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Los Angeles law shows U.S. is trending toward drug liberalization

This week in Los Angeles, anti-medicinal marijuana zealots may have inadvertently put themselves, and their cause, into the middle of Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox. Simply put, the paradox posits that in order for one to reach his goal, he must first get half-way there (1/2). But to reach half-way, he must get half-way to half-way (1/4). And then half-way to half-way to half-way (1/8). And so on, thereby reaching an infinite number of midpoints on his path while never actually arriving at the end. The L.A. City Council’s new ordinance to close 439 medicinal marijuana dispensaries, which goes into effect on June 7, is but a mid-point in the paradox describing the gap between the city’s current pot policy and outright, old-style prohibition.

Perhaps sensing that in 2010, abolishing medicinal marijuana is no longer a viable legislative option (Medicinal Marijuana was approved by California voters in the Compassionate Use Act of 1996), the L.A. City Council has gone half-way, electing to close only medicinal marijuana dispensaries that opened after a 2007 moratorium declared that the city wouldn’t sanction any more than it already had. This is a far cry from “Summer of Love,” but it isn’t exactly “Just Say No,” either. Even with the June closings, Angelenos will still be served by more than 130 businesses that opened and registered with the city, county, and state before the moratorium. Using Zeno as a model, we might expect this half-measure to be followed by another, and possibly another -- but implicit in those half-measures is a capitulation that arriving back at the good old days of Reefer Madness is a hopeless cause.

It’s a sign of the times, then -- and no coincidence -- that this week, the D.C. Council gave final approval to regulated, legalized medicinal marijuana within the District. It is telling that, at the same that Los Angeles seems to have given up on eradicating the killer weed from its environs, Washington is beginning its own birth pangs of liberalization and legalization. Though it would appear that L.A. is cracking down while D.C. is easing up, they’re actually related parts of a larger, progressive trend towards comprehensive drug law reform.

By Katrina vanden Heuvel  | May 7, 2010; 2:06 PM ET
Categories:  vanden Heuvel  | Tags:  Katrina vanden Heuvel  
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This is the story of Jonathan Whitworth:

Mr. Whitworth is a husband, father, and recreational marijuana user.

Police obtained a warrant 8 days before taking action, labeling him as a "major distributor" of marijuana.

8 days after receiving the warrant, the broke down his door in the middle of the night as any classic Gestapo would and execute one of his dogs, and shot the other. One dog they shot was a ~15 pound Corgi. The other was a pit-bull they claimed was "uncontrollably aggressive."

Inside they found less than 3 grams of marijuana and some paraphernalia. Mr. Whitworth was dragged from his home, and his dogs executed in front of his child, for a misdemeanor marijuana charge.

He also lost custody of his child as the courts claimed his recreational marijuana use endangered his child.

1,000s of these raids happen every year, many resulting in injury and death, over a plant that grows naturally open the Earth and has been used for 5,000 years as both a medicine and an intoxicant without one single fatality.

To reiterate, things that endanger your child:

-Smoking marijuana occasionally endangers the safety of your child.

Things that do not endanger your child:

-Getting black-out drunk nightly
-Smoking cigarettes near them for years upon years
-The experience of watching their beloved pets executed in front of them
-Being kidnapped from their parents by police
-Having live bullets fire in close proximity to them

No decent human being can possibly say that the punishment, meted out without trial, in any way fits this crime.

All of this was caught on video tape:

Posted by: Gover | May 7, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Thank goodness some rationality is entering this debate. It defies reason to suggest that Drug Prohibition has been anything but an abject failure and damaging to our country and freedoms.

Posted by: ed_mccann | May 7, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

I had a interesting conversation with my dad about this very issue of a coming backlash against the drug reform movements success on the issue of medical marijuana. The KEY to the success of Medical Marijuana is going to be that we need to have both users and distributer who can talk about this issue and who don't fit the stereotypes of a hippie or someone just looking to get high.

Posted by: alex35332 | May 7, 2010 4:10 PM | Report abuse

The entire West is voting on initiatives and propositions this year to Legalize MJ.

