Le­gal pot suits our na­tion, but ...

Lodi News-Sentinel - - OPINION - JOHN M. CRISP John M. Crisp, an op-ed colum­nist for Tri­bune News Ser­vice, lives in Ge­orge­town, Texas, and can be reached at jcrisp­[email protected]

On Jan. 1, 2014, Colorado be­came the first state to au­tho­rize the sale of mar­i­juana for pure fun. At least 18 pot shops were open for busi­ness in Den­ver that week, each per­mit­ted to sell an ounce of weed to Colorado res­i­dents over 21; out-of-staters were lim­ited to a quar­ter-ounce.

The state of Wash­ing­ton wasn’t far be­hind, and sig­na­tures were be­ing col­lected to put the is­sue on the bal­lot in Alaska, Ore­gon and six other states.

Fi­nan­cially, the Colorado ex­per­i­ment was a suc­cess. In 2014, state of­fi­cials an­tic­i­pated an­nual sales of $200 mil­lion and tax rev­enue of $70 mil­lion. But in 2017 sales ex­ceeded $1.5 bil­lion, and the state’s Depart­ment of Rev­enue re­ported tax in­come of $250 mil­lion from pot sales.

Other states took no­tice. At pre­sent, 33 states per­mit the use of mar­i­juana for med­i­cal pur­poses, and 10 have le­gal­ized recre­ational use.

In Oc­to­ber, Canada be­gan per­mit­ting sales of recre­ational mar­i­juana, and Mex­ico’s Supreme Jus­tice Court ruled that Mex­i­can cit­i­zens have a right to pos­sess pot for per­sonal use. Th­ese two events prompted Hous­ton Chron­i­cle re­porter Olivia Tal­let to note in De­cem­ber that Texas is now sur­rounded by states and a large coun­try that per­mit some form of mar­i­juana use.

And even in Texas, she re­ports, fewer than 20 per­cent of reg­is­tered vot­ers ob­ject to the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Uni­ver­sity of Texas/Texas Tri­bune poll.

The trend is clear, and it’s easy to see why. Cer­tainly, gov­ern­ments are at­tracted to the tax rev­enue from mar­i­juana sales. Fur­ther, mar­i­juana de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion ex­presses a sen­si­ble de­sire to re­duce the dis­crep­ancy be­tween how we treat it and how we treat other ad­dic­tive and prob­a­bly more harm­ful sub­stances, such as al­co­hol and tobacco.

In Mex­ico the party of the new pres­i­dent in­tro­duced in No­vem­ber a bill that would le­gal­ize the com­mer­cial cul­ti­va­tion of mar­i­juana, a mea­sure sup­ported, ac­cord­ing to re­porter Tal­let, be­cause of its po­ten­tial “to dec­i­mate the power of drug car­tels and their vi­o­lent crim­i­nal en­ter­prises.”

And in Texas, one ra­tio­nal­iza­tion for de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion is ex­pressed by Har­ris County District At­tor­ney Kim Ogg, who says that the $25 mil­lion that the county spends prose­cut­ing and in­car­cer­at­ing low-level pot of­fend­ers re­flects waste­ful pol­icy. The money could be bet­ter spent fight­ing other crimes and pro­tect­ing pub­lic safety.

So what’s not to like about mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion? Last week in the New York Times Alex Beren­son ar­gued that much of the “un­stop­pable march” to­ward le­gal­iza­tion is driven by per­sis­tent lob­by­ing by for-profit cannabis in­ter­ests, who have man­aged to “re­cast mar­i­juana as a medicine rather than an in­tox­i­cant.”

Part of their strat­egy is to min­i­mize mar­i­juana’s neg­a­tive health ef­fects, ig­nor­ing, for ex­am­ple, a 2017 study by the Na­tional Academy of Medicine that con­cludes that “Cannabis use is likely to in­crease the risk of schizophre­nia and other psy­choses.”

So the jury may still be out on the health ef­fects of mar­i­juana use, though, neg­a­tive ef­fects alone do not nec­es­sar­ily un­der­cut the rea­sons for le­gal­iza­tion.

One more caveat: I wrote a col­umn on this sub­ject five years ago, just as Colorado’s pot shops were open­ing their doors. I raised the ques­tion of “stu­pe­fac­tion,” a quaint term that I bor­row from Leo Tol­stoy, the Rus­sian writer known for his enor­mous nov­els such as “War and Peace.”

He also wrote a short es­say in 1890 en­ti­tled “Why Does Man Stu­pefy Him­self ?”

Tol­stoy op­posed all sources of stu­pe­fac­tion, which he de­fined as any­thing that causes a man to lose touch with his con­science. He deeply lamented the ex­ces­sive use of drugs and al­co­hol and even tobacco in 19th-cen­tury Rus­sia. His an­swer was to­tal ab­sti­nence.

One won­ders what Tol­stoy would think of our cul­ture’s un­re­lent­ing at­trac­tion to stu­pe­fac­tion, which we find in al­co­hol and drugs, le­gal and il­le­gal, but also in so­cial me­dia, videogames, food, sports and video, which of­ten reach all-con­sum­ing, ad­dic­tive lev­els. There’s a rea­son we call it binge-watch­ing.

In this un­re­lent­ing mix of di­ver­sion and dis­trac­tion, the con­science that Tol­stoy is con­cerned about has to strug­gle for at­ten­tion. Of course, stu­pe­fac­tion in mod­er­a­tion is fun— it feels good! Un­for­tu­nately, Amer­i­cans’ ap­ti­tude for mod­er­a­tion is, well, lim­ited.

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