Since President Obama appeared on an internet based town hall earlier last week, my RSS reader has been exploding mentioning the implications of his answer to question of marijuana legalization. (Since the questions were submitted and voted upon, let’s set aside the idea for the purposes of this discussion that the voting system was gamed by marijuana advocates.) In the end, the President said he did not favor legalization of marijuana as a means of stimulating the economy. A strict interpretation would say that he did not turn down the possibility since he limited his answer to marijuana legalization as a economy stimulant. (Thus avoiding the first time marijuana stimulated anything more than the snack food economy or carpentry. Oh, and the press noticed this as well.) In pairing this answer with the New York State Assembly repealing the Rockefeller laws, it brings up a questioning of the concept of how we deal with drugs and drug offenders in this country.
This reminds me of a classic Bill Hicks sketch about alcohol versus marijuana.
“You’re at a ballgame, you’re at a concert, someone’s really violent, aggressive, and obnoxious. Are they drunk or are they smoking pot?”
In reading the collected accounts at Andrew Sullivan, I cannot help but wonder that, if you were to exchange the terminology of pot smoking for booze drinking in the user stories, would anyone raise an eyebrow by their tales of use? None whatsoever. Now, this might be more revealing of how our society views these different vices, but it really sends up some flags for me. Why should the destructive traits of alcohol be set aside so readily? Why don’t we examine the pros and cons of marijuana in an open forum?
For full disclosure, I have never tried it and have no real interest to. Over the years I have friends who smoke it recreationally and lead very normal lives of gainful employment, dating, and other normal social relationships. I will concede that any drug can be abused, whether it is marijuana or a narcotic or an over the counter cold medication. There is a belief that certain drugs can lead to harder drug that are worse habits and extremely unhealthy, which I can understand but find somewhat incomplete in terms of cause and effect. I think that it is more of a case of personality, social perceptions, and old fashioned curiosity that enables people to make the jump to these more debilitating addictions. (I’d love to see some more studies on this.)
I do see marijuana as a separate entity in comparison to the larger context of the war on drugs. The war on drugs, sadly, is a bureaucratic monstrosity offering empirical proof that the road to Hell is paved with both good intentions and taxpayer dollars. Let there be no doubt that there are some extremely nasty drugs out there and these drugs cause some serious societal damage. However, our current approach to drug enforcement, drug user treatment, and the criminal justice system absolutely stinks. We need a serious reevaluation on how to tackle this issue before we throw another few billion dollars down the crapper (the irony of this drug enforcement evasion tactic metaphor should not be lost on this discussion topic). We are not doing any favors to our southern sovereign neighbors, nor the American penal system, nor our minority populations. I would not advocate an end to the war, just the closing of certain fronts and a new approach to the strategy of enforcement.
I fear that the marijuana legalization debate will get the same reception that advocates for a discussion of a lower drinking received. Rather than examine the merits of each argument, we’ll be assailed by sensationalist media and anti-drug advocates pushing specious reasoning such as “Anyone who favors marijuana legalization just wants to get high without being hassled, and anyone who favors drug decriminalization generally is or wants to be a drug user.” And we lose more than an examination of the issue, we lose people to a faulty system, resources to an inefficient policy, and another serious issue lost to a short attention span public at the feet of a 24/7 news cycle media. The pure distillery of news information to literally minute segments is maddening with complicated issues like this one, but I digress.
Personally, any real discussion about marijuana decriminalization should start with moving it from the Schedule 1 list to the Schedule 2 list. I don’t forsee full decrmininalization in the near future, but a gradual relaxing of the prohibtion over time. I think, with each generation, we slowly stop focusing on the glass or pipe in front of us and look at the person behind it. It always boils down to a people issue and we need to start treating it like one.