Our Children vs. the Terminally Ill

Last night I caught "Frontline" on PBS. The episode was called "Busted: America's War on Marijuana." I thought it was quite good, presenting many sides of this complicated issue in a pretty objective way, leaving most of the conclusions up to the viewer. This was refreshing after seeing an article in a recent Reader's Digest, which was completely one sided. That article asserted that those championing the medical marijuana movement are really just trying to get pot legalized for recreational use. This is basically the same response anyone who's ever come down on the side of legalization has always gotten. "You just want to get high," they say, never even stopping to listen to the real arguments (the usefulness of industrial hemp, the futility of repeating the mistakes of alcohol Prohibition, the financial benefits of taxing a multi-billion dollar industry while slashing prison and legal system costs, etc, etc etc).

Those who still argue for the continuation of the War on Drugs are scared by the success of the medical marijuana movement, because recognition of the legitimate medical benefits of pot tends to dispel the myth of marijuana's evil, life-ruining effects. The Anti-Legalizers always point to "the children" as the reason for opposing the medical use of marijuana. "This sends the wrong message to children" they always say. That, and skepticism about pot's possible healthful benefits.

The Medical Marijuana side fights for compassionate treatment of all these cancer and AIDS patients. In response, the War on Drugs folks tell us medical pot is bad because we need to avoid confusing the children. What the issue boils down to then is this: who is more important, the children, or the terminally ill?

The problem with both of these viewpoints is that they focus on small, frail, helpless segments of the marijuana market, ignoring the vast majority of marijuana users, who are the millions of hard-working adult Americans who just happen to smoke the occasional joint instead of hoisting the culturally acceptable beer or glass of wine. And while the Anti-Legalizers are basically right - those who seek to legalize pot for medical use generally do favor full out legalization as well - the medical marijuana initiative in November '96 was overwhelmingly approved by California voters because, at this point, most people realize that the supposed dangers of marijuana are greatly exaggerated. It's just that no one is willing to admit it.

But if protection of the children really is the main concern, shouldn't we examine the issue from all sides and make sure the approach we're taking really is the one that will benefit the next generation the most? When I do, I find that a policy which denies a dying person a therapy that would improve the quality of that person's final days is not a good lesson for our children. I find that drug laws which encourage our children to turn in their parents for growing the wrong kind of houseplant will not make for a very attractive future society. I find that the crushing weight of the national debt, made worse by sky-rocketing court and prison costs, paid to secure a Privacy-Free police state, will not make a good world for our children.

But most of all, I find that children are dying in our streets now, not from smoking marijuana, but as the hapless victims of drive-by shootings, the direct and inexcusable consequence of our relentless War on Drugs. As the stakes get higher, the drug kingpins get further and further out of control, which makes their violence the true result of our attempts to control drug use. Just like the repeal of alcohol Prohibition in 1933, the only way to put the gangsters of today out of business is to legalize drugs.

But if, as the Anti-Legalizers suggest, the true goal of the drug war is the protection of the children, then why not change the law to reflect that intent? Make it against the law to give the stuff to kids, just as we do with alcohol and tobacco, and allow adults to make their own choices. Sure, there will be those kids who get ahold of it anyway, just as they do now, with it as well as the legal drugs... but at least we can put the gangsters out of business, and focus on enforcing laws that truly are designed to protect the children, instead of laws that treat us all like children.

Because, after all, if the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right, then why is it illegal to grow a certain kind of plant if it makes you happy? The real secret agenda of those who seek to change our marijuana laws is Freedom.


Copyright © 1998 by Andrew Looney.

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