HYDERABAD, India—To get to Bandosingh Hazaari’s bhang shop you have to follow the gods.
In the maze of nameless alleys in Dhoolpet, a working-class neighborhood in the southeastern Indian city of Hyderabad, enormous fiberglass figures of Hindu gods and goddesses peek out of temple doors and between buildings. It’s a part of the city that’s known for creating and selling these 30-foot avatars, which are used in festivals and parades.
It’s also known for selling bhang—cannabis leaves that are crushed, mixed into drinks and sweets, and often served during Hindu holidays like Holi, the celebration of color and spring. During the festival, which falls on March 17 this year, crowds gather in Indian cities to throw colored powder and water on friends and strangers, leaving the streets tie-dyed and the air hazy with ribbons of rainbow dust. In a country where possessing and selling cannabis is generally prohibited, and where levels of cannabis use are low relative to other countries, it’s one day of the year when consuming marijuana is socially acceptable. There are even Bollywood songs extolling bhang’s virtues.
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As more states legalize, we still don’t have a clear picture of how marijuana affects the body.
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This afternoon, the Obama administration delighted marijuana advocates by announcing new guidelines meant to make it easier for cannabis businesses to open bank accounts in states where the drug is legalized.
Whether or not those new guidelines will have much of an affect, however, is an open question.
Financial institutions have largely shunned the pot industry, even in weed-friendly locales like Colorado, out of fear of violating federal drug and banking laws. As a result, dispensaries and growers have had to operate on a mostly cash basis, which is not exactly the most safe or efficient way to run company. They’ve also been denied access to credit.
The new guidelines, released by the Justice and Treasury Departments, essentially give banks an assurance that, as long as they play by the right rules and file the right paperwork, they probably won’t be prosecuted for letting your local pot shop open a checking account. Emphasis on probably. Back in August, the Department of Justice issued a memo stating that it would only focus on prosecuting marijuana businesses that broke state law or committed certain egregious offenses, like trafficking the drug over state lines or selling to minors. The DOJ now says, essentially, that banks are unlikely to be prosecuted so long as they only deal with marijuana customers that play by those rules.
Meanwhile, any financial institution that chooses to offer their services to cannabis businesses will have to file paperwork stating that they believe their customer is operating within the DOJ’s guidelines.
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Students and professors across the country are exploring the complex economic, sociological, and legal questions raised by legalizing cannabis.
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That’s his newest position on the experiments in Colorado and Washington, though he stopped short of endorsing legalization elsewhere.
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My entire life, my dad has smoked pot. It’s so synonymous with him that I’ve made a joke out of it. “What does your dad do?” comes that age old question. “He’s a pot-smoking hippie” is the easiest answer. And he is. Several times a day, every day, for as far back as I can remember, my dad has toked the reefer, hit the Mary Jane.
There’s a lot of discussion about pot right now, as different states push towards legalizing it for medical or personal use. As I listen to the various arguments—about health, morality, criminal justice, personal freedom—they all come back to the same thing for me: Dad, Dad, Daddy. The family element is almost always missing from the debates: What does smoking pot do, not only to users but to their children?
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Under the law in 48 states, here’s what can happen when an adult is thought to possess marijuana: men with guns can go to his home, kick down his door, force him to lay face down on the floor, restrain him with handcuffs, drive him to a police station, and lock him in a cage. If he is then convicted of possessing marijuana, a judge can order that he be locked in a different cage, perhaps for years.
There are times when locking human beings in cages is morally defensible. If, for example, a person commits murder, rape, or assault, transgressing against the rights of others, forcibly removing him from society is the most just course of action. In contrast, it is immoral to lock people in cages for possessing or ingesting a plant that is smoked by millions every year with no significant harm done, especially when the vast majority of any harm actually done is born by the smoker.
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After years in the political wilderness, marijuana lobbyists find themselves in a strange position as 2014 approaches: Suddenly their power and support are growing, lawmakers are courting them, and the prospects look brighter to build on major progress the movement made in 2012.
Last year, voters in Colorado and Washington legalized recreational use of marijuana, the first states to do so. Those victories have bestowed new legitimacy on the cannabis community, giving it a better field on which to fight. By engaging in political-money games, endorsing candidates, confederating cannabis-related businesses, and old-fashioned lobbying, the pot movement is working to expand the playing field to more states and confront the federal government’s long-standing and entrenched opposition to marijuana infrastructure head on. Campaigners hope to make legalization the sort of social issue candidates have to take a stand on, just as gay marriage and abortion before it became crucial litmus tests.
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In January 1989, in the wake of the extreme measures passed by the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, the marijuana-centric magazine High Times ran an advertisement from a group calling itself the Freedom Fighters asking readers to join its “cannabis protest movement”:
“For three years we’ve been asking our readers to get involved in the cannabis reform movement,” the ad read. “During that time, we have witnessed the steady erosion of our civil rights. Now Congress has passed a truly reprehensible bill aimed at illegal drug users. Don’t you think it’s about time you stepped out of that cannabis closet you’re hiding in?”
The advertisement was primarily speaking to men. After all, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that, even in 2012, men were nearly 50 percent more likely to smoke pot than women. High Times, with its centerfolds of scantily clad women and often boorish humor, has reflected those statistics for nearly 40 years. But, given the current softening of pot’s political and social stigma, more women than ever are following the Freedom Fighters’ advice and are coming out of the “cannabis closet” by exposing themselves in public as marijuana users.
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On a warm summer afternoon three years ago, Scott Bauer was hiking near the redwoods in Northern California when he came upon a clearing in the forest. As a scientist with the state’s department of fish and wildlife, Bauer had heard about marijuana farms in national parks, but he had never seen one up close. The scale of destruction surprised him. Towering pines and Douglas firs, some over a century old, had been leveled, and a bulldozer had dumped several tons of sediment into a nearby creek, choking it off.
As Bauer got closer he found piles of burnt trash, half empty sacks of toxic pesticides seeping into the soil, and the withering stalks of hundreds of marijuana plants spread out over five acres of denuded landscape.
"The growers had split," Bauer says. "But it was clear they had little regard for the damage they were causing."
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