A recent article in the Boston Globe, “Mass. towns, regulators brace for medical marijuana” sets forth neatly the issues of the hour as cannabis continues its spread east and invades the major Northeastern state of Massachusetts – with a major metropolitan area, Boston, almost on the outskirts of the national (civilizational?) capital, New York City.
As discussed previously, the story being told is how individual communities in the state are trying to delay implementation of the law. Not every one in a cannabis law reform state wants a cannabis dispensary and/or grow-up in his backyard, you know.
I am focusing on this report because it provides an example of how you can break apart a standard story and extract some general principles.
I reduce the story as follows:
– a state law sets forth general principles of regulation with delegation of discretion to an executive branch administrative agency, in this case the public health side of the government
– members of the public and government are concerned that the “medical” aspect of the law will be exploited by people who don’t really “need” cannabis and that the medical establishment is not capable of handling the job.
Which side of the government governs
I set forth in my post “Save Us from the Doctors” and other articles in June and July of 2010 my position that you can open up the whole, vast continuum of psychoactive substance law (known in part as “drug law”) with the question “who regulates?”
At first the question is: police or doctors?
Once we move out of the medical/non-medical dichotomy (the building block construct of prohibition), the questions can evolve: the department of health – or the department of agriculture – or the liquor control board – or the department of consumer affairs or, as with tobacco, maybe just the tax department?
Maybe all of them regulate a little bit.
That is essentially the question of which regulatory branch is in control.
Which level of government governs
However there is also another set of questions: which level of government decides how cannabis (as with other psychoactive substances) is used?
The land use story is the story of concentric sovereigns.
At the broadest level is the treaty system – governing at the international level.
Next there are federal statutes and regulations.
Then there are state/provincial statues and regulations.
Then there are municipal laws and regulations.
Eventually you may reach the neighborhood level.
At the atomic level is the conduct within your own house and, eventually, your own head.
Who governs what you do within your head within your house?
I am sympathetic to those who think the laws are being rushed through without enough time to plan.
The downside to rapid reform in cannabis law would be failure and retreat back into criminalization.
There is no reason not to start planning now, everywhere, at the local level.
Maybe then it will be possible to avoid repeating the current situation in Massachusetts.