She liked to be married with yeti, he grooving such kooky spaghetti.
-- an obviously stoned John Lennon
I don't smoke pot.
Never really have. Maybe a little more than Bill Clinton claims he did, a lot less than Barack Obama did in his Choom Gang days.
Given my age and upbringing, that's unusual. I grew up in the '70s--there was a lot of weed around my junior high school. The grownups, most of them anyway, would have been shocked had they known how prevalent it was.
That was in southern California. There were decidedly fewer stoners at my Louisiana high school. If you were cool, you didn't actually have to smoke dope so long as you didn't freak out when someone fired up a joint in the backyard at someone's party.
So long as you weren't a narc, you were cool.
My friends from high school and college and law school might think I'm fibbing, but I'm not. Sure, I was around when things happened. I rode out with you to the scary dealer's house outside Ruston--the dude who had his turntable suspended from the ceiling by braided velveteen cords--but I never spent a dime on cannabis. I passed far more roaches than I ever hit. I never really got that much out of it. I liked alcohol, a more dangerous drug, better.
The fact that buying pot was illegal had something to do with it, I'm sure. I have always been careful, except when I'm not. I found few things more frightening than the prospect of having authorities contacting my parents as a result of my behavior. Still, I was around a lot of illegal smiles; I caught the contact paranoia from my friends when they noticed that same drab Chevy in the rear-view mirror.
Some people are excited by the prospect of forbidden fruit, but others are deterred from doing things that would end up ruining their lives. No doubt Prohibition kept some people from becoming alcoholics. No doubt it saved some people.
Yet, despite those benefits, the consensus now is that it was a bad idea. Thousands of people died from drinking tainted booze during Prohibition, not only by consuming the product of the unscrupulous and inexpert bootleggers making rotgut but by drinking government-decreed denatured products. Prohibition incubated organized crime in this country. The law made criminals of millions of Americans.
While there are still a few people who would support Prohibition, I doubt many of them are genuinely interested in perfecting our society. The experiment failed. Even if you believe drinking is morally wrong, you might accept that the unintended consequences of Prohibition are far worse.
Still, there are plenty of us who can't or won't acknowledge that the collateral damage from our 50-year War on Drugs has been more disastrous than the unintended consequences of Prohibition were.
It's not hard to see why. Aside from the knee-jerk drugs-are-bad reaction derived from decades of propaganda, there are plenty more nuanced talking points and rationalizations. Some drugs are dangerous; nobody should be talking about selling recreational heroin. And while we can argue about where it falls on a continuum between caffeine and reposado, marijuana isn't completely benign either. Some people can develop a real problem with weed, and it makes most of us a little lazier than we might otherwise be. But we'd probably be better off if we treated drug abuse as a health-care issue rather than as a criminal matter.
But on the practical side, the War on Drugs is a significant part of our economy; people make money off it.
Law enforcement likes having laws to enforce. Especially when it gets to seize offenders' property. The private prison industry obviously needs a steady supply of inmates. Politicians need a menace they can be tough on.
Other stakeholders would be the various cartels whose profit margins are threatened by decriminalization and legalization.
While it wasn't something I thought much about until I became an investigative reporter writing about cocaine trafficking in the early 1980s, the best argument against smoking pot has nothing to do with the changes in brain chemistry the drug produces, or even whether or not it's more or less harmful than any number of other activities adults are allowed to engage in, but the undeniable fact that the illegal drug trade kills people.
It seems bizarre that people who would give others dirty looks for throwing a plastic bottle in a trash can rather than a recycling bin, who make a point of insisting on fair-trade coffee, and who rail against the cruelty inherent in factory farming are perfectly willing to support an industry that forces people into slavery--that uses rape and murder as a way to negotiate with its labor force--by buying a baggie of pot from Slacker Steve.
So I've finally got a moral reason not to smoke pot to go with all the practical ones and a general lack of interest in the drug. And if I wasn't tempted to try it in the coffeehouses of Amsterdam, I doubt I'll be tempted to have my doctor scratch out a script so I can buy it at a local dispensary when those finally open next year. If you don't like weed, don't smoke it, right?
The legalization of recreational marijuana use is the next step. And it should be. Let's grow it locally and tax it, install some quality controls and an admittedly corruptible bureaucracy and wrest the industry away from the killers, who will just have to content themselves with the meth trade.
We can deal with lots of people smoking it; lots of people smoke it already. Maybe a few more will try it if they don't have to worry about who might be holding and who might or might not be. But we can put up "no smoking" signs, and by and large people will obey them.
I don't expect all public conveyances to suddenly become hot boxes. I don't imagine we'd smell any more ganja burning at the average concert than we already do.
But if all of a sudden everyone starts jabbering about UFOs then goes real quiet and starts asking everyone else if they're acting weird--well, we've conducted riskier experiments.
Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog at blooddirtandangels.com.
Editorial on 12/04/2018
Print Headline: What's the new Mary Jane?