A little noticed policy at two California airports allows properly qualified passengers to fly the friendly skies carrying up to a half pound of marijuana, news agencies revealed Friday.
"The policy [at Oakland International Airport] is spelled out in a three-page document quietly enacted last year by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office," Mercury News reported. "It states that if deputies determine someone is a qualified patient or primary caregiver as defined by California law and has eight ounces or less of the drug, he or she can keep it and board the plane."
San Francisco International Airport shares the policy, CBS 5 in Oakland reported. But passengers travel with the drug "at their own risk," the agency added.
Sgt. J.D. Nelson with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office told Mercury News that officers and airport security will issue warnings to those bringing marijuana into areas where it is not legal, but do not call the passengers' destination to notify them of a traveler carrying the drug.
"We're certainly within our right to, but we never have," he said. "Our notification of the passengers [legal risk] is for their own safety and well-being."
In a state that has allowed medicinal marijuana for over a decade, the policy of these two airports is hardly surprising.
Newsweek, in a recent feature, declared Oakland, California to be America's "Potopia," highlighting a nine-block area of the city as "a model for what a legalized-drug America could look like."
"Nestled among what was once a rash of vacant storefronts, [is...] a kind of urban pot utopia, where everything moves just a little bit more slowly than the outside world. Among the businesses [...] are the Blue Sky Coffeeshop, a coffeehouse and pot dispensary where getting an actual cup of Joe takes 20 minutes but picking up a sack of Purple Kush wrapped neatly in a brown lunch bag takes about five. There's Lee's Bulldog Café, a student lounge with a not-so-secret back room where the haze-induced sounds of "Dark Side of the Moon" seep through thick smoke and a glass-blowing shop where bongs are the art of choice. Around the corner is a taco stand [...] that has benefited mightily from the university's hungry students."
The local institution of higher learning, referred to as Oaksterdam University, is like a mecca for marijuana enthusiasts, the magazine reported.
"An education at Oaksterdam means learning how to grow, sell, market, and consume weed—all of which has been legal in California, for medicinal use only, since 1996," Newsweek added. "... But Oakland is unique in that it has four licensed and regulated dispensaries, each taxed directly by the city government. This past summer, Oakland voters became the first in the nation to enact a special cannabis excise tax—$18 for every $1,000 grossed—that the city believes will generate up to $1 million in the first year. Approved by 80 percent of voters, and unopposed by any organization, including law enforcement, the tax was pushed by the dispensary owners themselves, who hope the model will prove to the rest of California that a regulated marijuana industry can be both profitable and responsible."
"Oakland's airport policy was enacted in February 2008, but [Oakland attorney Robert] Raich said he didn't want to publicize it until recently lest the Bush administration change federal regulations, or lest it become an issue in Obama administration drug officials' confirmation hearings," Mercury News added.
A Field Research Corporation poll of Californians found in May that for the first time ever, a majority in the state support legalizing marijuana and taxing it similarly to alcohol.
The poll (PDF link), an “independent and non-partisan survey,” centered mostly on tax issues. Results were culled from the answers of 901 registered California voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percent.
“Three in four support increasing two so-called “sin taxes” - the state tobacco tax and the state alcohol tax. Majorities also endorse several other forms of sin taxes that are not currently taxes, including a special tax on the sale of pornography, which an overwhelming 80% support, and legalizing marijuana and taxing its proceeds, supported by 56%,” the poll found.
"Such action would also send the state into a headlong conflict with the U.S. government while raising questions about how federal law enforcement could enforce its drug laws in the face of a massive government-sanctioned pot industry," the Associated Press noted earlier this month.
President Barack Obama has said repeatedly that the legalization of marijuana is not in his vocabulary.