to describe the seriousness of the Pot Issue in America today. If it is good enough for President Obama, it is good enough for Me. There are those who would hold, with Andrew, that
It is about freedom and it’s deadly serious.
But this is true about many things. Wearing certain attire to school is about freedom. Smoking cigarettes indoors is about freedom. Public urination is about freedom (especially urination atop patches of ground that could benefit from some energy-efficient fertilization). Freedom itself does not decide the issue, even when it is weighed against harm.
There are also many things that are deadly serious — like, I am warned, talking on the cell phone in the car, even with a hands-free set. Policy settled? No — no matter how adamant The Experts and The Science may be about the probabilities and the correlations involved. Don’t like it? That’s politics…in a society, anyway, where politics is About Freedom, which is to say where freedom raises so many of the important issues instead of settling them.
We are stuck with the fact that some degree of criminalization of pot is, to some degree, reasonable — from the standpoint of political freedom, if not microethics. (And it’s the former standpoint that counts.) The Pot Empirics are different from what they were back when pot was first outlawed — and yes, back then, as my alma mater’s star lecturer Charlie Whitebread (RIP) explained, the process by which pot was banned, and the ‘reasons’ behind it, were incontrovertibly ridiculous.
But this is not enough to create a Matter of Life and Death. There can never be a Tom Paine of Pot.
But if there was…
Who can doubt that even a Ron Paul of Pot — even a Sarah Palin of Pot — could, with a motivated enough group of devotees, cause a cascade effect among indifferent, permissive voters? Then why not? Why not already? Because, like all too many Paulites and all too many Palinites, the Pot People are too kooky. Too adamant. Leaflet-pushers. Acid-legalizers or no. If pot is a matter of life or death, people will keep on choosing death. Pot will never be banal enough to sell its own decriminalization.
UPDATE: Yes, I left medical marijuana out of the picture here, by accident although it is a separate issue. Yet again, it’s regular folk, not partisan activists, who are decisive in shaping public opinion on the matter. And the plain facts of (serious) medical relief militate much more strongly in favor of decriminalization. Finally, read this post again if you think I’m firmly opposed to broad decriminalization.
UPDATE 2: I do recognize that a growing list of people have been killed (see comments) in pot raids, etc. If we agree that (1) this is grossly disproportionate and unjust and (2) aggressive raids are not a necessary consequence or even a vital part of criminalization regimes, the natural conclusion is that to avoid these tragedies we needn’t decriminalize, but rather stop their proximate cause — the raids themselves. Probably there is already a latent majority in favor of this. But, as I’ve suggested, that isn’t to say there aren’t better arguments to decriminalize. It offends our moral sensibilities to realize that a relatively small but significant number of deaths at the hands of law enforcement agencies isn’t anywhere near a slam-dunk case against the criminalization of pot. But it’s true. And there won’t be anywhere near a pro-pot majority in this country, or in most states, until the argument shifts to the practical ground of potency and impairment. Once many regular people who aren’t college students start emerging to reveal their steady, more or less responsible uses of pot, things will change, and probably not before then — not because that will destroy some moral taboos (which it will), but because that volume of reliable testimony will turn back the basic doubt as to whether, given potency and impairment, large numbers of Americans can behave themselves well enough.
What to do in the meanwhile? How about an internet petition for commentators and ‘opinion makers’? “I’m OK With Decriminalization.” (As opposed to, say, legalization and taxation.) See who signs, and how many, all in once place. Forgive my ignorance if this has already been done. Regardless, the results would be of interest, no?