We've had enough of your insane Drug War and the always-increasing tax burden for your stupidity.

The West: Strong and FREE!

Posted by: WillSeattle | May 7, 2010 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Since the 60s the criminalization of THC has been a failure!

I suggest a social experiment...
Let the blue states legalize and let the red states criminalize even more if they wish!

What states will benefit from this advent?

Posted by: rubenlruiz | May 7, 2010 5:33 PM | Report abuse

Good to have this really good columnist, of wide ranging intelligence and experience in the Washington Post.

How she sparkles next to the silly egocentric Applebaum.

The Post could use some journalists, period.
Excellent ones, with a point of view beyond their own noses, wold be great.
Someone not a zionist propogandist would be fabulous But too much to ask for.

Posted by: whistling | May 7, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse


In my mind when a person tells me that pot causes no health problems when smoked is a zealot. Personally I will let all the volunteers for the live trials do their work. We will see if it is safe or not.

I had rather learn from the mistakes of others.

But why call a person who wants to keep their personal environment clean a zealot?

Posted by: GaryEMasters | May 7, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

It is not proper to think we must convince our government that we are mature conformists enough to be granted permission to govern our own private behavior.

It is proper that government restore liberty, and assume a shamed-faced posture for having exceeded all proper mandates.

Posted by: sobi1 | May 7, 2010 7:50 PM | Report abuse

In the 19th Century anyone could grow marijuana/hemp. Patent medicine was on sale in every little store in America, with alcohol, opiates, cocaine and tincture of marijuana.

One hundred years ago the allopathic doctors made a monopoly of the practice of medicine. The Harrison Drug Act of 1914 made opiates and cocaine illegal without a prescription and a few years later they outlawed booze. Once they made alcohol legal again they outlawed marijuana.

Now, they are trying to make herbs and vitamins illegal without permission of the doctors, Big Pharm, the FDA and the FTC. Our government has created a big drug war and spent over a trillion dollars destroying lives and property. They blame everything on the Mexicans.

People have been nomadic every since they left the African continent. For tens of thousands of years they traveled after game. It is in their DNA.

Evidence suggest big-game hunters crossed the Bering Strait from Asia (Eurasia) into North America over a land bridge that existed between 45,000 BCE — 12,000 BCE (47,000 — 14,000 years ago). North American Indians followed the buffalo. Mexican American Indians follow the dollar.

Posted by: alance | May 7, 2010 11:22 PM | Report abuse

GaryEMasters, what do you say to the people that tell you that you do not need to smoke cannabis to consume it? Smoking is neither required nor desired, it is a by product of prohibition because it is cheaper and the busybodies like yourself that think it's ok to insinuate their opinions and way of life on others.

Smoking it is not required.

Posted by: bpayne2 | May 8, 2010 8:55 AM | Report abuse

You absolutely can not judge the rest of the nation by what a State known as the State of loons and nuts does.California doesn't represent the general population of the USA at all.

Posted by: fcs25 | May 8, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

I am suprised that the government has not already legalized all drugs and started taxing them. What better way for a government to control the people. The progressives could win every election and do anything they wanted as long as they gave the people the drugs they craved. Of course, there would be massive gang wars to control who sells and pays taxes to the governemnt, but as long as the people get their drugs, who cares.

Posted by: gfhoward258 | May 8, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

California is the largest economy in the United States, top 5 in the world. Don't call them loons and they do represent 1/5 of the United States. That's a large portion. I am not sure why people care if it is legal, who cares. The whole drug war is about money, the gov't works with other gov'ts who allow drugs to be grown then we employ task forces here to get rid of it. Makes a lot of sense, also after we invaded the Taliban and took over, the country went from producing 10% of the worlds heroin to 80%. And can we just legalize Hemp already, the fact we import it is pathetic.

Posted by: RodneyRodz | May 8, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

I still can't believe people still accept the laughable proposition that there's a difference between medical and recreation use of marijuana that somehow makes the former okay but the latter harmful and illegal.

