Pubdate: Sat, 31 Mar 2001
Source: Hamilton Spectator (CN ON)
Copyright: The Hamilton Spectator 2001
Author: Jeff Mahoney


They used to tell us that marijuana would lay waste to a whole generation, 
making it feeble and soft, albeit with the lung capacity to inhale like 
pearl divers. We'd be ripe pickings for the Soviets. The Red Army would 
enslave the world while we all stood idly by saying, "Wow, bad scene."

Well, that's not what happened. Ironically, the generation that smoked all 
that pot turned out to be the most fiercely energetic, acquisitive, 
unmellow son-of-a-bitch generation that the free enterprise system has ever 
produced. It got the munchies.

The Soviets would be the ones who rolled over. Who would have guessed it? 
Marijuana has never been able to live up to the negative hysteria its 
critics have tried to whip up for it. Drugs and the drug trade have 
certainly taken their toll on individual lives and on society as a whole, a 
toll which cannot be minimized. But no one has ever been able to 
convincingly establish that marijuana itself is any worse than, say, 
alcohol. It certainly does not appear to be as addictive as alcohol, or 
anywhere near as costly and injurious in terms of lives and families 
shipwrecked over it.

Yet marijuana remains on the books, and alcohol is freely sold and 
advertised. The hysteria persists -- though now it seems to be more of a 
rearguard, almost fatalistic hysteria, in contrast to the kind of 
pre-emptive hysteria of pot's critics in the '60s. Those now opposed to the 
legalization of marijuana seem to sense that some kind of large, seismic 
shift is at hand in the public's institutional response to the drug, a 
shift in the openness and outward expression of the public's tolerance and 
in its thinning patience with laws that no longer seem terribly practical, 
fair or relevant.

In the last few months especially, events have really begun to shape 
themselves into some kind of showdown. First, in the last federal election, 
we had something called The Marijuana Party. And south of the border, 
several states voted in propositions calling for the legalized selling of 
marijuana for medicinal purposes -- the California proposition is now being 
challenged before the Supreme Court. In Canada, the laws against the 
selling of marijuana are also being challenged before our Supreme Court, by 
an Ontario man who uses the drug for medicinal purposes.

There are many fronts on which the marijuana lobby is pressing its 
advantage, but nowhere do they see a more promising wedge than on the 
medicinal-use front. I think they are calculating that once they get past 
that hurdle, they're home free. And they're probably right.

Perhaps that's why the U.S. Justice Department is fighting so fiercely 
against the California proposition. Its lawyer recently argued that 
marijuana's medicinal benefits are anecdotal only and that there is no 
basis for its use as a treatment or a relief, that allowing what amounts to 
marijuana pharmacies opens the doors to " charlatans." Yes, charlatans, as 
opposed, to the legitimate, accredited professionals who are selling the 
stuff on the street where sick people will presumably have to get it if the 
state proposition is struck down.

The federal government decided to pursue the case on a civil basis rather 
than criminally because it knew it could probably never get a jury that 
would oppose the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

That reckoning reflects just how profound the shift in public opinion has 
been. Of course it is a shift that has been building for decades.

There has long been a vigorous marijuana counter-culture. Right here in 
Hamilton we have had Brother Walter and his Church of the Universe, which 
accords hemp a sacramental status. When that counter-culture surfaced from 
the underground, it did so largely on the strength of its potential as 
comedy material. Cheech and Chong, that kind of thing.

But then, more and more, so-called head shops began to flourish openly in 
the economy. And, increasingly, Hollywood has produced mainstream movies 
and even TV shows in which the casual enjoyment of marijuana is portrayed 
in an almost positive, or at least non-judgmental, light.

And the outright stoner, or pothead, has become a kind of stock figure of 
gentle, comic amusement rather than contempt.

When public figures of the stature of a Stockwell Day and a Bill Clinton 
admit to trying marijuana, when even George W. Bush admits to using 
cocaine, you know that something is starting to give way in the brave front 
of society's "official" anti-marijuana posturing.

Why are we loath to admit it? Almost everyone of a certain age tried 
marijuana, at least once, and generally, they didn't go screaming mad. And 
many, many people among us still use it frequently, even grow it in their 
homes. All kinds of people -- business executives, arch conservatives, 
stock exchange types, the ones who turned the economy hydroponic. It cuts 
across all kinds of lines.

Just look on the Internet. There are thousands of marijuana sites. They 
gleefully tell you how to build your own water pipe out of plastic pop 
bottles and bits of tubing. They share dictionaries of pot slang -- flower 
tops, shake, blunts, shotgun. They recommend good games to play when 
stoned, like Ganga Farmer, a video game featuring a gun-toting Rastafarian 
on top of a microbus, "protecting his crop" from federal agents swarming in 
by helicopter and parachute.

Don't misunderstand me. Marijuana is bad for you. Inhaling it scorches your 
lungs and throat. You're far better off not smoking it, than smoking it. 
But the same can be said of alcohol, cigarettes, even potato chips.

They're not illegal. We don't waste billions of dollars trying to run down 
the people who use and sell them.

What we should do is legalize pot, and tax it to the skies. At least then 
we could regulate its traffic, control quality and cost, get it out of the 
hands of organized crime and into the hands of huge, respectable 
corporations which we can then sue into the ground when we determine that 
marijuana use is making us sick.

They'll have to put horrible pictures and warnings on the marijuana 
cigarette packages. The whole thing will be totally deromanticized and 
consumption will go way, way down.

Everything's backwards. The people who hate marijuana should push for its 
legalization if they really want to squash it, not tell alarmist lies about 
it, which make people resent them and distrust everything they say.

Those who love it should oppose legalization because a big part of its 
appeal is its forbiddenness, the sub-culture humour that the taboo 
engenders, and the feeling it gives them that they're "rebels," like Woody 
Harrelson or Bob Marley.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens