Monday, January 27, 2014

It's Time to Get Over Our Reefer Madness

Marijuana legalization certainly isn't one of the great issues of our day, but it's going to be an increasingly discussed topic in the coming months, and years, and I wanted to formally tee off our own debate.

Since Colorado's recent legalization of Marijuana, the media has been rife with ridicule and cautionary tales as to the dangers of unleashing this "dangerous drug" onto the streets in legal form.  We oldsters are told that this newfangled weed is not the weed of yore, but a newfangled strain heretofore unknown to our oldfangled experiences, so everything we know is wrong.

Perhaps an updated version of the 1937 propaganda film, "Reefer Madness" would be in order for those who feel our civilization is jeopardized by joints or targeted for destruction by doobies.

I say "bull".  Certainly, over the decades, the cultivation of marijuana has benefitted from science and technology, but claiming it's stronger these days as an argument against legalization is like claiming the fact that vodka is stronger than wine is an argument against alcohol in general.  To me, stronger marijuana means you smoke less, you inhale less carcinogens, so smoking is far healthier than it once was.

So let's put that foolish argument aside and get right to the crux of the matter- is it destructive?  I guess it could be, if you sat around the house 24/7 getting high, but I suspect you'd be far healthier than if you sat around the house drinking vodka.  Is it a "gateway drug"?  I don't believe it, inherently, is.  The fact is, illegal drug dealers are a diversified group and they often not only sell pot, they sell cocaine, or heroin or crack, or meth, and even if they don't, dealing with people in the black market exposes one to these other drugs, and drug dealers would prefer you not stop at a bag of weed now and then.  It's best not to spend time with these people at all.  Is it addictive?  Physically, no.  Psychologically, perhaps, but that depends on the person.  Some people can't stop eating HoHos and potato chips- they're on display daily at Wal-Mart, wheeling their large asses around in electric carts obtaining more HoHos and potato chips.  Sure, it stimulates specific pleasure centers but so does alcohol and a number of other substances and if we're going to go about prohibiting the stimulation of pleasure centers, well, we're going to have a long, messy conversation.

Don't even start with "the children" argument, I don't want them smoking pot any more than I want them drinking liquor and right now, it's probably a lot easier for them to get pot than it is liquor because liquor is legal and regulated.

I came up in the late 60s/early 70s, so let's just say I've had some real-world experience in this area.  I can honestly say that just about all of my old friends have partaken and some still do on occasion.  These are well adjusted people with families, nice careers and nice houses and I can honestly say that NONE, NOT A SINGLE ONE "went on to harder drugs", as the saying goes. I'm 60 so, as you can imagine, some of these people are friggin' grandfathers at this point and they're not drooling crackheads.

Conversely, I've had two friends drink themselves to death.  My cousin had half a lung removed because of cigarettes.

No doubt, your individual experience may vary.  You might know people who have thoroughly wrecked their lives, at least that's what I'm told.  I would submit that, without pot, they would have found another way to wreck their life.  I had one person tell me, on the internet, that they knew "scores" of people who had their lives wrecked by pot- a bald-faced lie in my estimation, but it's typical of the arguments afoot these days.

No, this isn't the fulcrum in the security of our liberty, but it's a small indicator that we either are, or are not responsible enough for true liberty, with all of its attendant responsibilities.

That's all I have, let me turn it over to a personal hero of mine, the late, great William F. Buckley, from a column written in 2004 on this very subject, expressed far better than I could ever hope to.

Conservatives pride themselves on resisting change, which is as it should be. But intelligent deference to tradition and stability can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism, as when conservatives simply decline to look up from dogma because the effort to raise their heads and reconsider is too great. The laws aren't exactly indefensible, because practically nothing is, and the thunderers who tell us to stay the course can always find one man or woman who, having taken marijuana, moved on to severe mental disorder. But that argument, to quote myself, is on the order of saying that every rapist began by masturbating. General rules based on individual victims are unwise. And although there is a perfectly respectable case against using marijuana, the penalties imposed on those who reject that case, or who give way to weakness of resolution, are very difficult to defend. If all our laws were paradigmatic, imagine what we would do to anyone caught lighting a cigarette, or drinking a beer. Or — exulting in life in the paradigm — committing adultery. Send them all to Guantanamo?  
Legal practices should be informed by realities. These are enlightening, in the matter of marijuana. There are approximately 700,000 marijuana-related arrests made very year. Most of these — 87 percent — involve nothing more than mere possession of small amounts of marijuana. This exercise in scrupulosity costs us $10-15 billion per year in direct expenditures alone. Most transgressors caught using marijuana aren't packed away to jail, but some are, and in Alabama, if you are convicted three times of marijuana possession, they'll lock you up for 15 years to life. Professor Ethan Nadelmann, of the Drug Policy Alliance, writing in National Review, estimates at 100,000 the number of Americans currently behind bars for one or another marijuana offense.  
What we face is the politician's fear of endorsing any change in existing marijuana laws. You can imagine what a call for reform in those laws would do to an upward mobile political figure. Gary Johnson, governor of New Mexico, came out in favor of legalization — and went on to private life. George Shultz, former secretary of state, long ago called for legalization, but he was not running for office, and at his age, and with his distinctions, he is immune to slurred charges of indifference to the fate of children and humankind. But Kurt Schmoke, mayor of Baltimore, did it, and survived a reelection challenge.  
But the stodgy inertia most politicians feel is up against a creeping reality. It is that marijuana for medical relief is a movement which is attracting voters who are pretty assertive on the subject. Every state ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana has been approved, often by wide margins. Of course we have here collisions of federal and state authority. Federal authority technically supervenes state laws, but federal authority in the matter is being challenged on grounds of medical self-government. It simply isn't so that there are substitutes equally efficacious. Richard Brookhiser, the widely respected author and editor, has written on the subject for The New York Observer. He had a bout of cancer and found relief from chemotherapy only in marijuana — which he consumed, and discarded after the affliction was gone.  
The court has told federal enforcers that they are not to impose their way between doctors and their patients, and one bill sitting about in Congress would even deny the use of federal funds for prosecuting medical marijuana use. Critics of reform do make a pretty plausible case when they say that whatever is said about using marijuana only for medical relief masks what the advocates are really after, which is legal marijuana for whoever wants it.  
That would be different from the situation today. Today we have illegal marijuana for whoever wants it. An estimated 100 million Americans have smoked marijuana at least once, the great majority, abandoning its use after a few highs. But to stop using it does not close off its availability. A Boston commentator observed years ago that it is easier for an 18-year old to get marijuana in Cambridge than to get beer. Vendors who sell beer to minors can forfeit their valuable licenses. It requires less effort for the college student to find marijuana than for a sailor to find a brothel. Still, there is the danger of arrest (as 700,000 people a year will tell you), of possible imprisonment, of blemish on one's record. The obverse of this is increased cynicism about the law.  
We're not going to find someone running for president who advocates reform of those laws. What is required is a genuine republican groundswell. It is happening, but ever so gradually. Two of every five Americans, according to a 2003 Zogby poll cited by Dr. Nadelmann, believe "the government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats alcohol: It should regulate it, control it, tax it, and make it illegal only for children." 
Such reforms would hugely increase the use of the drug? Why? It is de facto legal in the Netherlands, and the percentage of users there is the same as here. The Dutch do odd things, but here they teach us a lesson.

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