Posted by: Booyah5000 | May 8, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Yes, just what America needs, more druggies and pot heads out on our freeways.

Posted by: jblast2000 | May 8, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

It doesn't matter whether pot harms users or not--or even whether it harms friends of users or not. Speaking as someone raised by chain-smoking drunks, our society is morally obligated to either ban alcohol or allow pot.

I use neither, nor does my spouse, so I gain nothing personally from either choice.

But by choosing to make the lesser evil illegal and the greater one legal, society practices a terrible hypocrisy that fosters disrespect for the law and for society.

The argument that one is bad enough, we don't need two, is pure sophistry. Society rests on being fair--one law for everyone. When the legal drug is the one used by legislators and judges, and the banned one is the one used by "those people" the pretense of fairness goes out the window.

It's true that alcohol used in moderation is not dangerous. But that's equally true of pot (especially when it's eaten, not smoked).

If we legalize pot for adults, more people will use it than before--but most won't. It's not physically addictive, unlike alcohol. And most Americans don't want to wander around in a daze.

As for driving while stoned--I regard it the same way as I regard driving while drunk: premeditated attempted murder.

So legalize pot but treat as premeditated all crimes committed under the influence of any mind-altering substance that was voluntarily ingested.

That should make the law and order types happy. But if you don't support legalizing both or banning both you aren't serious about law and order.

Posted by: ehkzu | May 8, 2010 6:38 PM | Report abuse


Actually KATRINA, I usually disagree with most of what you believe, but in this case, I really don't give a damn whether or not anyone chooses to smoke marijuana or not. I think that we make too much of it; if they want to smoke it, for medical reasons or not, the government should leave them alone.

Actually KATRINA, what really concerns me is that this idea is coming from the "LEFT COAST, that PROGRESSIVE HAVEN which managed to bankrupt the State of California, and produce NANCY PELOSI. Oh well, that being said, time to get back to important things, like working on ousting the "progressives" like REID, PELOSI, AND OBAMA from office.

Posted by: barrysal | May 10, 2010 2:09 AM | Report abuse

"Yes, just what America needs, more druggies and pot heads out on our freeways. "
To join the drunks, hungover people who were drunk the night before, the cell phone talkers, text messengers, road-rage psychos, etc.

Sorry, a stoner driving 5 mph on the shoulder of the interstate is the least of my worries!

Posted by: risejugger | May 10, 2010 3:25 AM | Report abuse

Life should be easy enough. Stay clean and healthy. Respect those around you and obey the laws. Earn enough money to get buy and spend it wisely. But now that makes you a zealot - too. If you think laws should be obeyed or changed.

I guess no good deed goes unpunished, after all.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | May 10, 2010 8:59 AM | Report abuse

You absolutely can not judge the rest of the nation by what a State known as the State of loons and nuts does.California doesn't represent the general population of the USA at all.

Posted by: fcs25
- - - - -
Neither, for that matter, does Mississippi nor Alabama, thankfully. But while Mississippi nor Alabama can claim to be special in any way, California can claim to be the 6th greatest economic powerhouse in the world. So, while you may call Californians loons, others can call Mississippi and Alabama red-necks and Luddites and whatever other derogatory words they wish. And none of what you nor I have said has any relationship to the subject at hand, that is, the legalization of marijuana.

Posted by: ColleenHarper | May 10, 2010 10:24 AM | Report abuse

If the pharmaceutical companies could have figured out a way to profit from legal cannabis, it would have been legalized years ago. What the establishment hates is that once legalized, there's no money to be made from something you can grow in your back yard for pennies.

Few will go to the trouble or have great success at that, which is why commercialization/taxation makes sense in EVERY reasonable way. ATF is already set up for licensing and taxation, so we don't even need a new beaurocracy to administer legal marijuana.

Shame on Ms. Vanden Heuvel for referring to it as "killer weed". This is the kind of B.S. term that just plugs people in for no good reason.

Posted by: curtnevan | May 10, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

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