Pubdate: Tue, 12 Nov 2002
Source: Eagle-Tribune, The (MA)
Copyright: 2002 The Eagle-Tribune
Author: Taylor Armerding


It might be a bit tacky to suggest that Steven Epstein, Esq., of Georgetown,
was riding "high" after last Tuesday's vote in more than a dozen area
communities in favor of decriminalizing marijuana.

Let's just say he was pleased. Very pleased.

Not that he, or anybody else, will be allowed to go one toke over, or even
under, the line on Main Street after the first of the year. The vote was
only advisory. And even if that advice became state law, you still couldn't
smoke a joint with the same freedom you can drink a beer. Pot would remain
illegal. You just wouldn't get hauled off to jail for using it.

Still, a 2-1 vote in favor of making the use and possession of small amounts
of the hallucinogenic weed a "civil" infraction, much like a traffic ticket,
says something about our attitude toward recreational drugs, doesn't it? So,
what might that something be?

Probably at least some of what the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition
and the NORML Foundation -- the question's chief backers -- have been saying
for a long time. An increasing number of people (conservatives and cops
among them, by the way) agree that the current sanctions on pot amount to
massive overkill. They agree that police time would be better spent fighting
violent crime. They agree that jail space would be better used keeping
violent criminals off the street, rather than housing peaceful mothers or
fathers who are yanked from their family for months or even years, just
because they were seeking to alter their consciousness.

Indeed, national polls show that an even bigger majority -- 72 percent --
think pot use and possession should be punished with a fine, not jail.

I suspect that all of those things are among the reasons for Tuesday's vote.
I agree with Epstein that voters are out in front of their leaders on this

But, I think the reasons go deeper than money and better public safety.

I think it is because people have pretty good radar when it comes to
political hypocrisy. And you don't even need good radar to detect the
hypocrisy on marijuana.

For more than 30 years now, the nonstop refrain from a very large and very
outspoken portion of the population has been that there is nothing more
important in the life of American citizens than "choice." Of course, this is
all aimed at allowing a woman, as it is euphemistically phrased, to "control
her own health-care decisions."

Still, average people start wondering after a while: If choice is so
important, why should it only apply to women, and only for one thing?

For about the same amount of time, we've been hearing the gospel of
"tolerance" -- that the only unpardonable sin in American life is
intolerance. No wonder people start to smirk when they hear about "zero
tolerance" for marijuana.

Finally, and most significantly, this is a society that permits, promotes
and believes in recreational drugs. Sure, there are all kinds of ads and
neat skits about quitting smoking. But it remains legal.

And public officials simply haven't made a credible case that marijuana is
much more dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. Nearly half the population has
smoked pot, and they know marijuana is no more addictive, or more of a
"gateway" drug than alcohol. They know it is no more destructive to homes
and careers than gambling. They know pot won't suddenly become easier to get
if it is decriminalized. Ask just about any high school students, and they
will tell you it couldn't be much easier to get than it is now.

If we're really about zero tolerance for drugs, let's ban them all. But
we're not, so let's spend our limited resources confronting the real threats
to public safety and social order. Pot is not one of them.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Josh