Tom Wolf, lame-duck governor of Pennsylvania, announced on Twitter that he wanted the commonwealth to legalize pot. His comment was hailed as timely, necessary and courageous by many of his lame-duck followers on social media.
There is a huge constituency in Pennsylvania, and nationally, for ending what some call a prohibition and others view as a commonsense limitation on recreational marijuana. It is important to note that neither Wolf nor I are referring to medical cannabis, which has helped scores of afflicted citizens find solace from their pain. That is compassionate care, and it should have been available to patients who suffer from a host of treatable diseases decades ago.
No, we’re talking about the occasional toker, the weekend smoker, the casual partaker, the people who amble through Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square with their doggies and their doobies enjoying a nice spring day while polluting the atmosphere with that sickening sweet stench of “happy daze.”
Obviously, I have an opinion on this. But my opinion is not based on some old “Reefer Madness” morality play where evil people smoke evil weed and do evil things to innocents. It is based on personal experience and science. There is value in keeping a legal and societal brake on marijuana, and I will present you with two reasons: Two humans I once loved.
The first human is a person I dated over a decade ago, a wonderful man of limitless intelligence who was, when I knew him, emerging from a 20-year tunnel of drug use. He’d been clean for a long time, but that drug use had deprived him of a large chunk of his youth. He had dropped out of school, worked at menial jobs that didn’t challenge the brilliance of his mind, lived in somebody’s basement and had toxic relationships with other users. When I met him, he was back in school, healthy, working in his desired profession and cognizant of his fortune and his close brush with the abyss.
He told me in no uncertain terms that the studies he had done proved that pot smoking had a negative biological impact on the developing brain. It had also stolen some of the best years of his life from him, and that had pot been legal when he first tried it, he would have tried it sooner. And for him, that was the gateway drug, the one that helped him feel the heady rush of the illicit, of the psychotropic, of the opiate, of the stimulant.
It scared me to think that this wonderful person might have lost himself in the dark forest of addiction. It scared me, because someone else that I dearly loved had not found his way out of that thicket.
A close family member of mine died of suicide. It was an overdose, and so we don’t know if it was deliberate or accidental. But my relative’s introduction to drugs came through some high school friends, and came in the form of a joint. And that joint led to more, to daily use, and then to other drugs higher up on the food chain, and then to things more easily accessible, like pills, and then back to drugs that you needed to get from “someone that someone knew,” and then circling back to the “legal stuff.”
People who have no problem with legalization will discount my anecdotal stories. They might even admit that they, themselves, are fully functioning pot smokers, and will ask me, “Well, do you drink alcohol?”
I do drink alcohol. I will have a glass of wine with a huge plate of pasta, once or twice a week. I do not drink wine just to get buzzed, although I know that there are people, some I grew up with, who do just that. Clearly, alcohol can be a problem.
But that’s not the point. In the first place, acknowledging that one substance causes illness and disease, and creates social mayhem, does not mean that we should double down on that crisis by adding another “de-controlled” substance to the mix.
And again, there are reasons to drink alcohol that have nothing to do with becoming inebriated or buzzed. That is absolutely not the case with recreational pot. The only reason to smoke it is to get that heavy, honey-sweet, saccharine-sickening buzz.
We are at a place in this society where we have a huge drug crisis. We have people driving under the influence of one substance, and we seek to legalize another. We pretend that it’s about race and that the Black community has been disproportionately impacted by arrests and criminalization.
That part is likely true.
But so what? Crack down on everyone equally, don’t discriminate.
But don’t create an environment where we guarantee more problems, more DUIs, more lost decades and more family members, knelt over in pain, at the cemetery.
Flowers is an attorney and a columnist for the Delaware County Daily Times, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.