RICHMOND

They're lining up in Colorado as if they were getting tickets for a Taylor Swift concert, but their goal is to buy a quarter of an ounce of marijuana -- or a couple of brownies or a cannabis liquid that can be steamed out of a vaporizer in place of the traditional Vicks.

What is the world coming to? New York Times columnist David Brooks, bespectacled and conservative and intellectual, thinks we're going to hell in a hand basket as my father might say. Brooks figures the nation's moral compass will never register true north again if marijuana is widely legalized.

But what is the world really coming to? Perhaps, on this front, a sizable chunk of the nation is coming to its senses. Yes, some teen-aged pot smokers end up in the hand basket, whatever that is, just as some teen-agers become thieves, sexual predators, alcoholics and bad parents. But legalizing marijuana shouldn't benefit teen-agers -- it's like alcohol, limited to adults who supposedly can think.

Even then, most (and Brooks actually includes himself in this group) are not harmed in the long run by their early experimentation with pot, a drug that apparently has been in use for some 5,000 years. The most unfortunate are the kids who lose eligibility for financial aid for college if they're convicted on a drug charge and the ones who are sent to jail where they are unlikely to meet very many people with an intact moral compass.


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We've spent enough money, created enough grief and ruined enough lives with the pretense that the war on drugs -- one of the longest conflicts in history -- is getting anywhere. And the costs are astronomical in both dollars and human suffering.

The Drug Policy Alliance reports that the U.S. annually spends more than $51 trillion dollars on this war. One assumes that's the whole war, not just the cannabis fight. In any case, it is far too much. Knock pot off that budget, and the Republicans might smile for a moment, as national expenditures take a nice drop.

The human suffering includes 749,825 people arrested for a marijuana law violation in 2012. The total number arrested that year on non-violent drug charges was 1.55 million. Taking them to court and then incarcerating them for a period of time just adds another pile of money to the drug-related expense. We basically cannot afford to spend millions of dollars on a fight about a plant when we are apparently totally unable to eradicate said plant.

It's really no surprise that the state of Washington voted to legalize marijuana. Oregon and Washington are right up there with Massachusetts as progressive states, and legalizing marijuana is, in many minds, a progressive move. Medical use of marijuana has been accepted here, and possession is now a civil rather than a criminal offense, carrying a fine but not jail time. Colorado, however, was a surprise until you remember that it dumped its red state status in 2008 and the median age there is 34.3 years. It's a young place.

All in all, it was nice to watch a shop owner on CNN as he explained his new business selling marijuana and byproducts. Here was a guy carding every customer, making a good living on the right side of the law and expecting to pay a lot of income taxes.

Legalizing marijuana has its problems, but are the new problems minor compared to the old ones? We still don't want teens smoking pot -- or drinking. We still don't want adults driving while stoned -- or drunk. We have laws for those things.

Beyond that, perhaps the racist component will even out with legalization. At this time, with drug use about equal between blacks and whites, blacks are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana use than whites -- another form of how we profile.

Ruth Bass is a former Sunday editor of The Eagle. Her web site is www.ruthbass.com.