Tony Norman: There’s no point in continuing ban on pot

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Everyone reading this column must know someone who currently smokes or has smoked marijuana. They’re family members, friends, loved ones, acquaintances, bosses, employees and people we sit next to on buses commuting to work every day.

We don’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether these people will become hard-core addicts. We’d be more worried about them if they were binge drinkers. They’re not criminals, despite the shady ways many of them go about procuring what has been an illegal product for nearly half a century.

The law sees it differently, of course. If people we know intimately or even casually are inclined to overindulge, we’re more likely to accuse them of being lazy or lacking ambition, but we’re not going to call the cops on them. No one deserves a second of jail time for smoking a product the Founding Fathers grew as a cash crop.

That doesn’t mean that the “pursuit of happiness” language in the Declaration of Independence was some sly reference to hemp crop yields in 1776, but who’s to say that exotic party animals like Ben Franklin and Alexander Hamilton weren’t all about figuring out how to wring more THC out of hemp when they weren’t committing sedition against the British?

These days, people smoke grass for reasons that run the gamut, but mostly for recreation. It has medicinal value, though glaucoma probably isn’t as common as those claiming to have the degenerative eye disease would have us believe. There’s no doubt that marijuana helps patients deal with nausea from chemotherapy and other other procedures.

If not for the fear-mongering that has accompanied every national discussion of marijuana since the advent of that ultimate buzz kill known as “The War on Drugs” four decades ago, there would be nothing controversial about allowing pot to take its place next to alcohol, fructose corn syrup, tobacco, pornography and Internet addiction as uniquely modern distractions that also happen to be legal.

A case can be made that there’s a legitimate place for marijuana in our society. We know that it doesn’t make people belligerent, though occasional bouts of paranoia can be a drag. Mostly, it makes people boring. Anyone who believes that smoking dope gives the user unique insight into the nature of the universe is probably an idiot, but it doesn’t mean that person is a menace to society, as long as he’s not behind the wheel of a car.

The fact that marijuana is illegal, despite the science that proves it is less destructive than alcohol, says a lot about the cravenness of modern American politicians. What would be easier for a rationally functioning democracy to do: treat drug use as a public health and safety issue, or maintain a morally bankrupt policy in which billions are spent prosecuting and warehousing thousands of Americans? Anyone comfortable with the militarization of the police and the siege mentality and corruption it engenders has got to be loving this Second Coming of Prohibition.

The New York Times over the weekend published an editorial that was startling in its clarity and bravery given the demagoguery around this issue: “There are no perfect answers to people’s legitimate concerns about marijuana use,” the editorial board wrote. “But neither are there such answers about tobacco or alcohol, and we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization. That will put decisions on whether to allow recreational or medicinal production and use where it belongs — at the state level.”

“The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast,” the board continued. “There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to FBI figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.”

You don’t have to inhale when saying “Amen” to such common sense.


Tony Norman: tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631; Twitter @TonyNormanPG.

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