Monday, April 20, 2009


From the New York Times:

Not-So-Secret Holiday Hints at Change for Marijuana Advocates

They will not be the only ones partaking: April 20 has long been an unofficial day of celebration for marijuana fans, an occasion for campus smoke-outs, concerts and cannabis festivals. But some advocates of legal marijuana say this year’s “high holiday” carries extra significance as they sense increasing momentum toward acceptance of the drug, either as medicine or entertainment.

“It is the biggest moment yet,” said Ethan Nadelmann, the founder and executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance in Washington, who cited several national polls showing growing support for legalization. “There’s a sense that the notion of legalizing marijuana is starting to cross the fringes into mainstream debate.”

For Mr. Nadelmann and others like him, the signs of change are everywhere, from the nation’s statehouses — where more than a dozen legislatures have taken up measures to allow some medical use of marijuana or some easing of penalties for recreational use — to its swimming pools, where an admission of marijuana use by the Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps was largely forgiven with a shrug.

Long stigmatized as political poison, the marijuana movement has found new allies in prominent politicians, including Representatives Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Ron Paul, Republican of Texas, who co-wrote a bill last year to decrease federal penalties for possession and to give medical users new protections.

The bill failed, but with the recession prompting bulging budget deficits, some legislators in California and Massachusetts have gone further, suggesting that the drug could be legalized and taxed, a concept that has intrigued even such ideologically opposed pundits as Glenn Beck of Fox News and Jack Cafferty of CNN.

More here.

Because I am no longer quite the dope fiend I was back in my college days, this issue is no longer quite as personal to me as it once was. I mean, when I was teaching high school I had to have my students explain to me what "420" was all about. I was like, "It's a pot smokers' holiday? Pot smokers have a holiday now? Weird." Strangely, none of my kids were able to tell me how the whole thing started - the above linked Times story asserts that the idea behind "420" began in the early 70s out in California when some stoners made a point of lighting up every day precisely at 4:20 p.m. - but it is now mind blowingly clear that the marijuana culture is big time, and no longer dependent on baby boomer nostalgia for the hippie days. The stoner way is now its own separate entity.

And, of course, all these people have a good point. What does it matter if Americans get high? Sure sure, there are probably some health risks that come from smoking it, although there has never been any scientific data establishing this in the way it has been done for tobacco. But compared to alcohol, America's most popular recreational drug, marijuana is candy. Pot's illegal status has always been an absurdity, especially when you throw cigs and booze into the equation. By and large, pot prohibition is a strange byproduct of some of the odder bywaters of American political culture. It's common knowledge that "just say no" is a political winner, and the law and order crowd always easily chops the legs off any opponent who dares side with the stoners. But in recent years it's become more complicated. The anti-drug establishment is a booming industry. Politicians get elected by being anti-drug. Police departments get more funding by being anti-drug. The schools, too, and let's not forget the prisons. Boot camps and rehabs have sprung up all over the place promising parents and judges that they have the cure for marijuana "addiction." I mean, people are getting rich off marijuana's illegal status.

It is no wonder that ganja remains contraband. Too many powerful people would lose too much if pot were legalized. But this Times article suggests that it all may have reached some sort of breaking point. I don't know. I'll believe it when I see it.

Anyway, happy 420. Here's some Noam Chomsky audio, via YouTube, played over some amusing pot oriented pictures, tracing the connection between pot prohibition and class warfare: