Legalized pot: more good than bad

Marijuana is being legalized in Oregon.

I spent a good long while asking myself if this was a good thing or a bad thing. My initial reaction was that it’s a bad thing.

When I was growing up, I knew a lot of people who smoked weed, and most of them were ordinary citizens who held down jobs, paid their bills and stayed out of trouble. But a couple of people I knew were glaring exceptions to this: People who spent their lives on the fringes of acceptable society and who seemed to view committing criminal acts as somehow exercising political statements. With the enthusiasm of Dick Cheney torturing innocent civilians, these people partook in copious amounts of recreational drugs, most notably pot. I succumbed to the fallacy that these individuals who lived on the lowest rungs of society lived this way because they smoked pot all day, rather than accepting the reality. These people were losers because, well, they were losers. Pot had nothing to do with it.

Two people I know were recently diagnosed with cancer. Against their doctor’s advice, these two individuals managed to procure for themselves a concoction made of cannabis oil in capsule form that True Believers claim heals all sorts of ills. One of these individuals claim the capsules eliminated the side effects of chemotherapy and thus allowed her to complete the treatment regimen; today, she is cancer-free. The other individual was given 12 months to live—that was over two years ago and she is still here and living more or less as she was prior to the diagnosis. While I am well aware that two anecdotes do not equal data, I’m convinced these mixtures helped my friends.

Thus the pendulum swung in favor of decriminalization. The losers of society are losers not because of weed and those that use it responsibly use it, well, responsibly.

However, the pendulum swings back. A while back, a car was speeding through the city after dark when it hit, of all things, a full-grown deer. The two young men who were in the car jumped out and immediately began to laugh hysterically, pointing at the freshly dead pile of bloody flesh and making Bambi’s mom jokes. When two passersby (guess who one of them was) stopped and asked these two young men if they were OK, they began to laugh even harder, and one made a comment that they had just smoked a bowl and were extremely glad they had finished—hitting the deer while smoking might have resulted in the unfortunate loss of bud. The car appeared totaled, with the front grill and radiator completely ripped off and the front of the engine exposed to the street light. The two young men obviously cared only about the sanctity of their marijuana supply, and laughed at the life they had just taken. The two passersby went on their way, quietly asking each other how these two would have responded had they hit a pedestrian.

So I return to my previous uncertainty. Pot causes people to be stupid. That is hardly up for debate. How stupid and how long that stupidity lasts is quite another question, not only open to debate but likely completely unanswerable. Our society tackled that question when the dangers of drinking and driving were first becoming apparent, and there is no reason to think such measures can’t and won’t be applied to weed.

The die is cast, and history marches on. What was once the evil weed has become little more than a rather stinky and still somewhat socially unacceptable mild substitute for alcohol. Clearly the mass insanity and huge crime waves that we were warned about in decades past were nothing but the fantasies of fear-mongering conservatives. Weed is now legal; some people will abuse it, some will ignore it and others will use it for medicinal purposes or to relax now and again. And all this can be done without fear of a jail sentence. The civic benefits of fewer pot convictions and less resources dedicated to fighting its use are self-evident. Arguably, all of this is better than what has been in place for decades by declaring weed illegal: unregulated and untaxed production, drug wars, long prison sentences for nonviolent offenders and users being considered societal outcasts.

I’ve never smoked pot and absolutely never will. I personally find a nice bottle of Château Latour the perfect way to relax after a day of academic toil, but clearly others find a joint more to their liking. To each their own. And it’s a good thing that each’s own is becoming legal.