Welcome to Drug Week at G:TB, a nuanced and deeply researched* look into our nation's evolving and conflicted approach to the enforcement, legalization, and use of mind-altering substances.
(* - It will be neither of those things. Hell, it's unlikely that we'll make it more than two days before collapsing in a weed and booze-addled lazy haze.)
Yesterday, @BadNewsHughes pointed out an amusing coincidence on Twitter, noting that both NFL conference championship games were played in states that have legalized recreational marijuana use. The Broncos were obviously the more relaxed team in their matchup with New England, and it's not hard to understand the reason. Seattle, interestingly, pressed throughout the first half against San Francisco, clear evidence of the long-standing irony of caffeine's widespread acceptance as a legal stimulant juxtaposed against pot's status as mellower non grata. The Emerald City's deep-rooted addiction to coffee-based kickstarts overcame Washington's recent legalization of marijuana until Pete Carroll passed a bowl around the Seahawks' locker room at halftime. Some habits die hard. Because they're subsidized and protected by governments.
More noteworthy this week (though somehow not really mentioned by the press at large), were President Barack Obama's comments on marijuana. While the President didn't come out for Federal legalization of recreational use, he did say something that I found at the same time controversial and true. In an interview with The New Yorker, Obama said, ""I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not
very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up
through a big chunk of my adult life. I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol." (Emphasis ours.)
When I was in high school, long before I ever smoked pot (which I did just one time, and didn't like it, as far as my parents will ever know), I began a long-running argument with my father about the merits of marijuana legalization. I didn't have the benefit of the numerous studies comparing alcohol use and abuse to marijuana's negative societal impacts at my disposal. Instead, I had a kid's natural inclination to rebel against his parents and a teenager's highly refined bullshit/hypocrisy sensor. Meanwhile, Dad, who was a military officer and later a high school principal, argued from authority. And even today, I don't disagree with his points about negative influence on military and educational discipline - I just don't think pot's impact on those things is materially different than alcohol's.
Dad and I never settled anything, as you might guess, but it strikes me that the President's words today are meaningful in changing the terms of the debate. The Commander in Chief smoked pot as a young man (as did each of his last two predecessors). He's not advocating cannabis for all (pot in every pot, as it were) - in fact, he takes pains to classify weed as a bad thing - he's merely articulating an argument for equivalence with America's most widely accepted vice. Alcohol fucks us up immeasurably more than does marijuana, and it's propped up by a billion-dollar industry that spends more than $15 million a year (which actually seems low) on lobbying just the U.S. Congress - in no small part to ensure that marijuana doesn't get a Federal stamp of approval.
The President said something else that matters in changing the conversation about marijuana when he addressed the depressing and borderline criminal disparities in the enforcement of our current laws. "Middle-class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids
do," he said. "And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely
to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to
avoid unduly harsh penalties."
According to the (clearly pro-legalization) Drug Policy Alliance, the quote-unquote War on Drugs costs us $51 billion/year. Legalization would yield an estimated $46.7 billion in tax revenues, assuming weed was taxed at comparable rates to alcohol and tobacco. That's a net benefit to the economy of nearly $97 billion, with immeasurable positive impacts in terms of lives no longer ruined by mandatory drug sentences, and a reduction in crime related to marijuana trafficking.
But above all the economic and enforcement arguments, none strikes me as more compelling as the same one I made as a kid. It remains the height of hypocrisy to insist on public policy that treats alcohol as America's magical social lubricant while demonizing the use of cannabis. And I thank the President for agreeing with 16 year-old me. Somewhere, likely in a glorious hookah room in Heaven, my father probably grudgingly agrees. Even he could eventually be swayed by logic.