01 April 2009

Green jobs

Is marijuana part of the solution to our problems?

Our economy is in the dumpster. Maybe there's a light at the end of the tunnel, but the tunnel is long and treacherous and a lot more people are going to lose their livelihoods, their retirements, and their homes before it's all over. And that's just in America.

Once it is over, our world is going to look a lot different. I don't think it will ever again be like it was a year ago, or even six months ago. The era of mindless consumerism and consumption is dying fast.

Now, I don't think that's all bad. As a nation we were on a ruinous road anyway. The silver lining to this economic disaster we're facing may be that we'll somehow save ourselves and the rest of the planet from annihilation courtesy of global warming or nuclear war over oil. That doesn't make the challenges we face easier or less painful, but it does offer a little hope in the middle of the maelstrom.

During the White House's Electronic Town Meeting the other day, a question regarding the legalization of marijuana and the possible economic benefits to be had from its sale and taxation, and that legalization's effect on crime and the costs associated with it, was put to President Obama.

His answer was stunningly un-serious, even mocking, making it sound as if the hundreds of thousands of people who voted for the question be asked were nothing but a bunch of blissed-out stoners.

That's regrettable, because I'd bet the vast majority of those who supported that question are no more stoners than most people who enjoy an occasional cocktail are alcoholics.

Granted, the sale and use of marijuana is illegal right now. But that doesn't stop people from buying it and using it, any more than Prohibition in America between 1919 and 1933 stopped people from buying and drinking alcohol. The prohibition of marijuana powers a huge criminal industry and wastes billions in taxpayer money each year as our government attempts to fight it. The prohibition of alcohol in this country was eventually, wisely overturned – and alcohol is arguably far more harmful to the physical and mental health of those who become addicted to it, to their families and to society at large, than weed is.

And yet even now, in 2009, we can't seem to look at this issue with any real seriousness or clarity.

It's been more years than I like to count since I last smoked a joint. And except for an occasional and rather rare glass of wine with a meal, I don't drink. And yet I support, wholeheartedly, the legalization and government taxation of marijuana. I voted for that question to be put to the President during the Town Meeting. I wanted to know if our government would finally treat it with the sober adult attention it deserves.

Sadly, no. It wouldn't.

I was married to an alcoholic once. It was miserable. I loved him and he was a good person at heart, but the booze made him mean, verbally abusive and irresponsible. He didn't have the willpower to stop drinking. I don't hold that against him, though I did finally leave him for my own and my daughter's sake. There are many, many people in the world addicted to alcohol who, tragically, will also never be able to break their addiction, people who are also good at heart and who, when sober, would never hurt anyone. Just like my ex.

But I've never met anyone who turned mean or abusive after smoking a joint. In fact, most people (to use an old but apt cliché) just mellow out. I have met a few who became so dependent on marijuana that it took over their lives. They and other like them are the unfortunate "stoners" that make President Obama snicker. But I believe they were the exception rather than the rule.

Today, I know that many of my peers smoke their doobies secretly. They're upstanding citizens, parents, taxpayers, and good people all around. They aren't stoners, just like most of the people I know that drink alcohol aren't drunks.

America imprisons more of her own citizens than nearly any other country in the world. A large percentage of those prisoners are people who have dealt or used marijuana. This is insanely stupid. It creates and perpetuates violent crime and ruins people's lives just for selling or using a substance that does them and society less harm than, potentially, a six-pack of beer. I know. A six-pack was all it took to turn my ex from a nice man into a slobbering, irrational monster.

I expect that in reality, President Obama would like to legalize pot. It would make a lot of money that would go directly into the nation's coffers and help pay down the huge debt we're all facing, like it or not. Those who use it won't suffer or cause any more harm than drinkers do now, and perhaps less. But Obama is a very new and different President. He has enemies all around him, hoping to bring him down and make him politically impotent. Backing the legalization of marijuana at this point in his young presidency would probably be disastrous, given the general attitude about it on the right, which unfortunately still represents around half the nation's citizens.

So, while I'm disappointed in President Obama for laughing off the question – I'd have liked it much more if he'd been dead serious – I understand why he said "no" to it's legalization right now, even if I vehemently disagree. But I think that its time is coming. Perhaps in a few years, when we're all adjusting to the Brave New World we're staring down right now, the legalization and taxation of marijuana, just like alcohol, will become a practical reality. And perhaps (I can hope, can't I?) it will mean fewer alcoholics, as those who start drinking as a way to relax and unwind turn to the gentle weed instead.

Oh – and as for the title of this post: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs chortled over the idea of marijuana creating "green" jobs during a presser yesterday. In fact, he chortled a lot (see the video, below) and blubbered through his answer. It was excrutiating to watch -- and it was just as disappointing to me as his boss's reaction to the question of legalizing pot a couple of days earlier.

But President Obama and Mr. Gibbs, the question was sober and pragmatic. It deserves a serious response. Imagine the "green jobs" a new and growing American industry in marijuana would create. The sky's the limit, eh?


blue girl said...

It really *is* something how this subject is not taken seriously at all considering how most everyone we deal with everyday is on a drug of one kind or another. It's very childish. I haven't watched the video you posted yet but am wondering if someone's come back at them with *that* info? I mean, c'mon! How many drug commercials are we bombarded with every day on TV?

Four hour erections, anyone? Now *there's* something to snicker at.

Although I really have no idea, I've always had the feeling that pot is illegal because they cannot figure out a way to control it so they can sell it and maximize profits. Everyone could just grow it on their own.

And also, something I have found that's interesting, I have several friends who are so right-wing they label themselves "further right than Attila the Hun." And every single one of them I've talked to think ALL illegal drugs should be legalized. They believe in that freedom of choice and think it would drastically reduce crime.

Good post, BW!

Wren said...

Yep, BG. You're so right about the drugs in general. And I admit I was hasty in blaming this mostly on the right -- it's not true, and I just read some comments on Andrew Sullivan's blog (Daily Dish in my blogroll) by other legalization supporters who are conservative Republicans. So I apologize to my conservative friends on this issue. I sure hope it can change sooner rather than later.

Bill Stankus said...

I go back and forth on this one. Alcohol and tobacco require specific farming and processing - something not necessary for marijuana. For that, any patch of dirt will do. So the method for taxing gets complex. Perhaps people would need to buy a license to possess it, I dunno.

Our anti-drug policies appear as ineffective. Millions spent on police action and drug use continues. And too many people have criminal records for smoking marijuana and that seems extreme.

Yet MJ is a drug - and it can manipulated to be very powerful, essentially a hallucinogenic drug.

Then, just how many drugs should be legal? It might reduce crime but what about the values of society? Would legalization be some kind of slippery slope?

It's nearly impossible to predict what our society would become if marijuana was legalized. Alcohol and smoking have been around forever so we know the drills for dealing with those. Would a society that legalized MJ also promote it's use? Could be done for the profit motive. Then what?

Our only examples of legalized use are spotty - and too much is based on past events when it was an underground or rebelliously used product.

Americans are strange critters. I couldn't-wouldn't hazard a guess what might happen if it was legalized.

Wil Robinson said...

I liked your statement about "you know people who smoke who are not stoners, just like you know people who drink who aren't alcoholics." Very true.

I would disagree with Bill slightly - In my reckless youth, I tried to smoke enough to hallucinate, and it never worked.