Saturday, December 07, 2013

Decriminalizing Pot: A No-Brainer*

Joking aside, I am fully in favor of changing the Federal law classifying marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance.  I have indicated this before (for example, here and here), but not as clearly and unambiguously as I should have done.

Here I follow the example of The Nation magazine, which devoted most of its Nov. 18 issue to the argument that now, as always, is a good time to change the law.  The lead was a "full-throated", signed editorial (titled "Waiting to Exhale") by Katrina vanden Heuvel (one of my editorial heroes, to be sure), which endorsed all the main arguments and came up with a couple of unusual ones:

  • The last three Presidents have all been pot smokers at some point in their life;
  • So has she, and she finds it difficult to explain to her daughter;
  • The enforcement of the law has been unjust, focused on the poor and minorities;
  • It is not as harmful as legal substances like tobacco and alcohol; and, most meaningfully,
  • Public opinion has come around so that it is no longer political suicide to advocate it. 

The terms of the change advocated by the various Nation contributors are somewhat unclear, and the most frequently-used word is "legalize".  What they consistently mean, and what I advocate, is to repeal the Federal prohibition and permit states to allow its personal use under some common-sense regulations, as opposed to the current status, in which Federal enforcement of prohibition is always a threat.

Marijuana is not good for everyone, I would contend:  it's not for children, it can accentuate the problems of those tending toward paranoia, unhygenic use of it can spread respiratory illness, and its persistent use might adversely affect those with a tendency toward diabetes (by causing dramatic change in the blood sugar level; on the other hand, it might help, too!)  Its use while driving is problematic, rather than disastrous, as is the case with elevated levels of alcohol consumption: my unscientific observations suggest it causes slower driving, with more risk of distraction and drowsiness. All in all, hardly a catalog of demerits which justifies prosecution, much less persecution, of all use by responsible adults.

The formula on the table is a bill which would allow folks its use in compliance with state laws.  This is a good idea to gain possible support from some Republicans with libertarian leanings (as opposed to the reactionary "big-government conservative" types), which would be essential if the current Congress is going to pass anything worthwhile.  That would allow the varieties of more permissive State laws, from the Colorado/Washington legal personal use, to the permissive use of medical marijuana (as in California) to the more restricted ones, and would clear the way for more initiatives in the states.  It would also permit those states whose economic conditions and/or contractual commitments require them to continue to build more prisons and to  incarcerate large numbers of people for this nonviolent behavior, and would permit small-s stoners to do their homework and be clearer about the states/localities they should avoid.

*I came to the conclusion, and the witticism, on my own, but such an obvious remark could hardly be original.  Sure enough, Google traced it for me back to a comment made by the head of the Drug Policy Alliance, Bill Piper. It's a serious subject for him, as for me, but that doesn't mean one can't have a little fun with it. 

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