Smile Politely

A new drug czar… and the same ignorance

“On his first trip outside Washington since assuming his new role, “Drug Czar” Gil Kerlikowske told a law enforcement crowd last Wednesday that marijuana should remain illegal, but public health officials — not police — should lead efforts to reduce illegal drug use.”

“Legalization isn’t in the president’s vocabulary, and it certainly isn’t in mine,” he told 300 police, federal agents and law enforcement officials. [USA Today] 5/20/09

What better way to blow off the debate over legalization than to pretend there’s no such thing?

I can vividly remember my days as an undergrad when processions of dreadlock’d, trustafarian potheads peddled petitions to legalize marijuana on the quad. My knee-jerk response to their appeals echoed a deep musical prejudice against their widely adored and not so impressive pantheon of Phish and The Grateful Dead. After all, true poets (like myself) were analyzing Mercury Rev’s Desert Songs, Galaxie 500’s Copenhagen, Spirtualized’s Ladies & Genlemen We Are Floating in Space, or, at the very least, Beck’s Mutations. It was the late 90’s. I was eighteen.

Thus, “Do you suffer from arthritis or glaucoma?” Or, “Do you need marijuana to stimulate your appetite against chemo?”, came naturally. Also, I hadn’t had a serious girlfriend in years, which helped.

Inevitably, the granola crunchers and rastas would slink away in defeat (or in search of easier prey). While the ruse was high entertainment, I never actually had much of a problem with marijuana or those who enjoyed it. If I remember correctly, it was damn near a right of passage in high school. At that time, I believed drugs played a vital role in the production of art and the subsequent expansion of consciousness. Today, I hold one truth to be universal: everyone gets high. Be it caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, politics, work, family, literature, or gardening, America is and always shall be the land of catharsis.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 100 million Americans have tried marijuana in their lifetimes. What does it tell us that our last three presidents have all admitted to smoking pot? While the fact that people break the law is not an argument against it, the sheer number of Americans who have admitted to using marijuana should give us reason enough to pause.

Our prejudices against marijuana have been cultivated for generations.

We call it a “Schedule I” drug and lump it with heroin and meth, which are nightmarish drugs for those who have witnessed their abuse. We are spoonfed marketing strategies produced by teens depicting neglect to such a degree that death seems the obvious outcome.

What about reality?

Study after study has indicated that marijuana has various medicinal benefits, including the reduction of cancerous tumors, reduction of eye pressure for glaucoma patients, and appetite enhancement for people undergoing chemotherapy. Some states, most notably California, have recognized the medicinal qualities of marijuana and have adopted laws to reflect this. This has created the inevitable conflict between state and federal law, leading to Federal Drug Enforcement Agency raids on state licensed clinics. Despite President Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to end such raids, federal agents raided the Emmalyn`s California Cannabis Clinic, a licensed medical marijuana clinic in San Francisco, on March 25, 2009.

As Americans, it should always be our natural instinct to err on the side of the states in such conflicts, especially when the Constitution fails to give the federal government explicit authority over the issue of drug use (if the marijuana is grown in-state, it’s hard to make the case that the Constitution even gives the federal government implicit authority).

We are mistaken if we believe the function of government is to regulate bad habits or supplant the role of other structures in our society that play a role in the formation of our morality.

I would have expected a speech defect from Bush last Wednesday, not Obama or Kerlikowske. If politicians have a deadpool in their brains that causes the word legalization to be absent from their working vocabulary, there are always other words that can be used that imply the same thing.

Obama and Kerlikowske could issue an authorization and permit the use of cannabis for recreation, medicine, and further research. They could issue a proclamation debunking the myth of marijuana as a gateway drug to the FBI directors themselves. They could substantiate the research done outside the United States which reveals the physical and mental health benefits associated with various illicit drugs, particularly marijuana. They could do all these things while never mentioning the word: legalization.

If one side of the political spectrum claims ownership over the war on drugs they would be lying to us and themselves. Yes, we can thank Ronald and Nancy Reagan for “Just Say No,” but few politicians are fearless enough to be seen as ‘weak on crime’. Of course, there are exceptions.

If you’re leaving office, you’ve got the perfect opportunity to speak your mind, as Bill Clinton did in 2000. Or, if you’re The Terminator, you can do whatever the hell you like, as Arnold proved recently by suggesting Americans should “Legalize It.”

Conservative thinkers like William F. Buckley have written in favor of the reformation of marijuana laws. Mr. Buckley went so far as to state that the resistance to such reformation “can evolve into intellectual sloth and moral fanaticism.”

Their examples challenge us to reconsider our own prejudices on the matter.

Perhaps it is time we take them up on it.

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