Pubdate: Sat, 11 Jan 2014
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2014 Athens Newspapers Inc
Author: Ed Tant


As the new year began, Colorado became the first state in the union to
legalize sales of marijuana to adults. It is high time - pun intended.
In a nation that declared its independence with a clarion call for
life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it is fitting that at last
this nation's antiquated and atavistic laws against marijuana are
being reformed by voters in more and more states. In a nation that
enshrines states' rights and freedom from unreasonable search and
seizure in its Bill of Rights, it is fitting that states like Colorado
are leading the way to reclaiming lost liberties and saving squandered

Call it marijuana, pot, hemp, hashish or reefer, say more and more
millions of Americans. Just don't call it criminal.

Colorado earned the nickname "Centennial State" when it was admitted
into the union in 1876. In that same year, marijuana first entered the
popular culture of white America during the gala American Centennial
Exposition in Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence that
gave birth to this nation had been signed by the Founding Fathers a
century earlier.

During the great U.S. centennial fair in Philly, visitors could buy
and enjoy products from a "Turkish hashish parlor," a popular
attraction at the exposition. Partaking at the parlor was billed as a
way to "enhance" the experience of the fair - and no one seems to have
complained of false advertising.

In 1894, the British government's India Hemp Commission report said
that fears of the drug were largely unfounded and exaggerated. Here in
the United States in 1944, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia led a
commission that came to similar conclusions. In 1972, President
Richard Nixon picked Raymond Shafer, a moderate Republican and former
Pennsylvania governor, to serve as chairman of yet another committee
to study the legal and medical impact of pot. The Shafer Committee's
report called for decriminalizing marijuana, saying that then-current
"social and legal policy is out of proportion to the individual and
social harm engendered by the use of the drug."

Nixon disagreed with the commission's call for marijuana
decriminalization, but the president soon had to deny his own
criminality in the Watergate caper.

The president who famously said "I am not a crook" seemed to have no
problem pinning the "crook" label on millions of his fellow Americans
who merely puffed pot for pleasure.

During the 1960s and '70s, "smoke-in" rallies to legalize cannabis
began in Washington, D.C., every July 4, an annual Independence Day
event that continues to the present day. This year's "reefer rally"
near the White House should have cause for celebration, since both
Colorado and Washington state have legalized pot use for adults and
other states are expected to follow suit in the near future.

The Denver Post recently named staffer Ricardo Baca as the editor of
its new marijuana website. One has to wonder if wise guys in the
paper's newsroom will refer to him as "the staff chief of joints."
Nationally syndicated cartoonist Garry Trudeau was quick to pen a
series of his "Doonesbury" comic strips aiming humor at the marijuana
legalization boom.

Still, in many states - including Georgia - the pot laws are no 
laughing matter. More than twenty years ago, longtime Yale law school 
professor Steven B. Duke blasted America's decades of drug 
enforcement futility in a book titled "America's Longest War: 
Rethinking Our Tragic Crusade Against Drugs." More than forty years 
ago, Stanford University law professor John Kaplan wrote a 
ground-breaking book with the still-relevant title "Marijuana - The 
New Prohibition." Both authors made the point that America is making 
the same mistakes with marijuana laws that it made with alcohol 
prohibition during the Roaring Twenties.

In 2004, conservative leader William F. Buckley wrote a hard-hitting
call for reforming this country's pot laws. Calling on his fellow
conservatives to "look up from dogma" on the marijuana issue, Buckley
cited the waste of taxpayers' dollars caused by what he estimated to
be about 700,000 marijuana arrests in America each year, nearly 90
percent of them for possession of small amounts of the plant. "Legal
practices should be informed by realities," he wrote. Reminding his
readers that harsh pot penalties cause "increased cynicism about the
law," the conservative commentator called for the weed to be
regulated, controlled, taxed and made available to adults who choose
to use it.

Thanks to Colorado's bold initiative, we as a nation are closer to a
time when the marijuana issue will be a matter of legalization,
education, regulation and taxation and not a matter for courtrooms and
jails. Bill Buckley was conservative and correct when he said,
"Marijuana prohibition has caused far more harm to far more people
than marijuana ever could."

* Ed Tant has been an Athens columnist since 1974. His work has
appeared in The New York Times, The Progressive and other
publications. For more, see his website, 
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