It has taken years to overcome the stigma, the misinformation and resultant concerns about marijuana. Moving from harsh penalties to the open sale of marijuana and products derived from the plant at stores such The Bud Farmacy in Needles, California has been a long journey taken one step at a time.
Even though there has been tremendous progress, some states still impose harsh penalties for possession. In other states long term sentences are recent history. As an example, in July 2011, Lee Carroll Brooker, a 75-year-old disabled veteran diagnosed with chronic pain was arrested for cultivating three dozen marijuana plants behind his son’s house in Dothan, Alabama. For this crime he received a life sentence with no possibility of release.
Mr. Brooker’s trail exemplified the complexities of marijuana laws in Alabama. More than two decades prior Brooker had been convicted of an armed robbery in Florida. He served his sentence and had walked the straight and narrow afterwards. But Alabama law mandated that anyone with a prior felony conviction could be sentenced to life without parole for possession of more than 1 kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of marijuana. The marijuana plants collected during his arrest, including vines and stalks, weighed 2.8 pounds. At the time of his sentencing South Dakota, Louisiana and Mississippi had similar laws on the books.
The establishment of store such as The Bud Farmacy are only one manifestation of a changing perception. In 2016, with the initial legalization of marijuana in California, the legislation also allowed people to petition state courts to reduce or expunge from the records convictions for past marijuana crimes. As a result some felonies have been reduced to misdemeanors. There are other instances of misdemeanors being suspended or listed as infractions. Convictions for possessing or growing small amounts of marijuana are being overturned.
The pioneering California ballot initiative has become a template of reform in other states. Not all initiatives have been as successful. To a large degree failure was accredited to a lack of public education that addressed decades of confusing information.
There are other factors that have driven the recent policy changes at a state and federal level. Revenue derived from taxation has contributed to the transition to regulated facilities. Corresponding, rising state budgetary costs associated with arresting and incarcerating nonviolent drug offenders coupled with an increasing number of studies that hint of benefits have also fueled the push for deregulation.
Also contributing to the relaxation of restrictions are medical studies conducted since 1970. Increasingly healthcare providers see medical cannabis, CDB oils and similar products as a legitimate medical therapy. Still there are large gaps that in knowledge about the effectiveness of medical cannabis and state or federal designated qualifying conditions. There are also issues about accurate information on the potential for drug interaction problems. Surprisingly there is still a lack of comparative clinical trial data about medical cannabis.
For decades the perception on marijuana and related products, and their medicinal potential, were formed by misinformation and misunderstanding. That perception is changing, one step at a time.