Opinion

To legalize or not to legalize marijuana | Ryan Ryals

When I first read about the 75 medical marijuana supporters who visited the Kent City Council chambers last week, I sympathized with their cause, and with the Kent officials who were forced to shut down the marijuana dispensaries.

It doesn’t matter whether the Kent council members support the dispensaries or not — they’ve been forced by the state to put them out of business. It’s not a state issue either, since they were forced to do so by threats from the federal government.

We can’t ask our local elected officials to take a stand against the feds, since they’d probably be arrested for their defiance. Telling your grandkids that you were one of the “Kent Seven” would be kind of cool, though.

So while the City Council protest is admirable, it’s not terribly effective for change. Even a state Capitol protest might make the news, but wouldn’t change many minds. The feds are the ones who have to be persuaded, and marijuana advocates are going to have to take the long view if they want to see the laws amended. Creating a protest is easy but starting a movement is hard.

In a more mature democracy, the Tea Party would be their best friends in Congress. It’s stacked with libertarians who are generally OK with you doing whatever you want. They’ve even gotten Republicans to start saying, “Get government off our backs!”

However, the Tea Partiers are still working to get their first real accomplishment. Plus, the movement itself is temporary, and won’t hold together long enough to get anything beyond fiscal legislation passed. Once those goals have been reached, expect this coalition to implode over issues like abortion and moral legislation.

Plus, the feds don’t have an interest in seeing marijuana legalized. Not because of the public health and safety issues (alcohol results in many more hospital visits and deaths), but because it’s a productivity issue. A nation full of stoners is not a nation full of productive workers. Caffeine is our preferred high-performance drug for happy workers.

I don’t necessarily believe that marijuana makes for unproductive workers. I know plenty of occasional users who own businesses, work in stressful job environments and always function well. I know a few people who’ve been knocked into la la land with their (legal) prescription medication, and they can barely hold it together.

But it’s not a good argument to say, “Marijuana should be legal because alcohol is worse.”  Besides, once the anti-weed people lose the alcohol comparison argument, they quickly fall back to, “Well, what about the children!”

Hysterical parents always worry that their kids will smoke pot once and destroy their still-developing brain cells. Their formula works like this:  High-achieving teenager + scary drug = crappy life. That’s the story we’re told, but, it doesn’t work that cleanly.

Kids turn to drugs for a variety of reasons, not because they’re simply bored one day, light up a joint, and then are suddenly trapped into a lifetime of addiction.

There are plenty of drugs we should teach our kids to stay away from, and marijuana is one of them. However, I don’t think that the illegal status of marijuana makes my job as a parent any easier or harder. If they wanted to drink a beer, they would only have to go to the fridge. If they wanted to smoke pot, they’d have to come up with some money, go find someone who sells it and try not to come back in the house smelling like it.

If marijuana were legal we’d probably view it like we do alcohol. We’d try to keep kids away from it, there would be appropriate and inappropriate times to smoke pot, and societal pressures would determine when those times are. Driving a bus or sitting in church? Nope. On your couch after work or sitting on the beach? Yep.

So where do we go from here? For marijuana advocates, incremental change starting with the medical marijuana is still a good start, but it needs a lot of help at the federal level. It has to be grassroots since there are no large marijuana manufacturers to lobby for your side. Maybe you can persuade the pharmaceutical lobby to make it a controlled substance that they can sell.

But that will mean the end of small-time growers. You can bet that if marijuana does become completely legal then the dispensaries would soon be out of business anyway. Companies like Pfizer and ConAgra will grow and sell the product for a fraction of what the home growers do and Walgreens will start keeping the Doritos next to the pharmacy window for their new customers. Maybe keeping it illegal is in their best interests after all.

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