Living in Potterville

Most readers have seen the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Remember when George Bailey is shown how life would be if he hadn’t been born? He runs through Bedford Falls but it has been taken over by the evil Mr. Potter and renamed “Potterville.” And the main feature of Potterville is that the nice, clean family town has been replaced by a dirty, filthy town filled with honkeytonks, bars, strip joints, etc.

Thanks to medical marijuana legalization, people in Colorado have been given their own view of what it’s like to live in Potterville. And I do mean “pot.” There are “medical marijuana” dispensaries on every street corner in many towns now, and you can purchase vape pens at almost every corner store. They have sprung up in the last year as the medical marijuana legalization effort have come into full swing. So, one result when you legalize pot the way Colorado chose to do so is you get a literal Potterville, with dirty characters hanging out in front of pot dispensaries, which are literally on every block in downtown Loveland, CO, near where I live.

You can read more about how this came about here. To summarize, voters approved medical marijuana for those truly in need, and it got out of control. “Doctors” sign “prescriptions” at the drop of a hat, and, in effect, pot is completely legalized in Colorado.

Needless to say, many people don’t like their new Pottervilles, and the Colorado legislature has approved a new bill trying to bring the situation under control. One of the provisions of the bill allows local communities to opt out of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries, and the police chief of Loveland, CO (near where I live) has said he wants the community to get rid of all of the pot houses in town. He said the dispensaries are causing crime to increase in town, although, frustratingly, he gave no details (or the reporter who covered his comments forgot to provide them).

This whole medical marijuana movement has got to be one of the most cynical, dishonest things I have ever seen. Yes, there are some people whose suffering will be eased by marijuana. Yes, marijuana is less harmful than other drugs out there. But why couldn’t Colorado decide instead to allow pharmacies to provide real prescriptions, rather than allowing pot dispensaries literally on every corner of many small towns? What the movement really wanted was exactly what it got, ie, a completely uncontrolled environment with pot being legalized without admitting that it was being legalized.

Now would be a nice time to say that opining you are against the legalization of drugs on a blog is a certain way to get lots of nasty comments from a broad spectrum of people. Let me just say to the more restrained of you: I have heard and read every possible argument in favor of legalizing drugs. There is nothing you can tell me on this subject that I don’t already know. I have been following this issue closely since I was a teenager and first became politically aware.

I am by nature a libertarian, live-and-let live type of guy. My instinct is that the government should be as involved in your life as little as possible. But there are legitimate areas where the government should be involved. I’ll give you one example. Clearly, we favor freedom of speech, and that freedom has been interpreted, in modern times, to include allowing pornography. But most people agree that child pornography is wrong and should be illegal.

In my mind, the same logic applies to drug legalization. We generally favor the idea that people should have the right to do what they want with their own bodies. But we have rules that limit buying alcohol to those over 21. We as a society deem that certain drugs are so harmful that they should not be legal. One of the purposes of making something illegal is to point out that it is “wrong.” I can tell you from experience that pointing out that something is illegal makes it much easier to win the verbal debate with your argumentative teenager about whether or not he/she can do something. “You can’t drink alcohol because it’s illegal until you’re 21” is a much easier argument to win than “you can’t drink alcohol because I think it’s wrong.”

So, lack of moral approbation is critically important to families. In Colorado these days, you cannot win that debate because if it is “wrong” why are there marijuana plants being advertised on every street corner? But I will provide some personal experience that many other readers may not have. I grew up in a hippie community in California in the 1970s, and I had many, many friends who started smoking pot when they were teenagers. The claim that pot is not addictive is nonsense. Most of my friends who started smoking in their teen years have either had serious, life-threatening health problems, have severe memory problems similar to dementia or have quit never to smoke again. I have several college-age friends who smoke pot every day and have heroin-like withdrawal symptoms, that looked like my Lyrica withdrawal treatment in the past, if they go a few hours without a joint in the morning. If you don’t believe my personal experience, you might want to read this.

Is marijuana a “gateway drug?” Well, yes and no. Some people are satisfied just sticking with pot. Some people, like myself, try it a few times and then stop. Some people, like my wife, never try it. But any expert in addictive behavior will tell you that certain boundaries are broken down once you try one drug. Once you have a tobacco cigarette, it’s easier to tell yourself it’s OK to have a beer or a joint. Mentally, it is easier to justify trying harder drugs once you have tried one drug. And some people feel that if marijuana makes you high and makes you feel good, well, mushrooms, coke, ecstasy and heroin will make you feel even better.

