Drugs banned by the feds, legalized by the neighborhood

Drugs banned by the feds, legalized by the neighborhood

Drug control moves local. That's where the drugs are at.

VicesOctober 25, 2018 By Reilly Capps

Two hundred years after George Washington grew drugs on his land in Virginia, the city named after him likes to think it controls the drugs. No one is supposed to get high. Nixon nixed 'em all. Washington has its DEA, DOJ, FDA, ATF, CDC, ONDCP — i.e. or e.g — SNAFU and FUBAR.

But then how is it, if Washington controls drugs, you can buy a joint on half the street corners in Denver, Los Angeles and Seattle?

Then how is it that, this election, there are four states voting on cannabis? How are 16 counties in Wisconsin voting on pot? In Racine, Wisconsin, why are there seven questions about cannabis on the town ballot? How can cannabis be illegal federally, with a whole army out to stop it — but a vote could make it OK in Dayton, Ohio?  

It seems like we've slipped through some kind of wormhole. You half expect to smoke a joint and see Dr. Who on the other side.

It's a mystery, a conundrum difficult to wrap your head around — whether you're high or not. Very serious Washington lawyers have explained to us that, due to the Supremacy Clause, that prioritizes fed law over local laws, cannabis is illegal, remains illegal and has always been illegal — even after we told him that we can see a dispensary from our house.

And how is drug reform moving beyond cannabis? How is Denver plodding toward a vote on psilocybin mushrooms in May — volunteers are gathering signatures — and Oregon toward voting on shrooms in 2020? They're gathering signatures out there, too.

Basically, this:

Denverites, Oregonians and Californians could care less about these legal whatchamijiggers. Drug policy has begun to change not at the federal level, the level where drugs were banned, but state by state, city by city, almost block by block — where drugs are grown, sold and used.

After decades of begging Washington politicians to change the drug laws, average folks are seizing the power they have to change the country's laws.

We have all the drugs out here. We might as well control 'em.

Neighborhoods from Denver to Boston are debating whether to let "social use" cannabis clubs spring up nearby — very few operate; Denver only has one. Neighborhoods from San Francisco to Philly are debating "safe injection sites," little clinics with booths for getting lit, like beauty salons but for druggos.

As neighborhoods and cities change from Just Say No to Let's Be Smart About This, it's a bit of a return from the way people used to think about drugs. In some ways, local control of drugs is not new.

When prohibition of alcohol ended, some counties decided not to — booze wasn't their drink. They liked sweet tea. More than 500 cities and counties still don't allow liquor sales — most of them in the deep south.

Same thing happened in cannabis. You think of weed as being all over Colorado. It isn't. About 60 percent of Colorado towns and counties don't sell it. Huge swaths of the eastern and western parts of the state are as weed-free has a field of Roundup-ready corn. California and most other states give their towns and cities a similar freedom, and many of them are opting out, too.

Are cannabis and mushrooms where legalization is going to stop? Or could cities decide to continue to ignore what Washington says about the criminality of, say, ketamine or LSD or ayahuasca, drugs that are have been proven to be medicine and are relatively physically safe, to make a city's own rules about these things?

Could cities set up clinics and safe spaces to take these drugs with guides? Could we establish our own, say, drug testing laws or maybe even labs?

Maybe not. Maybe some tide of liberalization reaches a high-water mark; maybe there's a backlash, and Washington orders the tanks to unleash tear gas against a lone wook in an Alex Gray t-shirt selling heady crystals and DMT.

But local people, know this: George Washington — the person — would never have stood for any of this War on Drugs. He would have reminded those of us out West — the colonies of the District of Columbia, in a sense — that we have power, too, that we have control over some things — including the power to ignore the crown.