Almost two weeks ago, the United States re-elected President Barack Obama, much to the dismay of old rich white American men. Initially lost in the intense battle for US presidency was the fact that three states -- Colorado, Washington and Oregon -- all had a vote to legalize marijuana. When the news finally reached me a few days later, I was astounded: how come this hasn't been all over the news? Is the US becoming more socially-progressive than Canada? How fast can I get a holiday visa?
I think many of us take for granted that Canada is more socially-open than our southern neighbours -- and I still think most places in Canada are ahead of the US with things like gay rights -- so the news that two of the three states, Colorado and Washington, voted to approve the legalization of marijuana should turn some heads.
That's right. Marijuana is going to be legal in parts of America now.
It didn't pass in Oregon, but in Oregon I believe there weren't any proposed restrictions on how much one could buy, which might have freaked some people out enough to vote against it.
In Washington, there has been talks of how the government is going to regulate and tax marijuana sales. I'm actually very interested to see how much legal, recreational pot will go for. Is the underground market cheaper or more expensive when considering the taxes the government can charge? Some people might be pretty pissed if they find out they've been overpaying for marijuana for all these years.
I'm also very interested to see what happens to the drug dealers in those two states. My bet is that if given the chance to buy pot legally, most people will choose to do so. What are pot dealers going to need to do to stay in business? Offer good deals? Register with the government? Double down and start selling angel dust?
I honestly don't know how pot dealers ARE going to stay in business, and as much as I am pretty far left-wing, I think that's a good thing. Most people I come across who smoke pot are completely normal, nice and otherwise law-abiding people. People who deal pot as a main source of income though are often a little sketchier, and often involved in more than just pot-dealing. I know I'm spreading stereotypes, and I know there are plenty of dealers who are nice people. I just think if you make your entire income covertly and get a new phone number every three to four weeks, you're probably not the guy I'm asking to water the plants or look after the bunny while I'm out of town.
I think legalizing pot is an incredibly smart move for Colorado and Washington, which will be referred to from now on as The Best Places to Live on Earth. I have been ranting for a long time now that marijuana being illegal makes no sense for a variety of reasons, and I think it's about time that us "socially-progressive" Canadians followed suit. (As far as I know, the only political party with a seat in the federal government that supports the legalization of recreational marijuana is the Green Party.)
What marijuana does to people
But isn't marijuana really scary?!? I heard it turns your brain to mush!!
I like to compare marijuana to alcohol, even though their classifications are different, because of the widespread use of them both and the (relatively) low impairment that they cause. If you drink every day, you destroy your internal organs. You kill your brain cells. You are very likely to suffer from mood disorders like depression. There are a whole lot of other problems associated with drinking, including very negative effects on one's social functioning and relationships.
To oversimplify, marijuana is the same type of thing: if you smoke weed every day, it's not good for you, and it will probably cause other problems in your life (or confound them). For people who drink or smoke every day, they likely have other stuff going on in their lives that contributes to those decisions/addictions. Marijuana doesn't affect relationships and social functioning the way alcohol does, but the argument could be made that if marijuana use was more widespread, it would. (I don't totally buy that, mainly because of the type of drug it is and how the impairments marijuana causes are different than alcohol. For instance, people are more likely to be violent or lose complete control when drinking.)
I think a lot of it comes down to social perception. Society seems to look down on people who use illegal substances. I guess this makes sense because many illegal things are pretty harmful. Shooting innocent people is not good, and that's illegal. And marijuana can be harmful. But alcohol has consistently shown itself to be more harmful than marijuana to the individual person and to society at large. Alcohol is a depressant and kills brain cells. Marijuana is a mild hallucinogen and doesn't.
So marijuana isn't as healthy as a fresh garden salad, but it's not nearly as bad for the individual body and doesn't have as harmful an effect on society as other things like alcohol, or, I dunno, guns. To be consistent, if marijuana is illegal, so should a whole crap load of other stuff, including sugar.
The problem with strict laws
On a more practical level, as I talked a bit about earlier, since marijuana is illegal people have to get it off the streets. I think it's become pretty apparent that people are going to smoke weed no matter what, even with Stephen Harper's insane drug policies. So drug laws in this country are not sufficiently deterring people. (So we should increase their severity, right?!?) Instead, our drug laws causes the government (a.k.a. us) to spend tons of money to police minor drug usage and imprison (normally) otherwise functional members of society. These are people who could be working and contributing to the economy, but instead we lock them up and pay for their meals and for people to watch them take shits in their cells.
Along with the money spent on law-enforcement, you have to realize that keeping marijuana underground also profits our aforementioned drug dealers. From my understanding, many pot dealers are involved in other shady stuff, potentially crime that is actually dangerous to society, like gun trafficking. I also know (think) that marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug. What happens when you take that underground market away? You make it a lot harder for these criminal organizations to survive. So really, by legalizing marijuana, you not only avoid criminally charging a bunch of philosophical hipsters who want to play board games and get lost in The Smiths, but you also stop funding real crime. Of course this isn't going to make that type of crime go away, but I think it will put some kind of dent in it.
By legalizing marijuana, the government can also regulate it, which means they can tax the shit out of it like they do with cigarettes. It also means they can put heavier restrictions on things like driving while high, like with drunk driving. This would lead to more money for social programs (including rehab, ironically) and perhaps less paranoia for the occasional pot-smoker.
In short, I think a lot of the fear of legalizing marijuana is pretty unjustified. I really haven't heard a good argument against it. The most common thing I hear is fear. Conservatives think that drugs are bad and they're uncomfortable having things like pot readily available in their society. I get that viewpoint, it's just a narrow-minded one.
The world is changing and so is the information we have about it. People were resistant to a lot of basic scientific principles we have today, like gravity, but now we accept them as fact. The way drugs affect our brains is still being intensively studied, and it really is fascinating, but I think we have enough information now to have our legislation reflect that drugs like marijuana aren't the health risk that we initially thought, and that even if they are, banning them outright is probably doing more harm than good to everyone, including the non-smokers.
Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, opposed to the legalization of pot, said something pretty interesting after the vote: "federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don't break out the Cheetos or Goldfish too quickly." This is of course hilarious but also illustrates a view that I think many members of mainstream society believe about pot-smokers: they are mindlessly eating junk food on their couches all the time. The munchies are a real thing, but shouldn't the Governor be happy about this? Legalizing pot should instantly spike the sales of snack foods, helping the local economy and creating hundreds of new jobs for potato chip factory workers and convenience store clerks alike.
Colorado is also hilarious in another way because the vote actually stipulated that people can have up to six marijuana plants in their home. Yes, six. I'm not sure if they realize how much pot that is, but holy crap -- Colorado went from having pot be illegal to allowing enough plants to keep the whole state permanently fried. If you have six plants in socially-progressive Canada that's a six months mandatory minimum sentence, by the way.
So today I am congratulating our southern neighbours for their move towards a more socially-accepting and rational society, realizing that even if you don't agree with a lifestyle choice, it's probably still not a threat to society. At this point in the research I think we're pretty confident that if smoking weed is hurting anyone, it's hurting the person who's smoking it, not the nice family down the street who wants nothing to do with those damn hippies.
Hopefully it's not long before Canada follows the path of Colorado and Washington out of fear and into the 21st century.
The Frito-Lay website claims Miss Vickie's Sea Salt and Vinegar chips to be a good source of vitamin C. Liberal and scurvy-free, a.m.k. is a writer living in Centretown.