Does legalization actually decrease drug use? I have seen studies on both sides of this issue. I don’t think the evidence is conclusive either way. The forces of supply and demand are very difficult to overcome — no matter how much we do to restrict supply, if there is a demand illegal drugs will always be there. So, I am not arguing that the reason to keep drugs illegal is that it will limit supply. Anybody with teenagers knows that getting a joint at high school is probably easier than getting a new notebook at high school.

My argument basically boils down to three elements: 1)I have seen Potterville and legalized marijuana, and it is very, very ugly 2)one of the purposes of making something illegal is to point out it is “wrong” and 3)I know from personal experience that marijuana is an addictive, dangerous drug.

If you disagree, please do so nicely or else your comment will be up in smoke. So to speak.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

38 thoughts on “Living in Potterville

  1. When you set up a very narrow law that, by its very nature, is ripe for abuse, you’re going to see the sorts of things that you’re seeing. I agree that most of the medical marijuana industry is catering to people who don’t need it, but it’s still a form of Prohibition, so you’re going to get a lot people gaming the system.

    The “Potterville” problem (clever pun, BTW) could be solved by legalizing personal use and retail sale, creating tight regulations on sales, and allowing cities to carefully zone retailers who dispense it.

    Cities frequently use narrowly-written zoning laws to keep strip clubs and porn shops in certain areas of town. Sometimes they keep them out altogether by zoning them into industrial parks or big-box shopping centers, where the rent is high and few, if any, places are likely to spring up. It sounds to me like the Colorado state law was poorly written and local municipalities weren’t given power to enforce zoning ordinances.

  2. Mike, excellent points. To be fair, the new legislation will help improve our current out-of-control situation, and you are correct that there are ways of legalizing pot that would be more controlled.

    So, if you can justify legalizing pot, how can you not justify legalizing all currently illegal drugs?

  3. Personally? I’d legalize (or at least decriminalize) all recreational drugs, and establish public education and treatment programs. It would cost a lot less than we now spend on law enforcement and prisons, and it would end the violence tied to the drug trade.

    I sometimes joke about my “libertarian utopia,” but the reality is that liberty means people are going to do things I don’t like and my world isn’t going to be exactly the way I want it to be. There are always going to be people who suffer from drug abuse; the question is, do we lock them up, or do we help them get treatment? I strongly prefer the latter option.

  4. Just this very minute I came across this AP news article:

    After 40 years, the United States’ war on drugs has cost $1 trillion and hundreds of thousands of lives, and for what? Drug use is rampant and violence even more brutal and widespread.

    Even U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske concedes the strategy hasn’t worked.

    “In the grand scheme, it has not been successful,” Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. “Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified.”

    Prohibition will never work. If the demand is there, the supply will always find a way in.

  5. I think you make good arguments, and you would not believe the debates I have had with people of all political persuasions on this issue since I was a teenager. But for the reasons I state in my post, I’ll stick with my position. If it’s any consolation, the debate is moving in your direction: young people favor drug decriminialization overwhelmingly.

    One small point on your first comment: medical marijuana proponents are challenging the new law intended to regulate their industry, saying that it can’t be regulated at all. So while it is true that there are ways to deal with medical marijuana that create something better than our current Potterville, in reality the industry really does want dispensaries on every street corner.

  6. Mike, you’ll note I don’t make the argument that criminalizing drugs decreases supply. I agree with you on supply meeting demand.

  7. There’s a difference between liberty and anarchy. Claiming “it can’t be regulated” is different that claiming “it should be legalized.”

    Right now you can’t buy liquor on every corner — stores have to obtain a state liquor license. (In some states, like my Utah, you can only get it from state stores.) Even me, the radical libertarian, agrees that licensing liquor sales is good for communities. Following that model for recreation MJ would work well, I think.

    I’m not a pot user. I’ve never touched the stuff. I teach my kids to stay away from it. But the current criminalized system has been an abject failure.

  8. Geoff,
    I’m far (far far) from libertarian, and really have no interest in legalizing drugs. That said, though, there’s no underlying reason why legalizing pot has to lead to the legalization of other drugs; the fact that, for example, pasteurized milk is available at my local grocery store has not, in most states, led to the legalization of raw milk. (Or at least, you can’t legally get raw milk in New York or Illinois, but you can certainly get pasteurized milk.)

    On a broader level, what seems to be the difference between California’s legalization and Colorado’s? Because I have lots of family in CA, and haven’t heard them complain about pot dispensaries on every corner, increased crime, etc. (And this is an honest question: I haven’t followed California’s experiment at all, except on the occasional APM Marketplace episode.) Is there tighter regulation in California? fewer per capital sellers? or did I just not hear about California’s problems?

