Thursday, July 31, 2014

The green, green grass of home





The last time that I tried marijuana, Richard Nixon was still in the White House . Even though I owned a “bong”, and tried a few joints from time to time, my experience with the stuff was pretty much the same as the experience that Bill Clinton had when he was at Oxford. He tried it a few times, and found it a lot less satisfying than the occasional beer, so he gave it up.

Marijuana has had a long history in our country, and it’s absolutely true that our 1st and 3rd Presidents grew it on their farms. 11 of our Presidents (including Barack Obama) have been documented as using it at some point.

Due to the fact that the marijuana plant can be put to a wide variety of uses, its cultivation was encouraged during WWII.



During World War II, domestic hemp production became crucial when the Japanese cut off Asian supplies to the U.S. American farmers who grew hemp were even exempt from military duty. A 1942 U.S. Department of Agriculture film called "Hemp For Victory" extolled the agricultural might of hemp and called for hundreds of thousands of acres to be planted for the war effort.



Although Richard Nixon was no fan of marijuana, and was actually the President who started “the war on drugs”, it’s fun to imagine how much marijuana would have been grown by farmers during the Vietnam War if they had been exempt from military duty (as they were n WWII).

Marijuana has become decidedly more “mainstream” since my college days, and medical marijuana is now available in 18 states. 16 states have decriminalized marijuana use, and the vast majority of the rest of the states have classified possession of small quantities as a misdemeanor. Both Colorado and Washington State have gone one step further, and have made recreational use of marijuana fully legal.

Modern day restrictions on the use of marijuana can be traced back to 1930, when a man named Harry Anslinger was appointed as the first commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department’s Federal Bureau of Narcotics, a position that he held for 32 years.

Anslinger’s laws against marijuana were firmly rooted in prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans, who were associated with marijuana use at the time. Without a shred of evidence, he once stated his opinion that “most marijuana users were Negroes, Hispanics, jazz musicians and entertainers, and marijuana use by white women makes them want to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and others. It is a drug that causes insanity, criminality, and death - the most violence-causing drug in the history of mankind”.

In view of the fact that he held the title of “drug czar” for 32 years, it’s not surprising that our official policy on marijuana has been mis-guided for a lot of years. If you think that the prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans died with Anslinger in 1975, you’ve been watching entirely too much FOX “news”, since the right wing hysteria against illegal immigrants (most recently young children from Central America) and the passage of restrictive voter ID laws in a number of states are proof that his prejudices are still with us today.

On July 26, the New York Times started running what they call “High Time: and Editorial Series on Marijuana Legislation”. Most of the articles can be viewed by typing “high time” in the search bar on the New York Times online website. The New York Times board’s reason for running the series can best be summed up in their closing paragraph on July 26:

“We believe this is a big issue for the country - not because we think everyone should be smoking pot, but because while you were reading this blog post, there’s a good chance that, somewhere in this country, a young man - probably an African-American man - was arrested on a marijuana violation. Even if he is spared a prison term, that arrest is likely to severely harm, if not ruin, his life.“

This morning’s Chicago Tribune published a series of pictures that were taken during the Prohibition Era, which was another grand experiment in preventing people from getting what they want. The net result was that we spent a lot of money enforcing an unpopular law, we wasted an awful lot of beer, and the government made Al Capone a very rich man.



Not all drugs that are currently considered illegal should be legalized, of course, but the recent trends regarding marijuana indicate that commons sense regarding the drug are becoming a lot more common. As it stands now, the “was on drugs” costs our government $51 billion a year, and at least some of that money could be spent on far better uses. For starters, some of it could be used to repair our crumbling infrastructure, which the American Society of Civil Engineers has consistently awarded a rating of “D”. According to the same group of engineers, America’s highways are now ranked 19th in the world, and are actually worse than the roads found in the African country of Namibia.

If all 50 states followed the lead of Washington and Colorado, and legalized recreational use of marijuana, the tax revenue from marijuana sales (if taxed at rates similar to those imposed on alcohol and tobacco) would generate $46.7 billion a year. By coincidence, the budget shortfall in Fiscal Year 2013 for all 50 states was $55 billion. In my opinion, it makes far more sense to close state budget deficits by legalizing recreational marijuana than it does to cut the pensions of policemen, firemen, and teachers.

If you listen carefully to the song made famous by Tom Jones (which describes a man awaiting execution) , you’ll realize that “Green Green Grass of Home” is not exactly what you’d call a happy song. However, if current legal trends on marijuana continue, the “green, green grass of home” CAN have a happy ending.

Tom Jones sings

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