Okay, it is only the first week of February and more people this year have already died from peanut butter than pot.
Seriously, when you think about what has crossed the pages of our nation’s conscience in the past month, you have to wonder why we are all not getting high.
I have ten good reasons to believe drug law reform will ‘take’ this year. Here is why, and it starts with a young kid, 98 gold medals and a bong. Thank you, Michael Phelps.
Number One: The President
First of all, we elected a President who has admitted inhaling, and whose half brother just got arrested in Kenya for possession of marijuana. Growing up in urban Chicago, and having come from Hawaii, home of ‘Maui Waui,’ we have a man in the oval office that has an herbal background.
I am therefore not intimidated that, on his third day in office, while he was working on a nationwide economic stimulus package, some renegade prosecutors raided a medical dispensary in California. Those ugly efforts will cease soon enough. I am encouraged by President Obama’s prior public statements that such raids are counterproductive and provide illusory answers to real problems.
Number Two: The Medicine
Just as I was exploring the placement of my mom into an assisted living facility for early stage Alzheimer’s patients, I see a study released by Ohio State University this month. The research is indicating that marijuana has some potential capacity to reduce brain inflammation, which plays a role in Alzheimer’s. Mom, those brownies might taste differently next week.
While evidence showing the benefits of marijuana in multiple sclerosis cases has been advancing significantly, work in Alzheimer’s disease is still in its infancy. Still, another recent study performed at the Scripps Research Institute in California found that THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, inhibits the formation of a brain plaque that is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
Number Three: The Politics
If you light up a joint while walking down High Street in Medford, Massachusetts, not much is likely to happen to you. As of Jan. 2, Massachusetts became one of 12 states that have decriminalized marijuana possession to some extent. The new civil penalties for possession of less than 1 ounce include a $100 fine and forfeiture of one’s stash for those over 18 years of age. Minors will receive the same fine and be required to attend drug education classes.
In city after city, and state after state, once silent minorities are becoming vocal majorities and voting to enact legislation freeing marijuana from unjust law enforcement. When given the chance, we are winning the war against prohibition. Legislators in Michigan, Connecticut and even Florida are starting to re-introduce bills to lower penalties for pot. The whirlwind is commencing; just ask anyone in a dorm room within a wave of the White House after the inauguration.
Number Four: The Media
Marijuana has gone mainstream. Media outlets are no longer hiding in the shadows afraid to produce honest reports about the culture of marijuana. We are less likely to see commercials of pot smokers having their brains grilled in a frying pan. We are more likely to view legitimate programming which produces truths rather than trash about your stash.
One such report was featured on NBC news last week, a snippet of an hour long production on MSNBC entitled ‘Marijuana, Inc.’ Focusing more on economics then the sociology of pot, the well-supported report inescapably concluded that marijuana commerce is here to stay and unlikely to change. As even the NY Daily News said, “When it comes to marijuana, a whole lot of people voted some time ago to just say yes.”
Ask the cast of the award winning HBO show, ‘Weeds,’ which captures a growing American spirit.
Number Five: The Public
Even the Department of Health has said that 95 million Americans have over the age of 21 have tried marijuana at least once. Everyone except Bill Clinton has inhaled. The anti drug warriors have a hard time explaining to the average adult in the 21st century that millions of Americans are wrong when they light up every day.
It is normal to smoke pot. The vast amount of marijuana users today are parents choosing to calm down instead of liquor up, not just kids, looking to get high after class. Of course, they are too, adults treating arthritis, patients using it for multiple sclerosis, or people with HIV fighting a wasting syndrome. Pot smokers cross ethnic, sociological, and economic boundaries.
Number Six: The Celebrities
There is a lot of reason to hate the celebrity culture, paparazzi, and people who get their daily pulp from finding out where Brittany Spears went shopping. As more media types get busted with pot, the less newsworthy it becomes. The public could care less. An arrest for pot is not a career-ending event. As I finish this piece and send it off for distribution, I am watching Snoop Doggy Dogg being interviewed on ESPN for the NFL Countdown to the Super Bowl. It does not seem to have hurt him.