  9. CA is very much in the same boat–but they’re beginning to get a handle on it. I’m not familiar enough with CO’s law to say much, other than you’re right about the industry catering pretty much to those who aren’t in need, i.e., pot heads and assorted recreational drug abusers. I’d have to see what “decriminalization” meant before agreeing to doing away with criminal laws on drugs. This is an area where I’m closer to agreement with Mike, than other government intervention. One reason they can’t just have pharmacies dispense is that MJ remains a schedule 1 drug under federal law and until the states and the feds get their acts together there will be an inherent conflict between the states which think they are “legalizing” it and the stark federal reality that MJ will remain illegal unless and until the feds do something else . . .

  10. Good comments all. Sam B, I wish I knew the answer to your question, and if I have time I’ll try to do some investigation. There was a court decision two years ago that led to our current wild, wild west environment. Perhaps that’s the difference?

  11. Guy makes a very good point, in that legalized pot sales are going to be a regulatory nightmare until the feds and the states sit down and sort it all out. Considering the vast number of pages of the Federal Register that dedicated to criminalizing recreational drugs and the unwillingness of anyone in Washington DC to admit defeat in the drug war, I don’t expect this to happen anytime soon.

    Here’s one perspective on Los Angeles’ experience with medical pot dispensaries:

  12. I think your solution about medical marijuana being dispensed by pharmacies is an excellent one. It would still be abuseable, as shown by the problem with prescription drug abuse, but it would be tighter than what you’re describing.

    The problem is that I don’t believe pharmacists can touch the stuff, because federal regulations say that it has no medicinal use, and pharmacists (guessing here, so be gentle if I’m wrong) could lose their licenses if they get involved with its distribution. I don’t understand how we can find medicinal uses of heroin, methadone, oxycontin, hydrocodone, and morphine, all very addictive, abusable and potentially lethally overdoseable, but won’t recognize any medical uses of marijuana and won’t allow any research that could find any, but that’s been federal policy for a long time.

    I think a taxing structure that will fund reasonable regulation of the industry is a good next step, but we’re just barking into the wind until the Feds get on board and let medical marijuana into the tent.

  13. I used to live in a middle class neighborhood that was subsumed by the growth of the inner-city and crime. Drug use increased very much in that neighborhood.

    Every few years there would be a drug sweep in Indianapolis and hundreds of dealers would be arrested. They would do it at like 4:00am.

    For about 24 hours, the streets would be eerily quiet. But with 36 hours (evening of the following day) the drug trade would be back to normal, just with a new cast of characters.

    Drug sweeps never cured any addict/user. So the addicts (demand) literally created a supply (dealers).

    I used to hate the dealers. I thought they were the problem. But when I saw the dealers replaced so quickly, time and again, I realized it was the users who created dealers, not the other way around.

    One might guess that the number of MJ users and the quantity consumed in Colorado has not increased since the dispensaries opened. I don’t know. And that the dispensaries are only bringing the problem to the visible surface. But if that’s the case, then maybe making the problem visible to the middle and upper classes is what it takes for there to be a real solution, instead of letting it fester in the unseen underworld.

    Based on what I saw in my former neighborhood, I think the criminal justice system’s focus on dealers is wrong and wasteful. Because demand will constantly cause replacement of any arrested dealers. We have to focus on demand in order to eliminate or reduce this evil.

    The death penalty for users is what is needed. That’s one way to eliminate the demand, and scare the living daylights out of anyone who is even remotely tempted to try drugs.

    Yes, draconian, but offer an amnesty and treatment program for those who voluntarily surrender. It will only take a few executions for the word to get out and properly motivate people to get treatment, and scare off future experimenters.

    Okay, okay, maybe not execute them on the first offense. Maybe an Indonesian style caning for the first offense, and the death penalty for the second.

  14. Wow, Book, execution for drug users! Isn’t that in the Book of Mormon? I do think that countries like Singapore have caning for drug users.

    But more seriously, I understand your larger point, which is that it is a demand-side problem. Personally, I think the way you deal with the demand-side is education and treatment.

  15. Why not the death penalty for jaywalkers as well? After all, you’d only need to execute a few of them before people started using crosswalks every time. We should kill 3-4 people for every type of crime, soon we’d be crime free in the United States.

