Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Legalize it

The following was written by a good friend of mine some time ago for this very blog. I finally publish it here for your enjoyment and edification. 

Gallup reports that, for the first time, a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

Good.

My first encounters with pot came in high school. They consisted of furtive moments with joint or soda can pipe in hand and always with a friend and sometimes with people I didn't even know. I think I've always had a problem with anxiety, so I didn't much care for the social aspect of getting high, because being around other people when I was high made me paranoid. I couldn't really relax, and that was a serious problem, because that pot was being wasted on me.


I didn't really discover the joys of smoking pot until graduate school. How did I get my pot? I don't recall. But now I was buying it myself, in bags that would last two or three weeks. I would go to classes during the day and get high at night, by myself, and listen to music, mostly shoegaze, as I recall. My favorite album is still probably My Bloody Valentine's Loveless, which sounds incredible sober, but sounds indescribably divine high.

I had already learned that pot could enhance the listening experience. As an undergraduate, I loved listening to The Cure high, Pornography in particular, and especially "The Figurehead" and "A Strange Day." I loved Robert Smith's voice at the time. It was probably all that reverb:



But as a graduate student, I shared an apartment with a person who would leave me alone, and I was under no obligation to share my pot or socialize while I consumed it. I admit that it may not have been exactly healthy to get as stoned out of my mind as I could almost every night for three weeks at a time, but I wasn't responsible for anyone but myself, and it was hardly like snorting coke or shooting heroin or smoking meth. (Not that I've done any of those things. I'm not stupid.) I would wake up the next morning feeling a bit out of it but more or less good as new. And I could enjoy listening to my music to a degree that hadn't been possible before. 

Once I had earned my worthless Masters degree, it was on to a different institution to work on my Ph.D. When I wasn't drowning my anxiety in Old Style, I was sometimes fortunate enough to have access to pot and another apartment with friends and tenants who would leave me alone. I can't tell you how many times I listened to Philip Glass's Koyaanisqatsi high.


And there was the slowcore masterpiece from which this song came:



When I got a real job and was no longer around friends with connections, I stopped smoking pot altogether. The drug laws in this country are so insanely draconian, I simply couldn't risk getting arrested. The stakes are even higher now that I have a daughter. I haven't smoked pot in well over a decade. In fact, I have been deterred from using it for so long that I don't know if I could bring myself to use legal recreational pot. Which brings me to the point of this post.

Legalize it. Just do it, already.

Do you know who argued that we should legalize marijuana? Carl fucking Sagan, that's who. And he's a lot smarter than either you or me. Here's what he had to say about pot and music:
A very similar improvement in my appreciation of music has occurred with cannabis. For the first time I have been able to hear the separate parts of a three-part harmony and the richness of the counterpoint. I have since discovered that professional musicians can quite easily keep many separate parts going simultaneously in their heads, but this was the first time for me. 
That's the thing with pot. I have little doubt that almost everyone who smokes it has no interest in violence or wrongdoing. They really only want to experience the high and experience life while high. That's it. They simply want to enjoy themselves. Is that so wrong? People out there who want to deny this experience to others remind me of puritans who H.L. Mencken defined as harboring "the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy."

I am sure that some people worry that stoners are a danger to those around them. But I don't think they are. Sagan's comments on this point agree with my own experience:
In the cannabis experience there is a part of your mind that remains a dispassionate observer, who is able to take you down in a hurry if need be. I have on a few occasions been forced to drive in heavy traffic when high. I’ve negotiated it with no difficulty at all, though I did have some thoughts about the marvelous cherry-red color of traffic lights. I find that after the drive I’m not high at all. ... If you’re high and your child is calling, you can respond about as capably as you usually do. I don’t advocate driving when high on cannabis, but I can tell you from personal experience that it certainly can be done. My high is always reflective, peaceable, intellectually exciting, and sociable, unlike most alcohol highs, and there is never a hangover. 
I myself would not smoke pot when I'm responsible for caring for my daughter. But I believe that Sagan is telling the truth about his own experience and I have my own anecdotal evidence that his experience is typical. It's certainly different than my experience with alcohol. Consuming alcohol was enjoyable on occasion. But when I wasn't careful (which was usually the case), I became a tear-soaked depressive or an inappropriately friendly annoyance who really wanted to make someone his special lady. Then, of course, was the occasional blackout, the nausea, the excruciating hangover, the embarrassment, the self-loathing, the absurd talking to God. I would waste an entire day trying to recover. The best part, of course, was that it was all perfectly legal!

When the opportunity arises, I will tell anyone who will listen, "Alcohol is overrated." Because it is. Marijuana is not, I assure you. Frank Zappa did not enjoy marijuana. "It gave me a sore throat and made me sleepy," he wrote. "I couldn't understand why people liked it so much." But I believe that his experience was atypical. Pot has not only recreational value but also great potential in medicine. Add to this the fact that marijuana prohibition has its roots in racist economic fear-mongering against Mexicans in the 1930's. Americans have known since the mid-1940's that the alleged dangers of marijuana use were oversold. Indeed, marijuana has been extensively researched and it can be relatively safe for adults to use in moderation if it is used responsibly.

Now that David Brooks has weighed in on legalization, many of us are finding out that one important function of criminalizing marijuana is to remove as many African-Americans from the streets as possible. Whites and blacks use marijuana at roughly equal rates, but blacks are almost four times as likely to be arrested for possession. Rather than harassing African-Americans, shouldn't the law treat them ... equally?

Even setting aside all of these arguments for legalization, there is an additional argument for the legalization of pot, perhaps the strongest: people have a right to lead their lives as they see fit and in accordance with their own values, so long as in doing so, the rights of others are not violated. I can't see how the use of pot that I have described violates this principle.

So legalize it.

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