GREAT BARRINGTON -- I've been thinking a lot about the idea of legalizing pot. First of all, let me state for the record that I have never smoked pot. Never. Laugh if you like, but I really don't have a horse in this race.
I really respect Dr. Jennifer Michaels, the brilliant medical director of the Brien Center in Pittsfield. She sees drug addicted patients all day long and she firmly believes marijuana is what she calls a "gateway" drug. In her opinion, people who smoke pot are more likely to get involved with other drugs than those who do not.
Of course, there are many people who have been smoking pot for years and haven't gone down the road of ruin and perdition. They just want it legalized. They figure that if alcohol, a far more insidious and harmful drug associated with things like liver disease, automobile crashes and family disruptions, is legal, why shouldn't pot be as well. I expect that people driving under the influence of marijuana could be held responsible in the same way that DUI drivers are sometimes held accountable. The chemical test for THC is well-enough developed so that people are being ticketed and the results are holding up in our courts.
We ended Prohibition for a reason. People were going to get alcohol one way or another and the same is true with pot. The legal prohibition of the sale and use of pot has created a black market for the importation and distribution of the stuff. People know where to get it and, in some cases, its sale has led to feuds between different providers who have big money to gain or lose. In fact, it's not uncommon for one gang to tip off the police about another gang's drug activities because they're unhappy about the competition. Because pot is illegal and therefore not controlled by any governmental agency, there's no consistency. The product can be adulterated or laced with really bad stuff.
As long as the underworld continues to control the sale and distribution of pot, the bad guys will reap the financial rewards. If government controls the enterprise, they can not only inspect it, they can tax the hell out of it. We tax cigarettes and alcohol, why not pot? And since we are always talking about economic development, legalizing pot will bring about a new industry and new jobs. Those employed in the pot business will have to pay taxes as opposed to those on the current payroll who do not. In fact, how long will it be before the pharmaceutical and tobacco companies get their paws into the mix and try to reap the financial rewards?
We have all heard about the benefits of medical marijuana. People suffering from any number of debilitating diseases have found that marijuana can relieve their suffering. Conditions ranging from anxiety to the side effects of chemotherapy have been made less painful by marijuana. Who would want to deny these folks relief? Not me.
Marijuana arrests have wasted the time and manpower of our courts. In some states, "three times and your-out" laws have meant that people accused of selling pot, and, in some cases, just possessing it, have had to spend the majority of their lives in prison. That's just ridiculous.
I am told that marijuana is one of the top agricultural cash crops in America. It seems to me that for all of the reasons above, it really is a big mistake not to allow the reform of our outdated and unwise laws. We could earmark some of the money that would be gained in taxes to provide therapy for those who find themselves addicted to smoking pot. People are waking up. We're going in the right direction as far as gay marriage and immigration reform go. Now the time has come to rethink our stance on marijuana.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.