It’s an exciting time for potheads. New York legalized medical marijuana on July 7; pot shops in Washington State started selling legal recreational marijuana the following day, and that same day, someone publicly offered the President of the United States a joint in a Denver bar. And then there is the Berkeley City Council in California, which broke new ground by unanimously passing a law requiring marijuana shops to give free marijuana to the poor and homeless, starting next month. They even mandated that it has to be the good stuff, not dirt weed.
Free pot for the poor, amply available legal weed, and a chaotic hodgepodge of conflicting federal and state laws have left the public adrift in terra incognita. “Just say no” has become “Just say no unless pot makes you feel better, you live in Colorado or Washington, you are poor, or you just really want to say yes.”
Now make no mistake, we are always in favor of more personal freedom and more personal choice. There are many persuasive arguments for legalization that resonate with the public. But we must be aware that with more freedom comes more personal responsibility.
Legalization of marijuana will undoubtedly result in a vast increase in both marijuana use and marijuana abuse. Colorado will smoke an estimated 130 metric tons of pot per year, according to the first post-legalization study of consumption from regulators, released more than a week ago. More people will be getting high, and children will be more likely to view getting high as normal and acceptable.
Two recent studies from the University of Colorado highlight the risks. One shows that Colorado drivers involved in accidents are increasingly testing positive for marijuana. The other study shows that the perceived danger of pot smoking is down across all age groups.
A lot of what we are experiencing is fueled by public backlash against the Draconian over-enforcement and relentless hyperbolic anti-drug education campaigns that the public have clearly come to reject; but rejection of the hyperbole means that the public view, especially among the young, is swinging too far in the opposite direction and the legitimate dangers of drug use are also being discounted. The frightening increase in heroin overdose deaths is one result.
Education and information that is fact-based and neither colored with anti-drug hysteria nor reactionary boosterism is vitally needed. We must also fear the day when governments, using ever-popular sin taxes, come to rely on a burgeoning appetite for marijuana to fill local and state coffers.
The legalization ship has sailed, and there will undoubtedly be benefits to bringing this portion of the illicit drug trade into the light of day. But there is a big difference between government allowing citizens the freedom to choose to smoke pot, and cities like Berkeley actively promoting its distribution.
As we feel our way forward we must ensure that the general public is not left to pick up the pieces of a more stoned America.
— From the Orange County Register