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Legalized Weed Is Sparking Tensions in the USA

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Barack Obama will remain in office for another four years, but there is indeed change in America's winds, and it smells like the chronic. Big surprising news is that voters in Washington and Colorado embraced measures that will allow anyone aged 21 and up to possess recreational weed. And not just a joint or two but an ounce, more than enough to get you through the Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings movies.

The federal government can still intervene, but unless they do, recreational weed will not just be legal there, but will be be produced, packaged, and sold in retail stores (special stores designed to sell weed, like the LCBO sells alcohol here in Ontario). Exactly what this will look like, how it will be taxed, controlled, and how other considerations remain to be seen. Expect a prude, conservative backlash and objections that haven't developed much in the 100 years since prohibition. Such can be found in Brian Hutchinson's piece from today's National Post.

"Marijuana isn't exactly a benign substance, like milk. Consumption impairs cognitive function and development, and may help induce psychosis in susceptible youth. Heavy marijuana smoking can damage a person's respiratory system."

"Impairs" to Hutchinson might be "improved" to another. In any case, I'm sure it would be illegal to drive while high. And, actually, Health Canada warns against drinking unpasteurized milk that can contain harmful bacteria, even though some farmers view this as a nanny state intrusion, and personally even pasteurized milk ravages my stomach. Milk can do harm if consumed after its best before date. Seriously though, it's a gross understatement to say the number of people harmed (ruined) by alcoholism, tobacco and obesity greatly exceeds the harm done by weed. If smoking cigarettes, something that unambiguously causes respiratory damage, is legal, it seems smoking weed is only illegal because of the effects it produces on the mind, not because of the damage it does to the respiratory system. It seems that what's outlawed here is pleasure.

As for psychosis, this is a stretch. Personally, I've never partaken in smoking weed myself because it's illegal in Canada and I am an upstanding, law abiding citizen. But I've been surrounded by people who have partaken minutes before movies or television, guitar and chess sessions, during late-night Frisbee, before and after concerts, around the camp fire and so on. So far, so good. Most of them laughed a lot, started dancing, or experienced euphoria at the prospect of pizza. If anything, it seemed to keep psychosis at bay. I have seen appalling, unspeakable madness that was all alcohol's doing, but legally that's very cool. My first-hand stoner observations come from quite an extensive sampling, having occurred for over a decade nearly every weekend, some week nights, and in the day sometimes during past winter breaks, reading weeks and summers.

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Next objection. "Many people have experienced anxiety after smoking marijuana, and they avoid the stuff completely." In one breath Hutchinson has wonderfully posed a problem and its solution. If you don't like the drug, stop smoking it. I suspect considerable paranoia has nothing to do with its consumption per se, and more to do with knowing that you've done something illegal, the signs of which -- the smell and the red eyes -- are obvious to those around you. In other words, legalizing it would remove social stigma and of course the legal threats. If paranoia still persists, "avoid the stuff completely."

Next, "Let's assume...special 'pot shops' appear in major cities such as Seattle and Denver...what might be the result? A frenzy of consumption...Drug tourists would certainly arrive from other states and countries, including Canada. Public marijuana use, although prohibited, would naturally occur. So would more illicit pot sales to minors. Nuisance complains would go up."

Yes, yes society will fall apart at the seams at the hands of satanic smokers. One of the curious things about this notion is the embedded belief that a pot smoking population will cause untold harm while simultaneously admitting that a great number of people are already doing it. How many people wait to take up smoking weed when suddenly it's legalized? It's impossible to know, but there can't be many who only refrain from being total potheads because it's technically illegal, who would otherwise indulge. (I am a rare case; my pure and noble devotion to the letter of the law is highly uncommon.)

There's one final comedic objection Hutchinson makes, by far my favourite:

"Impacts would be felt on college and university campuses in both states. Smoke-outs would be more commonplace. How many parents would encourage their children to attend post-secondary schools in jurisdictions where pot smoking is legal?"

Actually, given the amount and the sheer variety of pills routinely taken by today's undergrads while listening to drum and bass (other historically enriching instruments now obsolete to their discerning ears), smoking weed is a fair compromise. Besides, Colorado is the birthplace of Phish. The state is anything but a stranger to weed, and I'm sure alumni have gone as far as indulging in "smoke-outs" before, whatever that is. If he's talking about smoking a joint and then smoking another one I'll wager that it's been done. It might give Hutchinson and his conservative peers nightmares to hear tales of Jamaican showers, Zorbin crossovers, rim-rockers, and other anti-social transgressions aimed, not at increasing pleasure, but at tearing apart the fabric of society. Each joint, a thread is loosened!

There's more fodder to denounce in this article but surely the point is made. To be fair, Hutchinson urges Canadians to watch, "their bold social experiment and take lessons before doing anything else." This statement is reasonable, but kind of cheating, being more than a little loaded. It's like saying, "sure, society will be doomed, but let's try it out." His position on the issue is quite clear, this balanced position notwithstanding, but if he really intends to objectively watch this experiment unfold and take it from there, good on him. I hope the opponents of legalizing weed are so open-minded, but of course I doubt it. My guess is bible-thumpers and those who still believe in 1950-era anti-drug ads will get very righteous about a law that has no bearing on their life.

The people most affected are the untold thousands of people absurdly and scandalously behind bars for committing victimless crimes, lodged in a community of rapists and killers. Also, the taxpayers who have wasted untold millions or billions on a futile war on drugs. And finally, there are people like me, eagerly waiting for weed to be legalized so I can finally try this stuff I've heard so much about.