Pubdate: Tue, 07 Jan 2014
Source: Virgin Islands Daily News, The (VI)
Copyright: 2014 Virgin Islands Daily News
Author: John M. Crisp
Note: John M. Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar 
College in Corpus Christi, Texas.


Colorado took an extraordinary step last week when, on Jan. 1, it
implemented a law that legalizes the sale of marijuana for
recreational use. The state of Washington isn't far behind Colorado,
and it's likely that if their experiments play out reasonably well,
other states will legalize pot, too.

In fact, theWashington Post reports that proponents for legalization
have collected enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot this
year in Alaska, and they have hopes for Oregon next year and six more
states by 2016.

At least 18 pot shops were open for business in Denver on Jan. 1,
selling up to an ounce of marijuana to Colorado residents over 21.
Out-of-state customers are limited to a quarter of an ounce.

Dozens of additional stores are expected to open in coming months, and
officials are anticipating that marijuana sales could add up to $200
million to Colorado's economy, as well as produce close to $70 million
in tax revenue.

The trend is probably inevitable, but I'll admit to misgivings.
Consider the role and uses of "stupefaction" in our culture. The term
is quaint, but I use it in connection with the Russian writer Count
Leo Tolstoy, the author of very big books like "War and Peace" and
"Anna Karenina." After a dissolute youth and a long, productive life
Tolstoy adopted a radical version of Christianity and a rigid
asceticism that resulted in 1890 in a short essay that asks a poignant
question, "Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves?"

Tolstoy laments the excessive use of drugs in late 19-century Russia,
substances like vodka, wine, beer, hashish, opium, morphine and even
tobacco. Tolstoy's definition of a stupefacient was anything that
dulled the mind enough to make it lose sight of its conscience.

It doesn't take much: Tolstoy implies that the fictional murderer of
"Crime and Punishment , " Raskolnikov, was pushed over the edge by as
little as a glass of beer and a cigarette. In fact, he speculates that
the work of philosopher Immanuel Kant wouldn't have been written in
such a "bad style" if Kant hadn't smoked so many cigarettes.

It's interesting to consider what Tolstoy would have thought of our
culture's insatiable attraction to stupefaction, which we achieve in
all sorts of ways - alcohol and illegal drugs, of course, but also
plenty of legal drugs, food, TV, consumerism and enormous amounts of
electronic entertainment, diversion and distraction, more than enough
to keep our consciences at bay, as well as the realities of the bad
things that happen in the world.

In fact, Tolstoy might have thought that a few cigarettes and a glass
of beer are preferable to the stupefaction of the modern pot-bellied,
middle- age American man who watches three football games on Saturday,
two on Sunday, one on Monday, one on Thursday, and maybe Friday, as

Tolstoy's answer is total abstinence, a bar that is probably too high
in a land where stupefaction, in all its forms and degrees, has become
a synonym for pleasure. Besides, stupefaction in moderation is fun-it
feels good!- and few of us would want to return to the
pleasure-denying Puritanism prominent at the beginnings of our country.

Unfortunately, humans - and, maybe, especially Americans-don't have
much genius for moderation, and nearly all stupefacients - from
cocaine to video games - are somewhat addictive.

Certainly, Colorado and Washington deserve credit for doing away with
some of the irony and hypocrisy in our attitude toward marijuana,
which accepts and even admires its admitted use by celebrities (Bill
Maher, Willie Nelson, Cheech and Chong) and presidents (Bill Clinton,
Barack Obama), while running up the world's highest incarceration rate
by the disproportionate prosecution of minorities.

But the challenge for citizens in both states will be avoiding
self-indulgence and achieving a level of moderation that enhances,
rather than diminishes, their lives. Unfortunately, we've never been
very good at balancing abstinence against obsessive stupefaction. But,
please, Colorado, do your best.  
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