The borders of legality
The legalization of marijuana near Moscow evokes debate among locals

October 10, 2017

Despite Pullman and Moscow being two prominent border towns on the Palouse, a recent rift has formed between them — marijuana.

In 2012, Washington state legalized the use of recreational marijuana, instantly prompting the expansion of dispensaries around Pullman, including ones near the Washington state-Idaho border.

This has sparked some debate among Palouse residents, particularly in Moscow.


Conflicting perspectives

Jordan Johnson was first introduced to marijuana when she was 7 years old.

“I didn’t actually know what it was at the time,” Johnson said. “I just thought my mom was like smoking cigarettes, but they smelled different.”

The University of Idaho ASUI Chief of Staff grew up and soon recognized her mother was not smoking cigarettes, but marijuana, and that she smoked it — a lot.

It was not until high school she discovered the true reasoning behind her mother’s frequent marijuana use.

“My mom was sick,” Johnson said.

With constant migraines and chronic pain, Johnson’s mother used marijuana as an escape from the severe discomfort.

However, as Johnson entered high school, her mother tried prescription drugs, hoping they might alleviate the pain like marijuana had. Between fentanyl patches, morphine and hydrocodone, it became too much for her body.

Following the legalization of marijuana in Washington state, Johnson’s mother was able to find relief in something other than high-dosage opioids — Rick Simpson Oil (RSO).

“It’s a very high concentrate of cannabinoid that you can put on a pill, or you can put in the back of your tongue and you just take it,” Johnson said “My mom started taking RSOs about three years ago and has weaned off of fentanyl patches, hydrocodone and she’s still on morphine twice a day, but she’s on the lowest dosage of morphine you can be on.”

Johnson said her mother still smokes regularly, which has reduced her pain substantially.

“That’s kind of what showed me that marijuana isn’t this big bad (thing) that the D.A.R.E. program teaches us in elementary school,” Johnson said.

Her mother’s marijuana use is what prompted her more recent interest in working as a “budtender.”

In May 2017, Johnson began work as a budtender at Floyd’s Cannabis Co., a dispensary not even one mile west of the Washington state-Idaho border.

Johnson said not only has she seen benefits from marijuana use in her mother, but among many of the customers she served as well.

“I would venture a guess that 85 percent of my customers we not pot-smoking college students,” Johnson said. “They are people who are in pain and who have headaches and who have anxiety and they have some issues that marijuana helps take the edge off. It’s a magical thing that can do a lot of really helpful things in my opinion and I’ve seen the miracles — it can work.”

For Angel Davila, a fourth-year UI student, marijuana was not as easily accepted by his family growing up.

This didn’t influence his decision to defend its legalization.

“My parents particularly believe it’s just a bad thing,” Davila said. “For me, I wouldn’t say I’m pro-recreational. If it’s recreational or not, I don’t really care. But the fact that there’s so many medical uses for it I feel like it should be legalized medically, at least.”

Similar to Johnson, Davila said his passion for supporting medical marijuana stemmed from his belief that people in pain should have access to its medicinal properties.

“If there’s people that are suffering from an illness and we have a cure to at least help them with that illness, why can’t we give them that?” Davila said.

Arlene Falcon, Moscow Hemp Fest Organizer and owner of Tye Dye Everything, also has a passion for the legalization of marijuana, both medical and recreational.

“I’m pretty against the rules the way it stands right now,” Falcon said.

The stigma surrounding marijuana is what Falcon said frustrates her the most, including the constant battle marijuana advocates face while striving to educate people about marijuana’s benefits.

Falcon compares marijuana with alcohol in many aspects, including the dangers one might run into under the influence of alcohol.

Alcohol is legal everywhere in the U.S. for anyone over the age of 21, and this concerns her.

“Prohibition didn’t work for alcohol and it’s not really working for pot,” Falcon said.

With the legalization of marijuana in Washington state, Falcon said she has not seen changes in attitude toward marijuana in Moscow, other than the excitement it has become more readily available.

A concerned population

The legalization of marijuana has raised concerns for some people in Idaho.

Corporal Dustin Blaker, who has been with the Moscow Police Department for 17 years and works in narcotics, said he recognizes there could be negative effects on the population if marijuana becomes legal in Idaho.

His main concern is marijuana’s potential to be a gateway drug.

“Some people don’t call marijuana a gateway drug,” Blaker said. “I think marijuana and alcohol are both gateway drugs.”

Eventually, Blaker said he believes people will progress to more harmful drugs.

“Maybe not always, but … that’s what I’ve seen,” Blaker said.

Another concern is raised with the idea that mind-altering drugs may stunt the growth of developing brains.

“When you’re younger, your mental capacity and the way your brain waves work are still developing,” Blaker said. “Any type of substance that alters your brain to any degree can change that and make it harder for you for the rest of your life.”

Much like Blaker, Grace Cieszkiewicz, a senior at the University of Washington, worries marijuana negatively affects the brain, especially for college students.

“Substances numb you from the possibilities of exercising your brain and mental capacities to their full potential,” Cieszkiewicz said. “Many students have or continue to use marijuana, and it is putting them at a greater achievement disadvantage in school.”

In addition to her concern about developmental disadvantages, Cieszkiewicz said recreational marijuana, much like alcohol, puts people at risk on the road.

“This kind of safety concern should not be something that people have to worry about — yet it is,” she said.

Cieszkiewicz said legalization gives people more license to partake in risky actions.


Complex legalities

Despite the legalization of marijuana so close to Moscow, Blaker said he has not seen any change in the prevalence of marijuana in the area.

“Being a college town, marijuana has always been very high here,” Blaker said.

The primary change Blaker said he’s noticed with dispensaries close by, particularly at the college level, is the new way marijuana is packaged.

Instead of students purchasing marijuana from local dealers, they are going to dispensaries for packaged marijuana. This packaging is what Blaker said the police department sees most often since legalization in Washington state.

The City of Moscow’s Prosecuting Attorney Liz Warner called the new packaging commercial.

“Because we are unique in that Moscow is so close to another state border in where it is legal … we have had an increase in cases that have commercial marijuana,” Warner said.

Like Blaker, Watson said more and more cases present marijuana in a form law enforcement and attorneys have never before seen.

Another problem Blaker noticed focuses directly on high school students. He said younger generations are now able to use a similar tactic they might use when obtaining alcohol — find someone over the age of 21 to buy it for them.

Marijuana use for Moscow High School students has gone up because of this, Blaker said.

“It’s even easier for them to get it now,” Blaker said. “It’s real easy for them to find someone to go buy for them.”

Another leading problem Blaker said he runs into involves the edible-making process.

Ever since marijuana was made legal, starting with medical, the experimentation of turning marijuana from its raw form to oil has increased, Blaker said.

The problem with edibles, Blaker said, is that higher concentrations of TCH, a mind-altering chemical in marijuana, are found in the oil used to make such edibles.

People then often believe they consume less THC than in reality, which can cause adverse reactions.

“You can overdose on marijuana,” Blaker said. “It’s not like overdosing on heroine where you O.D., you stop breathing and you die. Every drug that’s out there that alters your mind a little bit you can overdose on.”

Because of this, Blaker said there are more hospital visits from adverse reactions due to overdose on THC from edibles.

“When you make an edible, like a cookie or a brownie, you never know how much of the actual THC gets in each portion.” Blaker said.

Blaker said this is a trend commonly found in Colorado and Washington state.

When it comes to marijuana and crime, Blaker said the two are not highly associated.

“We all kind of know that,” Blaker said. “Marijuana is just, because of the type of reaction that people have to it, the way people get high from it and is more of a depressant, that’s not going to be the type of person who goes out and commits a violent crime that’s high on marijuana.”

However, according to Idaho Code, any person in possession of marijuana under three ounces will be charged with a misdemeanor. The fine can be up to $1,000 and, or one year in jail.

“Is that what a judge is going to give here?” Blaker said. “No, for a first time offense possession, you’re probably going to get a couple hundred-dollar fine and that’s probably about it.”

Warner said each case is unique and the severity of a punishment depends on the person’s criminal history.

Typically, Warner said the punishment is $555 for possession and $455 for paraphernalia. However, both charges are subject to a discount of $200 if the defendant pleads guilty and completes an Alcohol and Drug Information School training.


A historical battle

The criminalization of marijuana is nothing new.

Marijuana has been cast in a negative light for many years, beginning in the ‘20s, when Mexican immigrants entered the U.S., according to David Musto, a professor from Yale who the New York Times called “an expert on drug-control policy.”

According to Musto’s “Opium, Cocaine and Marijuana in American History,” Mexican immigrants became an “unwelcome minority linked with violence and with growing and smoking marijuana.”

This is where the negative connotation towards marijuana began, while Americans commonly associated violence with marijuana use.

However, it wasn’t until the ‘60s that the presence of marijuana became ubiquitous among young adults across the U.S.

Davila said much of the stigma surrounding marijuana began with the President Richard Nixon era and the war on drugs.

According to CNN, “the war on drugs was a political tool used to fight blacks and hippies.”

“He started that, and people ran with it,” Davila said.

Despite marijuana’s bumpy road toward legalization, it is now legal for medical use in 44 states and recreational use in eight states and the District of Columbia.

However, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, Idaho is one of only two remaining states whose law does not acknowledge marijuana in any way, along with Kansas.

Yet even with laws in place, Blaker said it is still common for people to forget marijuana is illegal in Idaho.

“As soon as you buy it in Washington, the moment you cross into Idaho it’s illegal,” Blaker said. “If people want to smoke, fine — go to Washington. Buy it in Washington, smoke it in Washington.”

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