    I used to think the medical mj thing was a complete joke. But someone close to me was affected by it and now my feelings have changed. This straight-as-an-arrow molly Mormon who had never touched alcohol or drugs was driven to it during an ongoing illness. this illness was destroying her life, precious time with her children was spent in pain so bad that she couldn’t open her eyes or bear to converse with them because doing practically anything was so painful. She went to doctor after doctor, who would all try different prescription drugs, none of which would work. Or she’d find something that would help, but the side effects like constant diarrhea and vomiting caused her to lose 15 pounds in a month.

    Eventually she came to a physician (an LDS physician, which I thought was interesting) who jokingly said she should give the vomit-causing drug another shot, but take some medical mj on the side to combat the horrible nausea. After another month of struggling her husband convinced her to give it a shot. Now a small piece of candy with some mj oil cooked into it has changed her life. She was sobbing as she told me how amazing it was to be able to do the things she took for granted like wrestle with her kids, serve in a church calling or go to a movie. She didn’t grow dreadlocks, she didn’t lose her testimony and she hasn’t started mugging people to pay for her habit.

    If it is a drug that can help people that are sick (which I now believe it is), it should be available and regulated just like any other legal drugs that can be abused. It’s a Federal vs. State thing right now. I was hoping this administration might relax the drug war even slightly, and there were whispers that it was happening at one time, but so far nothing. I think the drug war is a horrible waste of money and resources, if I were trimming from the budget I would start with that and the military before anything else.

    So while I totally understand some of the concerns that have been raised, it seems like most of them could be fixed with more government intervention. Better zoning laws and stricter regulation on prescriptions would be a nice start. I wonder if this is stemming from it being so new, it’s the wild wild west for mj in these states. I bet it will have calmed down a lot in five years.

  16. Jjohnsen, good comment. Please note that I am in favor of medical marijuana for those who really need it and would favor it as a prescription drug. There are a lot of extremely dangerous drugs that are given to people by pharmacists — no reason mj couldn’t be sold that way.

  17. I agree that medical marijuana should be available with a prescription from a pharmacy. My feeling is God gave man this wonderful plant for a righteous purpose. We human beings are ungrateful to not use this gift in the fashion in which God intended.

  18. The idea that “medical” marijuana should be available outside a pharmacy is mind boggling.

  19. We don’t have prozac shops or cialis shops, which is why having medical mj shops makes so little sense. On one hand they are calling it a medicine, but they’re treating it like a recreational drug similar to alcohol or tobacco which have their own shops. If the whole point is just to get it legal so we can all get it, then that sucks. The people promoting medical mj should also be promoting required training for pharmacists so they can give it out along with my son’s acid-reflux medicine.

  20. In my research the only proven thing I have found was that a very low percentage of users developed psychosis. I have seen nothing definitive about the gateway phenomenon, nor about memory loss, brain damage or physiological addiction. I have learned to mistrust both sides on the war on drugs, and to put more trust on research from other countries.

  21. Guy, excellent link. It seems to me that with marinol available there is absolutely no need for medical marijuana, especially since, as the link says, delivering THC via smoking is the least efficient and most harmful (to your lungs at the very least) was of delivering it. I am surprised more people are not discussing this fact.

  22. Admittedly I don’t know many, but the few patients I know that use medical mj don’t smoke it anyway. They use a vaporizer or cook and bake with it. If marinol has all the benefits and none of the drawback though, I don’t have a problem with it being used as a replacement. I’ll have to mention it to the friend I talked about in my first post, I’d be interested to see if she’s tried it. With a quick Google search I found people saying it wasn’t as good, but it’s totally possible that they’re missing other benefits of mj that have nothing to do with their actual illness.

  23. Marinol is (as they tell me) ineffective for the anti-nausea effect some use mmj for — smoking it doesn’t require that you keep the pill in your stomach long enough for it to get to your intestines to be effective. And it remains to be established if the THC is the only effective ingredient.

    I think the solution is for the feds to allow for legal dispensing of this by pharmacists, including regulation of the production and standards of quality, by prescription. I don’t see it happening, but that seems the best solution to me.

  24. I would agree that if there are medicinal uses for the product, the feds should get their act together, test it, FDA approve it, and dispense it via pharmacies; however, the current system of “dispensaries” perpetuates nothing more than “legalized” outlets (at least here in CA) for distributing MJ to potheads, who vastly outnumber those who truly might benefit . . .

  25. Alcohol is vastly more destructive to society than marijuana. Alcohol is much more addictive, and alcoholism has a much greater health impact and is destructive to families and relationships. Drunk people get angry and hurt partners and children. Drunk driving costs tens of thousands of lives every year. People who use pot, in contrast, rarely get violent, and, while there are negative health effects, they are far better than what alcohol does.

