Thursday, May 19, 2011

The One Thing That Boomers Got Right

Objectively speaking, baby boomers have screwed up virtually everything they have touched as government leaders and politicians. Or continued to perpetrate existing screw-ups. But down at the state level they have gotten something right in a growing number of states: Authorizing medical marijuana use and decriminalizing personal marijuana use.

The reason for this is obvious: Many boomers grew up smoking marijuana or at least were exposed to it, and fairly large numbers continue to smoke it. Consequently, they never bought the big lie -- still being foisted on us by the Drug Enforcement Administration and shamefully agreed to in the breech by the Obama administration -- that marijuana is a gateway drug that also has serious medical and psychological consequences.

In fact, Obama has broken a campaign promise to keep the feds' mitts off of doctors who prescribe marijuana to help treat nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, for AIDS victims, and sufferers of glaucoma and gastrointestinal illnesses.

So it has been left to state legislatures to undercut the big lie, and Delaware last month became the 15th state to authorize the use of medical marijuana. (It also is legal in the District of Columbia.) Only a small handful of states have decriminalized non-medical personal use, but that number also continues to grow.

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My father, addicted to nicotine for his entire adult life and a Delaware resident, was wracked by lung cancer in the months before he died in 1981, but the chemo-induced nausea was even worse. I made arrangements to have a little package of marijuana cigarettes sent to my mother. She stored them in the Frigidaire and doled them out to my father when his nausea was especially awful.

Joe Mullen died before he had hardly made a dent in the package, but the cigarettes were a great source of relief for this gentle man who wouldn't hurt a soul but was then -- and still would be considered now -- a criminal by the government of his beloved country.

My friend, a Delaware resident, has suffered from a variety of ailments over the years and has smoked marijuana or eaten marijuana brownies baked by his wife to mitigate his discomfort. So imagine his pleasant surprise when his old doctor retired and he was referred to a sixtysomething general practitioner late last year.

"What do you do to relieve your discomfort," the doctor asked.

After hesitating, my friend replied, "Marijuana."

To which the doctor responded, "Well, good for you. I don't know how my wife and I would make it without the stuff."

And so my friend will soon be able to smoke marijuana legally.

* * * * *
Data compiled by groups such as the Pew Research Center show a consistent upward trend towards supporting legalization of marijuana for recreational use, although no poll so far has shown a majority in favor. Interestingly, support for legalizing marijuana breaks down along racial lines. According to a new CNN poll, non-whites are less likely to support legalizing marijuana than whites, even though blacks are more likely be arrested for drug possession than whites.

While the pollsters do not explain why this may be so, my supposition is that people in poor minority neighborhoods wracked by drugs don't see legalization as necessarily a positive move.

* * * * *
While the slow drift toward decriminalizing personal marijuana has accelerated and that is gratifying, it has less to do with the reality that marijuana is not the boogie man its opponents have long portrayed it as being than economic and social realities. Developments in California and Philadelphia prove the point.

In nearly-bankrupt California, a referendum question on whether to legalize personal marijuana use was shot down in the November election, but seems likely to eventually pass.

Although numbers are being thrown around with abandon by the "Tax Cannabis" pro-legalization forces, it is estimated that sales of marijuana total $14 billion a year in the Golden State, which could result in a $1.4 billion windfall from a tax on sales. (If pot is taxed the same as cigarettes or liquor the state's toke . . . er, take could be up to $14 billion.)

Meanwhile, with Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams taking the lead, there is a movement to all but decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Again, not because it's the right thing to do but because Philadelphia's court dockets are crowded with people whose only crime is getting caught with a small amount of pot, even a single joint.

Prosecutors now charge such cases as summary offenses rather than as misdemeanors. People arrested with up to 30 grams of the drug -- slightly more than an ounce -- may have to pay a fine but face no risk of a criminal record.

Small steps toward sanity, and progress indeed.

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