On this 4/20, during our nation’s most sacred marijuana holiday, I am coming out of the (hydroponic) closet.
I’ve never smoked weed.
I know, I know. I check off a number of marijuana smoker qualifications – grew up in the suburbs, stoner friends in high school and college, Californian, writer, Jimmy Buffett album owner – I can go on.
There have been plenty of chances. I always just said no. It wasn’t because of Nancy Reagan or DARE. I said no because getting high has zero appeal to me the way that becoming an ultra-marathoner has zero appeal to me. I’m no teetotaler. I like a glass of whiskey. I just don’t desire marijuana or ever think about it.
So, on a personal level, I could care less. If the world ran out of weed tomorrow, it would not affect me, except that I would feel sorrow for everyone whom it aids medicinally. But on a societal level, it’s a different story. Marijuana prohibition is an issue that’s absolutely ridiculous - like, I can’t believe we’re even still talking about this. Not because I’ve never heard one logical reason why marijuana should be illegal for adults, which is true – I haven’t. I’m for legalizing it because it’s become quite clear that the prohibition of marijuana use is more dangerous than marijuana itself.
Drug warriors think they get to have it both ways. Like Nancy Grace, who is somehow still a person people listen to. They generalize about America’s 30 million pot smokers and claim that marijuana makes them unproductive and slothful. Then in the next breath they say pot users are violent and criminal; it’s Reefer Madness! The truth is that most people who smoke pot do it for enjoyment and are somehow able to partake without murdering everyone they know.
The pot smoker’s great sin, it seems, is living an unconventional life outside of the established patterns of society. These are people who have been told not to smoke anything, let alone pot. They smoke pot anyway. Which, clutch your pearls, is against the law. We can’t have people doing whatever they want, can we? It could all lead to – I don’t know – Taco Bell.
The evidence that pot is not a major threat to American health and safety is now beyond anecdotal. We know that marijuana is not a gateway drug, and it does not cause crime. Anyone who says otherwise is looking to procure an armored personnel vehicle for his police department. It’s the arguments against pot that tend to be more anecdotal or hypothetical than fact-based, with the prohibitionist focus on potential bad outcomes instead of actual outcomes.
Well, what if a child smokes pot, and that child is also a school bus driver AND has to guard the president? What then!?!?!?
Oh, come on. We’re not talking about kids here. Kids shouldn’t do drugs. And they shouldn’t be driving busses or guarding the president, either.
The real harm from marijuana is inflicted on the poor. It is mainly minorities who are arrested for breaking marijuana laws. Twenty million Americans have been arrested for drug offenses since 1965, and nine in 10 marijuana arrests are for possession alone. In 2010 over $3 billion was spent enforcing marijuana laws. Lives are being ruined. People are going to prison. Futures are damaged. Millions of them. At great cost.
All of this money spent, all of the cops who put themselves in harm’s way, all of the lives scarred or destroyed by drug arrests and prison - it’s all done some good, right? Certainly there is evidence we can point to and say, “The War on Drugs may be harsh and punitive and unfair, but we’re making a difference.”
Nope. The War on Drugs has not led to fewer people using marijuana - the number of pot smokers is actually rising. Meanwhile - and this also affects the poor - more than half of all violent crimes and more then 80 percent of property crimes go unsolved, according to the FBI. This isn’t news to anyone whose car or home has ever been burglarized. The police come right out and tell you – as they told me when both my car and home were broken into on different occasions – “We probably won’t catch the guy.”
Let’s conduct a thought experiment. What if we started from scratch and had no laws at all on the books, and a politician came along and said, “I want to pass a series of laws that will overwhelmingly jail poor minorities for what is essentially a victimless crime. It will have no effect on the behavior it is trying to deter. It will be very expensive, put police in harm’s way and divert their time and attention from solving more serious crimes. Vote for me!”
No one in his or her right mind would vote for that guy. But when we elect Democrats and Republicans who support the War on Drugs at the state and federal level, that’s exactly what we do. If you’re voting for candidates who would jail you personally (you, the pot-smoking voter) for something you like doing that doesn’t hurt anyone – I don’t know, let’s see, maybe don’t vote for that candidate. Maybe he or she doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
Which can be hard, I know, because we don’t always have that option. As with gay marriage, the public has warmed to the idea of legalization faster than its elected representatives.
A majority of Americans now favors legalization, up from one-third only 10 years ago. In Alaska, Colorado and Washington, recreational pot is now legal (and those states have yet to devolve into dystopian hellscapes.) You know the tide has turned when the stodgy, old New York Times calls for the repeal of federal prohibition, as it did last year. Most telling, a Republican (!) presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul, recently introduced a medical marijuana bill to Congress. The party of small government is finally warming to the idea of en-smallening the government when it comes to drugs.
So why is marijuana still illegal in most states?
Special interests gonna special interest. Prohibition is the lifeblood of a host of governmental agencies, non-profits and even pharmaceutical companies, all with a stake in the status quo. These folks have the ears and pocketbooks of the people we elect.
Although TV and movies are getting better at depicting realistic drug use, mainstream journalist attitudes remain antiquated. To cite just one example: David Brooks said he smoked pot as a teen but doesn’t think adults should because … what? They could wind up like him? A fabulously successful and wealthy author and pundit?
My guess on why marijuana is still illegal is this: Older people tend to be less tolerant in their social views, and they vote. For politicians, running against “crime” and for “family values” is political safe ground, as long as they’re not required to specify what those things actually mean. To say, “It’s OK to smoke pot” requires a level of bravery beyond the reach of most pols, because “Won’t someone please think of the children!”
The public is warming to the idea of legalization for two reasons, I believe. One is that many people know someone who enjoys marijuana, and they can see with their own eyes that it’s not the destructive force it’s made out to be. The other reason is that the establishment view on marijuana prohibition lacks coherence, and we’re all starting to notice.
Drug warrior Bill Bennett’s book “Going to Pot: Why The Rush to Legalize Marijuana is Harming America” (co-authored by Robert A. White) claims the public is not aware of how harmful pot is and how powerful it has become.
Those are the types of half-baked arguments I’d expect from someone who was, well, super-high.
Educators teach kids about the perils of drug use, and anyone who smokes pot today is certainly aware of how potent it is. It’s kind of the selling point. Also, if pot is now more potent, that means you need less of it to get high, which would seem to be a good thing. But this is all lost on Bennett and White, who are less interested in curing societal ills and more interested in carrying on the drug war. They themselves admit that marijuana is not worse than alcohol. If they were serious about their public health crusade, Budweiser would be putting lawyers on Clydesdales and marching on Washington.
So. Where does that leave us this April 20, 2015? If current trends continue, marijuana will be legalized in some form or other in most states within our lifetimes. It’s on us – the conscientious objectors to the War on Drugs and my pot-smoking brethren – to vote with our consciences, donate our money appropriately and ensure the least amount of people have their lives destroyed before these insane laws are overturned.
When that happens, I have an idea of how I might celebrate.
UPDATE: Good video here from the Playboy.com video team about how cannabis oil is used to treat cancer. Tommy Chong does something you’ve probably never seen him do before.