In his column of March 12, 2013, my beloved friend wrote on the issue of legalized marijuana in the state of Colorado. On his radio show, he justifiably bemoaned readers of his column who had written comments questioning his sanity and their relationship over this one issue despite years of being Prager groupies. I will not do any of that. But for only the second time in our long relationship, Mr. Prager, you are dead wrong on a topic … but I still love you.
We Baby Boomers grew up in a generation where marijuana made the jump from the dark corners of jazz clubs to mainstream culture. We were advised to stay away from the dangerous herb by silly movies like Reefer Madness. We were forewarned that marijuana was a gateway drug to things like cocaine and heroin (crystal meth was not topical then). Yet despite all these warnings, the use of marijuana spread and people were not seeing the ugly warnings come true.
Then President Nixon appointed a commission chaired by Raymond P. Shafer to look at the exploding use of illicit drugs in America. The commission came back with a simple conclusion – stop prosecuting the use of marijuana and employ other methods to dissuade people from partaking. This would free up resources to pursue dangerous drugs like heroin and cocaine. That was 1972 and President Nixon told his commission to jump in a lake.
Forty years later we are still confronting the same issues. The field has changed due to new designer drugs and the in-vogue use of legal medications in illegal manners. Yet there is the old, standby marijuana exhibiting the same innocuous effects. The only difference is the partial legalization of its use across the country because of its proven medicinal benefits. And in the 40 years since Nixon blew the chance to advance the issue of drug use in our society, we found out marijuana is just as dangerous as The Shafer commission found it – which is not really.
First we must accept the fact that the ingesting of anything in excess can lead one to destroy their lives. And you can certainly find multiple examples of malingerers excessively using marijuana. The question in those cases becomes is the marijuana the cause or effect? This society has endured the widespread use of marijuana for almost 50 years and the instances of problems from use of marijuana are miniscule.
Mr. Prager starts his column by analyzing the effects upon the culture in Colorado in the short three months since legalization. He falls into the same trap as the journalists he cites. How can you possibly analyze the effects of the new law after such a short period of time? Is it really shocking to see some people flocking to the use because of the change in legal status? How different is this than people flocking to the hot new restaurant? How do we know that the entire usage might not become passé? To even discuss what is going on with the change in law reeks of premature evaluation. We wrote a column two months ago endorsing the experimentation of such laws at the state level. Let’s give these laws a chance as that is the purpose of federalization.
Mr. Prager then lurches into comparing the use of tobacco products to marijuana. His righteous indignation against the anti-tobacco forces remains totally justifiable. In fact, their war against tobacco at times staggers the imagination. Except for the statement that some people would endorse the use of marijuana yet deplore the use of tobacco products is fair, but his commentary is of little relevance.
The real comparison has been and is between alcohol and marijuana. There is no doubt to a large part of our society that marijuana use is safer and better for the society than alcohol. You don’t hear of people going into a marijuana rage. You don’t hear of two dudes duking it out after toking up in a barroom brawl. You don’t hear of husbands lighting up and then going home and beating their wives and children. We do hear of happy drunks, but we certainly hear more about the unhappy ones. The worst effect of marijuana use remains dry mouth, excessive giggling and mass consumption of nacho cheese Doritos.
Sure there are irresponsible people who drive after partaking too much, but is that anything different than alcohol or all the other illicit and licit drugs being improperly used? To this Mr. Prager states “Legalizing marijuana is foolish because it leads to far more use of the drug and the availability of ever more potent forms.” Unfortunately, this is wrong on so many levels. We don’t have any idea whether usage will really remain higher in the future or whether the new legalized marijuana will replace the use of alcohol or the misuse of legal medications. If the latter happens that would be a good thing. As for the potency, legalization will standardize the potency and allow customers to know what they are smoking which can only also be a good thing. Apparently, Mr. Prager did not stop in a marijuana store during his world travels to Amsterdam. My friends using medical marijuana in California tell me for the first time in their lives they know what they are buying.
Dennis, my beloved friend, you should sit back, take a puff off one of your pipes and wait for the real results of the experiment in the legalization of marijuana. If three years from now driving in Colorado is like being in bumper cars at the County Fair then we will know we made a mistake and the other 48 states will say no way. I am putting my money on Mr. Shafer and the fact we should have done this 40 years ago.