Pubdate: Tue, 20 Dec 2005
Source: Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ)
Copyright: 2005 Newark Morning Ledger Co
Author: Paul Mulshine
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


On Sunday I phoned a friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, to
seek his views on the question of the legalization of marijuana. This
is a subject dear to his heart, for reasons that will soon be obvious.

I told him that I had recently visited California, where I had, among
other things, attended the Notre Dame-Stanford football game. "Wait a
minute," my friend replied. "The Notre Dame-Stanford game is on TV
right now. I was just watching it."

I assured him that the game had taken place over the Thanksgiving
weekend and that Notre Dame had won. This made no impression. Who was
he going to believe, me or his own eyes?

Finally after some badgering, I got him to read the TV listings. Sure
enough, he was watching a replay. I'd spoiled it for him. If I hadn't
called, he would have experienced quarterback Brady Quinn's
last-minute heroics in some alternate universe in which regular-season
college football games are played in mid-December.

Such are the joys of cannabis consumption. I myself prefer beer, but
far be it from me to criticize the habit. I don't care what drugs an
adult chooses to burn and inhale as long as I don't have to breathe
the resulting cloud of smoke.

And as much as I like to make fun of California and Californians, I
have to say they have made great strides in this area. I think their
example can be quite useful to us in New Jersey as our Legislature
moves to ban smoking in bars and restaurants. That ban passed the
state Senate last week. It will pass the Assembly next month as well
unless the tobacco and liquor lobbies can buy enough legislators to
stop it.

Critics of the measure predict all sorts of ill effects, economic and
otherwise. However, the experience of other states, most notably
California, shows that such a ban works out just fine. That was
certainly my experience. On making my rounds of the brew pubs for
which the Bay Area is justly famous, I found it quite pleasant to be
able to imbibe a pint of wonderful, health-giving ale without getting
a face full of fumes from some pathetic nicotine addict.

As for the predicted economic collapse of the bar and restaurant
business, it didn't occur. In California, as in New York and other
places, the nicotine fiends merely took their filthy habit outside.

Here in Jersey, we are hearing the usual warnings about how a ban on
smoking in bars will leave us just one step away from the era of Big
Brother. The characters making these comments reminded me of the Cold
War-era joke about a Marxist commenting on some policy that seemed to
be working out all right.

"This is all very well in practice," the old crank commented. "But
will it work in theory?"

Now that Marxism is a memory, that way of thinking seems to have
migrated to the political right, if my e-mail is any indication. The
ban on cigarette smoking in bars, I am told, is evidence of the
decline of individual liberty in America.

My experience in California indicates otherwise. Any reasonable person
would have to grant that the typical smoker in California has not less
but more freedom than a smoker in other states. He has the most
crucial freedom of all: the freedom to choose what to smoke. If he
prefers marijuana to tobacco, it seems the state and local governments
won't interfere as long as he doesn't bother anyone else. The
California Highway Patrol even announced recently that its members
will not be confiscating pot from vehicles as long as the pothead in
question has a medicinal marijuana permit, which any adult can get for
virtually any reason.

The upshot is that potheads in California have a degree of freedom
almost indistinguishable from that of nicotine fiends. Meanwhile, the
beer drinkers are spared the smoke of either of those noxious weeds.

That situation represents, by any measure, an advance for liberty
rather than a defeat. The only loser is Big Tobacco, which has been
knocked off its privileged perch as compared with other recreational

Actually, there's one more loser: the federal government. Despite the
clear language of the Constitution, the federal government has for
some years now taken over more and more of the powers that rightly
belong to the states, among them the power to regulate intrastate
trafficking in drugs. The theory of the inside-the-Beltway crowd is
that all such decisions about drugs must be made in Washington. If
D.C. says a drug is legal, then it's legal everywhere. If it's
illegal, then it's illegal everywhere.

The people in the provinces are reclaiming their power, however. Even
those of us who don't smoke pot have to agree that this is an
encouraging development for liberty. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake