I left Amsterdam last week, after the shit hit the fan in Michigan, and the Dutch authorities were striving to match the sheer idiocy of the anti-marijuana crusaders in the United States by forcing 58 licensed cannabis coffeeshops out of business pursuant to a recent dictum that weed can’t be offered for consumption within 350 meters of a secondary school. “The cabinet does not want pupils’ education careers going up in smoke,” puffed education minister Marja van Bijsterveldt.
These grandstanding plays aimed at the most regressive sector of the citizenry look noble and civic-minded on the surface, but, in fact, have no actual relevance in terms of public safety. The coffeeshops being shut down have existed in proximity to the schools for 30 or 40 years with no appreciable impact on the student population.
In fact, nothing is more difficult in the Centrum of Amsterdam than minors acquiring cannabis products at a coffeeshop — or even getting up to the hash counter to order up some smoke. Strict ID checks are conducted without fail, because minors on the premises are grounds for immediate suspension of the shop’s cannabis privileges. Even if the school were next door to the coffeeshop, no students would be allowed entry in any event — ever.
Like raiding growrooms and linking growing to “serious crime” and “criminal violence,” shutting down marijuana outlets because of their proximity to a schoolhouse is an entirely cynical political ploy directed at the addled denizens of the religious and secular right in a last-ditch attempt to stave off the ever-encroaching rule of reason. But the real shame is that these small, independent businesses are being hounded out of existence in increasing numbers.
DutchNews.nl reports that there are now fewer than 650 coffeeshops left in Holland, with 214 remaining in Amsterdam itself. Four years ago, when the coffeeshops were ordered to stop serving alcoholic drinks where weed is offered for sale, there were 750 coffeeshops nationally including 250 in Amsterdam, but after the new regulations are effected there’ll be less than 200 left in the capital city.
What is the public benefit of continuing to demonize marijuana and marijuana users — again, even state-certified medical marijuana patients — beyond bolstering the re-election prospects among a deluded electrorate of right-wing demagogues such as Attorney General Bill Schuette, whose rhetoric paints a lurid picture of “Michigan communities struggling with an invasion of pot shops near their schools, homes and churches.”
Maybe these rich nerds haven’t fully noticed that what Michigan communities are actually struggling with is a malfunctioning economic system that’s paying the price of 30 years of unchecked corporate job-slashing as the basis of increasing profitability and the current wave of job elimination among state and local government employees. The reason the unemployment figures don’t go down is because the job slots have been eliminated and the corporations and regressive governmental bodies simply have no intention of replacing them.
Now, by the overwhelming mandate of the voting public, the legalization of medical marijuana has propelled the establishment of somewhere between 300 and 500 dispensaries and cannabis cooperatives and the grow operations that supply them. (Incidentally, why can’t we have a more accurate number for this phenomenon? Does anyone know how many such outlets actually exist at this time?)
Although the statute doesn’t specifically authorize this particular form of delivery system, neither does it specifically forbid the dispensaries that have sprung up to meet the clear demand of the patient community. What the law specifies is that medical marijuana patients are meant to obtain their medicine, and if there aren’t enough letters of the law in the statute as it stands, the intent that medicine be made available should be honored in their breach.
And, beyond these bullshit quibbles about where and how you can get it, any fool should be able to weigh the absolute importance of the emergence of a new industry in this seriously depressed state and figure out ways and means for it to grow even larger.
Even in its fledgling stage, less than three years following the passage of the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, the commercial side of the care-giving community has begun to provide employment and the means of a livelihood to hundreds and even thousands of Michigan citizens, and a return on investments by the entrepreneurs and collectives that have responded to the needs of the patient community and opened their over-the-counter operations to registered, legally sanctioned medical cannabis consumers.
This is nothing compared to the potential size and scope of the marijuana industry in Michigan. If there are “nearly 100,000 carriers of medical marijuana cards,” as The Detroit News has reported, how many recreational users do you think there might be? One million? More than a million? That’s a whole lot of pot, and most of it has to be imported through quite strenuous means from other states whose marijuana growing systems are more advanced than ours. Sure it’s illegal, but guess what? People are going to be smoking pot, and there are going to be people who supply them.
These are the facts of life, and stripped of all the quasi-religious and “moralistic” horseshit that fuels the zeal of the anti-pot crusaders, the marijuana industry is just that: an industry. It’s a business, and it provides a living for countless numbers of growers and dealers, and it serves the needs of eager consumers who are willing to risk arrest, loss of job, imprisonment, seizure of personal property and all the other heinous measures devised by the alcohol-and-pill zealots to punish us.
And that’s another chapter in the book of life, because any citizens of a certain age may acquire just as much alcohol, beer and wine as they may desire. In a social system where marijuana smokers are ruthlessly demonized and relentlessly persecuted under the phony banner of the War on Drugs, you can get your drinks damn near anywhere … and damn the consequences. Just plop your money down and take away as much booze as you wanna.
This was a ridiculous picture when the drug authorities had the wool fully over people’s eyes and sold them the vile notion that marijuana was a narcotic, and it’s even more nonsensical now that nearly two out of every three Michigan voters have recognized the efficacy of marijuana as a medicine and nearly half of citizens nationwide favor the full leglization of weed.
At least people in Michigan aren’t taking the latest anti-marijuana atrocities sitting down, as last week’s protest on the lawn of the state Capitol demonstrated. The “largest pro-medical marijuana rally in Michigan” was credited with an attendance of 1,500 “young, old and sick in wheelchairs,” as the News put it.
One protest is not going to do the trick, and as Curt Guyette pointed out in last week’s Metro Times, “there are some activists who are already looking ahead to the possibility that another ballot measure will be necessary to set things right here in Michigan. …
“[But] no change … is going to be achieved without an outpouring of public support. That means patients, their families and caregivers. It also means the accountants and lawyers and plumbers and electricians and grow shop owners and all the others who have seen the economic benefits that the law has already brought.”
Amen, brother, amen. Let it grow!
John Sinclair, founder of the White Panthers, is a poet. His latest book is It’s All Good.