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Why I'm Pro Marijuana Legalization

by Aaron Hamburger Jan 10, 2014

It seems as though in order to comment on the current legalization-of-marijuana debate, writers must first recount their wacky “I tried it once in my youth” anecdote, so here’s mine.

In the summer of 1993, I was one of the few young people who really had traveled to Amsterdam to see the art. Up to that point, I had never sampled marijuana, had never even seen anyone smoke it, though a friend of mine had flashed me a glimpse of her stash in a plastic baggie. It looked like dust. I was terrified that at any moment we would be arrested for merely being in its presence.

I guess you could say I’d led a sheltered childhood.

After a long, exhilarating day of visiting Rembrandts and Van Goghs in museums, I came back to my youth hostel, where I was sharing a dorm room with 16 other kids, mostly American. A few of my bunkmates were going to the “coffeeshop” across the street. Did I want to come?

Just to be social, I said yes.

I’d been raised in the “Just Say No” ’80s by older parents who’d come of age in the pre-Elvis Presley 1950s. Part of me still believed that even one toke, snort, or taste of an illicit substance could make you an addict for life. And yet here I was, sitting in a quiet, cozy coffeeshop, in a group of young people puffing away at joints and carrying on a normal conversation. No one seemed irretrievably lost in some drug-addled daze. The room wasn’t spinning. The walls did not dissolve into lava lamps.

“Well, maybe I’ll have some space tea,” I said. What could be more harmless than a cup of tea?

Debating the issue of the dangers of marijuana is like debating the theory of evolution.

As I sipped my glass of hot tea, which had no effect on me at all, I got into a deep conversation with a very striking-looking man who asked me to join him for dinner. Flattered by his attention, I gladly accepted. I finished a last swig of tea, which included a few of the marijuana grounds that had settled to the bottom of glass, and followed him out onto the street.

The reflection of the streetlamps danced on the rippling water of the canals, while our footsteps echoed against the cobblestone streets. I was thrilled to be strolling beside a dark, handsome stranger telling me a long, melancholy story about his mother dying when he was young. On any other night, I would have fallen desperately in love with him. But on that night, for some reason, I suddenly felt inspired to dissolve into a fit of giggling. As the story progressed, it became even more serious and mournful, and yet it was all I could do to keep my lips pressed shut. Finally, the man said something that was just the teeniest bit cheerful. In response, I howled with laughter in a way that prompted him to say, “You know what, I’m not hungry after all.”

Such are the dangers of marijuana ingestion that have prompted criminalization proponents — who range from conservative David Brooks in the New York Times to liberal Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post — to decry the recent legalization of the drug in Colorado and Washington state. Oh, sure, they cite obscure studies claiming how addictive marijuana is, how it kills off brain cells and lowers IQ points. (Perhaps these studies were conducted by the select cadre of scientists who’ve also “proven” that climate change is an elaborate hoax.) And of course they bring up the old “let’s protect the children” canard — as if today’s teens are having trouble getting their hands on pot.

Both Brooks and Marcus feel they must admit to having used the drug when they were young, yet they warn others from copying their behavior. Their message reads something like this: “Superheroes like ourselves were able to handle this, but you mere mortals had better not try.”

Debating the issue of the dangers of marijuana is like debating the theory of evolution. One’s eagerness to even engage in such a ridiculous debate is in itself an intellectual disqualification.

Still, for the record, I suppose it’s worth noting the following. Currently, vast numbers of the American adult population use marijuana — several “even” on a regular basis. If marijuana, which is widely available right now, were really as dangerous as criminalization proponents claim, wouldn’t its widespread devastating effects have made themselves manifest? Wouldn’t our nation be falling apart?

In fact, our nation is suffering, not because people are using marijuana, but because they are forced to buy it illegally. This not only funnels money into the hands of drug cartels instead of local governments in the form of taxation, but also turns users into criminals, many of whom, often poor and/or members of minority groups, wind up in jail. In fact, in an odd non sequitur in her column, even Marcus admits that jailing pot smokers is “dumb and wasteful.”

After my “wild night” in Amsterdam, I tried pot a few more times, didn’t like it, and so I don’t use it. Yet, as a non-marijuana smoker, I couldn’t be more pro-legalization if I tried, and for the most selfish of reasons: not because I love ganja, but because I love justice.

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