High Times on 8th Avenue

It seems as if everyone is stoned these days, including the editorial board of the New York Times.

The Times called for ending the federal ban on marijuana, saying that the costs of law enforcement and slamming Americans in jail is "inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol."

The Times just ran its first full page advertisement for a medical marijuana company called "Leafly." It features a man entering a New York brownstone with the caption, "Ian chose an indica cannabis strain to relieve his MS symptoms." A young woman is jogging by on the sidewalk. Her bubble says, "While fighting cancer, Molly preferred a sativa cannabis." Marijuana has finally entered the Mad Men world of painkillers and erectile dysfunction drugs. He's stoned. She's stoned. And they're just normal people like you and me. It's all so gentle and civilized like a feminine hygiene commercial.

The Times editorial said, "We believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco." But I wonder if anyone at the Times went down to the local high school to take a survey of all the glazed and confused eyeballs in class. They're not drunk, they're high.

Legalized marijuana and medical marijuana have spread stoner culture more than drug dealers and Cheech and Chong. I have a daughter who just graduated from high school and another in college. They both have friends who never draw a straight breath.

The difference between alcohol and marijuana is that wine, beer, and hard liquors are not made with the express purpose of getting drunk. They are part of the incredibly creative things man has been able to make out of nature. They are delicious and add to our pleasure in life. It's possible to get drunk, and people do, but that's not the sole purpose of taking a drink.

Marijuana is for getting wrecked, or "faded" as my kids call it. There's no equivalent of a single glass of wine or bourbon. One toke and you're gone. Marijuana has been bred to be four or five times more powerful than it was when Country Joe & the Fish riffed "Marijuana!" at Woodstock.

I live in Los Angeles where, until the city woke up, there once were more marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks coffee shops.The push for medical marijuana is one of the frauds of our time. The benefits are largely unproven and most of the people who use it do so for recreation, not health. It improves appetite, might relieve a bit of discomfort, but beyond that little is proved. It's for getting high and having a good time.

I can go to a number of shops within a half mile of my home, tell a doctor I'm in pain from having played high school football, and he would prescribe marijuana, the only drug in his cabinet. He won't take my blood pressure, a medical history, or make any other inquiry like my real doctor does. Teenagers get it just as easily. That's what they're smoking, medical marijuana, and they have no ailments other than that they smoke too much of it. If addictive painkillers were dispensed this way we'd declare a national emergency.

Part of me is in favor of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I've done all of them. And we've sent too many people to jail for too long just for having a little weed. It's a big messy problem. But it is a mistake to make a grocery item out of a public hazard, particularly one that fogs the brains of teenagers.

The Times calls for the federal government to relax about marijuana and one day it probably will, but for the wrong reason. Government tends to repeal prohibitions on vices not because they are stupid but because there's money to make. Back in the 1970s states decided that the only thing wrong with illegal gambling was that government was not getting a vig. Before long you could find gamblers in the parking lot of an Atlantic City casino selling the family car to pay a debt.

Then governments got into the gambling business themselves by establishing state lotteries. Within the past year New York State approved casino gambling and legalized marijuana. They were not moral decisions made on a determination of right, wrong, and good sense. Like the lottery and off-track betting, they're in it to avoid being honest with the public about taxes.

Our indebted federal government will eventually grow envious of the windfall hauled in by Colorado and decide to legalize marijuana so they can tax it. Then America can go get stoned. It's wrong and I bet that one day the prohibition will return.

Sometimes it's the government's job to ban things that ought to be free to do, but become a public nuisance when they are. That's marijuana. It seems harmless, but really it's not.

The Times is not likely to reconsider its stand. For one thing the editorial board is out to lunch. They've all got a serious case of the munchies.