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Marijuana as a gateway drug? No, it’s beer, says Congressman

Photographer: Matt Emrich
Congressman Earl Blumenaur greets Congressman Dana Rohrabacher on the stage of the International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco last weekend. (Cropped)

Two members of Congress, a former Surgeon General and a member of the California State Assembly walk into a cannabis business conference. And as unlikely as that sounds, it’s no joke.

“We can’t keep lying about marijuana. Our young people know better,” Joycelyn Elders told attendees of the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in San Francisco over Valentine’s Day weekend. Elders was the first African American woman to serve as Surgeon General, and she was fired by President Bill Clinton in 1993 because of her controversial views, including studying the legalization of marijuana and other drugs.

“We need strategies for compassion,” Elders said during her visit to San Francisco, along with further research “to produce transformative change.”

Bipartisan support

Of all the unlikely bi-partisan issues in Congress, cannabis reform could probably top the list.  Yet there was conservative Dana Rohrabacher (R-Orange County, CA) on the stage with liberal Earl Blumenaur (D- Portland, OR), both offering the same message: When it comes to marijuana use, honor the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution -- the so called “states rights” amendment.

This approach, the Congressmen agree, is working for Republicans who normally would oppose drug reform — even candidates for president.

Our nation’s founders always intended local government control, Rohrabacher says, adding that they never intended sanctioning  a national police force “breaking into homes to retrieve a little baggy (of marijuana).”

Marijuana is often cited as the major gateway drug to more dangerous substances. That's wrong, the Orange County Republican said: “Beer is the most significant gateway drug,” adding after a pause, “And we’re not going to outlaw that.”

“Americans have always been hell-raising people,” he added. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp – though most likely not for human consumption. They had other intoxicants, such as whiskey, which Rohrabacher discovered on a recent visit to Mt. Vernon was a major product of Washington’s plantation.

When will Congress legalize cannabis? Well, that depends.

Blumenauer placed a bottle of wine on the lectern and said, “It took 13 years to correct the mistake of alcohol prohibition. Now’s the time to clear up this one.” And, he said, our neighbor to the north could speed the process. If Canada legalizes cannabis, as expected, he predicts “the dominoes will fall, quickly.”

“A beginning”

The passage of the California Medical Marijuana Regulation & Safety Act (MMRSA)  “is a beginning, not an end,” according to State Assemblyman Rob Bonta, (D-Oakland). Now it’s time for corrections and clarifications.

One important change was the removal of a controversial provision requiring cities and counties to enact cultivation regulations by March 1 in order to preserve local and regional control of the issue; according to another panelist at the conference 246 cities banned dispensaries and/or cultivation before this correction. Some of those may now be modified.

Bonta says such after-the-fact votes are not unusual. For example, 141 changes were made last year after Colorado’s marijuana regulations went into effect.

“This is one step of hundreds,” “This is constant evolution,” “Stay engaged,” “Show your face at community meetings and to your representatives,” were some of the encouraging words heard by the thousand or so upbeat attendees throughout this conference of business and politics.