    And yet we have liquor available in markets and specialty stores in every neighborhood. And no one complains about “beerheads”.

    I find this through-the-looking-glass disconnect very odd.

  26. And yet we have liquor available in markets and specialty stores in every neighborhood

    Beer is almost universally available at private stores. “Liquor” is not. Wine is not available at private stores in half a dozen states. Sales of distilled spirits are similarly restricted in about half of all states.

    One might say that alcohol is largely “water under the bridge”. That doesn’t mean it is sane to encourage the development of another social scourge, let alone in such an unbridled fashion.

  27. Whether available at state-run outlets or through licensed private stores, liquor is legal for sale to adults in nearly every community in America. The alternative would be a return to Prohibition, which was a short-lived social experience resulted in a huge spike in crime (particularly organized crime) and virtually no reduction in the consumption of alcohol.

    For the last 40 years we have Prohibition (only without the Constitutional amendment) on recreational drugs, during which time the United States has spent nearly $700 billion and seen no change in usage rates, but tens of thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of people locked up. Drug prohibition feeds the cartels that make big money trafficking the stuff across the border.

    If anything is a “social scourge” it’s the disastrous failure of the “war on drugs.”

  28. In Davis County, Utah there are a grand total of three state liquor stores, serving a population of ~300,000 people. That is a far cry from one in “every neighborhood”.

    The problem here is what appears to have occurred is a bait and switch. Legalize marijuana on medical grounds, and then license non-pharmacies to dispense it, as if the real goal was to make it available for recreational use all along.

    If it must be legalized for medical purposes, surely there isn’t any compelling argument for it to be available outside regular licensed pharmacies. If legalizing it for recreational use is a necessary evil, it hardly needs to be available on every street corner either.

  29. You must admit, though, that Utah is an aberration. There is a significant percentage of the population that wouldn’t drink even if there was a liquor store on every corner.

    Until three years ago I lived in California, where corner markets DID have distilled spirits for sale. Certainly the neighborhoods I lived in weren’t plagued with drunks staggering down the street.

    I agree with you, though, that medical marijuana is largely a front for recreational users. It’s been a back-door approach to the legalization of possession and use. I think we’re starting to see the momentum growing to just legalize the darn stuff and stop all the nudge-nudge, wink-wink nonsense.

  30. “What the movement really wanted was exactly what it got, ie, a completely uncontrolled environment with pot being legalized without admitting that it was being legalized.”

    It is very interesting to me that we human’s don’t seem to ever tell the truth in the political arena. Why is that?

    ” One of the purposes of making something illegal is to point out that it is “wrong.””

    I agree.

    Great post, Geoff.

    I have a friend into marijuana that insists it’s not addictive. I did a little research and it turns out there are multiple definitions of addictive. If we are dealing only with the strongest medical definition, it’s probably true that marijuana is only mildly addictive. (Apparently “not addicitive” was too strong.) But by that definition pronography could never be considered addictive. But most of us accept that it is “addictive” in at least some legitimate sense of the word. So the “non-addictive” label for marijuana seems to be both wrong AND a word game.

  31. Just happened to see an article about the market effects of mmj in California: An interesting additional aspect to the question.

    Reasonable definitions of “addiction” are tricky to come by, because of the ways people do and don’t use it as an excuse. When you’re trying to quit something and you keep failing at quitting, and you’re ready to work a program of recovery to quit it, you can use the “addiction” word and I’ll back you up.

  32. Marijuana appears to be a truly effective anti-cancer drug (proven inadvertently by the Bush administration no less–peoople who smoke marijuana don’t only not get lung cancer, it protects them from getting lung cancer if they also smoke cigarettes. I believe this was exactly the opposite result they were expecting.) It’s anti-cancer properties have been known for years but because of marijuana’s class 3 status, no one can do studies to help actual people with actual cancer.

    Not to mention the huge numbers of people in jail just for marijuana offenses. How is that anything but a waste of our taxpayer’s dollar?

    As to the addiction question, it’s been looked at pretty thoroughly in the Netherlands, with “no” winning.

  33. Marinol (THC) doesn’t work like the real thing because pot is chock-full of all sorts of interesting substances, not just THC. Lots of the cancer research, if it could be performed, would look at the other cannabanoids.

  34. Actually, as to Marijuana being addictive, there is a known usage pattern, lots for a few years then tapering off to close to nothing. So, not addicting.

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