts left dirty around town by local homeless people. While I agree with Planning Commissioner Kelly White O'Neill that the homeless shouldn't be criminalized for poop-covered shopping carts, this kind of ordinance just focuses on the symptom, and does nothing to address the underlying cause.

It's also like the Santa Maria Recreation and Park Commission's attempts to re-designate the George S. Hobbs Jr. Civic Center as a park.

The civic center—"which includes City Hall, the Santa Maria Public Library, and the parking structure there—has become a popular spot for transients lately, and the city wants park rules to apply to the area so they can effectively kick them off the property.

Again, addressing a symptom, but not the problem.

Wait, how did we get on homelessness? I thought we were talking about cannabis. My short-term memory has been failing me lately; I don't know what it is.

The Canary always has a clear head. Send your thoughts to canary@santamariasun.com.