Dave Brooksher

Redwood Times

Author Martin A. Lee recently traveled to the North Coast for a series of appearances, including a signing at Arcata’s North Town Books and a speaking engagement at Humboldt State University -- as well as a breakfast interview with the Redwood Times.

Lee is spearheading public discourse on recent moves to legalize recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington. He’s also discussing his recent book Smoke Signals, which was released this August. Lee seems convinced that change is coming, though it’s hard to predict exactly what we’ll be seeing and how it will affect us here in Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

"We are starting to see legalization on a state level. It’s not clear how that’s going to play out, but I would think that one would be remiss -- especially if one is in this industry -- to not be thinking ahead about how to position oneself if marijuana legalization should actually be implemented for adults in a real way."

"I don’t think you can bank on anything in particular with cannabis," he said, "but one should be prepared."

California has a long-held reputation for being a front-runner in regulating the marijuana industry in ways that bring it into the light of day -- but we had the opportunity to legalize recreational marijuana for adults in 2010 when Prop 19 was on the ballot. Where we voted no, Oregon and Washington have voted yes. And it’s fair to say that California is no longer leading the challenge against federal drug law.

In Colorado, voters have not only legalized the adult use of recreational marijuana -- they’ve also legalized industrial hemp as a farm crop. Hemp is an in-demand agricultural product that currently has to be imported, and materials made of hemp frequently sell for higher prices than similar products made with conventional fibers. This, combined with the state’s decentralized distribution network has Lee seeing Colorado’s new legislation as a model for other states in the future.

Washington’s law, on the other hand, presents a few problems from Lee’s perspective. First off -- Washington did not follow Colorado on hemp.

"It’s marijuana that’s been legalized for adult use. Not industrial hemp," he said.

Lee also suspects that aspects of the Washington law that deal with driving under the influence of marijuana may be hard to fairly enforce.

"Part of the ballot measure included a stipulation that if a driver is found to be driving with a certain amount of cannabinoid metabolites that were found through a blood test -- you would be charged with driving under the influence of drugs. You could lose your license. It’s a criminal offense," Lee said.

"The problem with the law is that the presence of metabolites in the body is not an indication of impairment," he added. "All it indicates is that sometime in the last four to six weeks someone had consumed marijuana."

Penalties will be more severe for minors under the age of 21 -- who are guilty of Driving Under the Influence of Drugs if they have any metabolites in their system. He also takes issue with Washington’s failure to change the legal status of industrial hemp.

"One thing that they did that the organizers of Proposition 19 didn’t do as much or as well, one of the arguments made in Colorado was that marijuana is safer to use than alcohol... It wasn’t just about how much money could be earned if you could tax and regulate it. It was about changing a bad policy with bad effects on the state."

Lee’s book is called Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana. You can find out more about his work online at www.SmokeSignalsTheBook.com.