Exclusively in the new print issue of CounterPunch
SHOCK AND AWE OVER GAZA — Jonathan Cook reports from the West Bank on How the Media and Human Rights Groups Cover for Israel’s War Crimes; Jeffrey St. Clair on Why Israel is Losing; Nick Alexandrov on Honduras Five Years After the Coup; Joshua Frank on California’s Water Crisis; Ismael Hossein-Zadeh on Finance Capital and Inequality; Kathy Deacon on The Center for the Whole Person; Kim Nicolini on the Aesthetics of Jim Jarmusch. PLUS: Mike Whitney on the Faltering Economic Recovery; Chris Floyd on Being Trapped in a Mad World; and Kristin Kolb on Cancer Without Melodrama.
For Many Americans, Weed is a Way of Life

Pot and the Right to Pursue Happiness

by NORM KENT

During his tenure as the Fort Lauderdale Police Chief, the late Ron Cochran was one day asked how he relieved the stress of his tension-filled job:  “Like everyone else” he quipped, “I smoke a joint.”

“Only kidding”, he quickly added to the reporter. 

Well, I’m not kidding. And neither are twenty million Americans every day. They use marijuana medicinally and recreationally, but the bottom line, is ‘Weeds’ is more than a TV show on HBO. It is a way of life for good and decent people who openly inhale without apology.

Marijuana may be the second-largest cash crop in America. But we will never know until all the farmers who grow can openly distribute it. I can guarantee you this. When the day comes that the weed can be legally grown, openly marketed, and its revenue streams can be lawfully traced, we will have a new growth industry in America that rivals corn. Hemp has multiple uses. Heck, it was used as rope for our paratroopers in World War II. If it worked for George Bush, it can work for you.

In our free marketplace, where there is a demand there shall be a supply.  When the late William F. Buckley recommended legalizing marijuana twenty years ago, he framed it in economic terms: “A profit of 2,000 percent is a powerful engine to try to stop in a free society.” When financial gurus were called into California last year to seek out new ways to generate income streams to prevent the imminent bankruptcy of the state, it’s no surprise that one of the recommendations postured to state legislators was the legalization and taxation of marijuana growth and distribution. Why fight what you cannot stop? Why not employ a tempered truce instead of a useless war?

The crusade to ban marijuana is unquestionably harmful.  You criminalize an innocent portion of the population.  You turn politicians into hypocrites. You lay the foundation for corruption in law enforcement.  You deny the reality that an informed public can make educated decisions about substance abuse. You ignore the scientific truths that marijuana has historically had socially redeeming qualities and medical value.

In support of its pogrom against decency, we watch helplessly as our Government denies students scholarships and mothers welfare. Law enforcement conducts invasive aerial dragnets and unconstitutional searches which trespass on fundamental American privacy rights. We provide for courts to sanction feudal-like forfeitures of personal property for carrying some weed in your car or growing it on your own. And we justify it in the name of a law that should be off the books anyway.

The routine police pronouncements of major pot seizures involving millions of dollars and thousands of plants are reminiscent of Vietnamese war body counts, where the Government sold a bill of goods to the public while our generals promised ‘light at the end of the tunnel’.  That same fraud today inaccurately suggests that drugs are evil, and criminality evolves from the use, misuse, and abuse of those drugs.  The real abuse however, comes from the enforcement mechanisms our government has improperly created and wrongfully maintained.  Now the government has become the criminal, and its judicial system ratifies injustice.

I am not content, though, with saying pot should be legalized because the Government’s activities are a far more criminal than they are just.  I am not content with saying taxing weed today is our way of balancing budgets tomorrow. I am for legalizing marijuana because it is responsible and just legislation that preserves the dignity of the human being while maximizing individual liberty.

Pot users don’t smoke reefer anymore because they want to rebel, turn on, tune in or drop out. 

Pot smokers don’t get high because marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, though it is. 

Pot smokers don’t light up because they want to dis their parents, challenge their government, or need to make a political statement.

Pot smokers smoke in the privacy of their own home, or in their backyards, or on their porches at night, simply to enhance their spirit and enjoy their lives. Some use it to relieve pain, ease stress, and tame diseases which were not of their own making. For some it is recreation, others medication. What matters is that the choice is theirs, the right ours.

Our government protects many rights, and our country was born with a bill of them. The first of these is a right to pursue happiness, one our courts have somehow forgotten to guard or jealously protect.          

As NORML gathers in California this weekend, let us reaffirm the principle that ‘Yes We Cannabis’ because it is perfectly normal to consume marijuana. And after 30 years we have shown there are responsible users, from Presidents to police chiefs to your neighbors next door.

NORM KENT, a criminal defense attorney in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, publishes The Broward Law Blog, www.browardlawblog.com