Macauly Culkin, Bud Bundy, Willie Nelson, Art Garfunkel, and Al Gore’s son also make the High Subscription List. So do Allen Iverson, Matthew McConaughey, Whitney Houston, Oliver Stone, and even Queen Latifah. All have posted bail for pot. They are not doing too badly for themselves. Go visit www.celebstoner.com for more information.
Number Seven: The Growers
In speaking out against rescheduling marijuana so as to remove it from its classification as dangerous, the most significant point that the Office of Drug Control Policy makes is that today’s weed ‘is not your grandfather’s pot.’ Exactly! It is not, but they miss the mark when they say today’s pot is ‘stronger.’
Today’s pot is also cleaner, safer, and healthier to consume. From vaporizers to hydroponic labs, the marijuana grown and consumed today is more precisely cultivated, carefully processed, and lovingly manicured then the mold-encased, dried-out weed we grew up on decades ago. That pot was often delivered to Americans from overseas after being buried in the dark, musky cargo hulls of ships for weeks at a time.
Now that Americans grow our own marijuana at home, we do not hear stories on a daily basis about people smoking rat poison or buying oregano. We have returned to the roots of our forefathers, lest we forget that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison all grew hemp. They did not turn out too bad, either. Today’s pot growers are the new revolutionary farmers.
Number Eight: The Police and Jails
Sadly, the criminal justice system in America is teeming with serious crimes and violence against Americans. A Department of Homeland Security must necessarily focus on threats from abroad. From drive-by shootings to corporate white collar crime, the jails in our country are simply not capable of housing all those who should arguably be locked up. So law enforcement has to prioritize. Building jails and keeping people in prisons costs more money than communities can afford. Pot smokers are the residual beneficiaries.
The necessities of twenty first century law enforcement have reduced pot to secondary priorities. More and more cities are encouraging cops to treat simple pot possession as a civil traffic infraction and just write a ticket. As those progressive initiatives take hold, pot prosecutions will diminish and pot users will be treated more fairly.
Number Nine: The Non Profits
The wealth of non profit organizations advocating drug law reform is growing exponentially. We are not just NORML anymore. Benefactors like Peter Lewis and George Soros have underwritten drug reform movements the way Hugh Hefner once helped NORML. The Marijuana Policy Project, Students for a Sane Drug Policy, the Drug Policy Alliance, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition are just a small sampling of honorable groups fighting to change the public perception in the way drug consumers are viewed and treated. If you enhance their efforts today, there is less of a chance that you will be bonding yourself or your child out of jail tomorrow.
Number Ten: The Internet
There is no better way to end this column then to point towards the awesome power of networking to generate partnerships for the common good. Overnight, hundreds of thousands of reformers can be linked for a specific goal, a targeted protest, or unified voice to speak out for or against a new law or proposed regulation.
The NORML blog and podcast draws hundreds of thousands of Americans daily who would otherwise never be reached but for the arm of the ‘Net. Stopthedrugwar.org Marijuananews.com, and cannabisnews.com are amongst the target specific Internet resources drug law reformers can access instantly. There are too many more to mention.
Finally, the Internet has spawned awesome networking groups such as Facebook and My Space, where activists, organizers, and reformers can synthesize their partnerships and causes. And there is always something new unfolding, like Twitter, which I have not figured out, but I know is catching on.
Conclusion: It’s Up to Us
For too many years, pot smokers have been political prisoners, captive to repressive government and a rolling tide. 2009 represents a renewed opportunity to make the waters of justice run our way again.
NORM KENT is a Fort Lauderdale, Florida constitutional rights and criminal defense attorney and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org A member of the Board of Directors of NORML (www.norml.com), he blogs publicly about legal issues at www.browardlawblog.com and www.kentvent.blogspot.com