GREAT BARRINGTON >> The legalization of marijuana is inevitable.
The most we can hope for is that people are educated about the potential downsides of the so-called weed. We can hope that pot smoking will not give rise to the kind of alcohol-fueled traffic fatalities we see now.
Of course, we all know that people have been known to smoke and drive and have been involved in accidents but once it is legalized, there will doubtless be more pot users who will drive "under the influence."
Some very distinguished psychiatrists and epidemiologists will tell you that marijuana is indeed a gateway drug that will lead some users to try other, more dangerous substances. One of the great advantages of legalization is that we will take the lucrative side of the business away from organized (or not so organized) crime. Not only that, when we take the pot industry away from the criminals and give it to the state to regulate we will, of course, tax the stuff.
Those who want to legalize pot seem to hold a vigorous majority. In Massachusetts, tens of thousands of signatures have been collected to put the question before the people.
Once all the risks are explained to them they will and should have the final say. Many politicians want to deny the people the right to make the decision. Unlike Massachusetts, New York will never have initiative and referendum, a mechanism that allows the people to make crucial decisions. The politicians who themselves are under intense scrutiny for legal and ethical wrongdoings will not let go of one iota of power if they can help it.
Every time the subject of legalization comes up, people raise the examples of tobacco smoking, alcohol consumption and prostitution, all of which offer us cautionary lessons.
Smoking is responsible for killing more people in this and other countries than virtually any other causative agent. There is so much data on the dangers of smoking that government and other authorities have done everything in their power to get people to quit.
So it seems counterintuitive to allow yet another form of smoking that will inevitably be proven to have negative side effects and consequences. People smoke pot for many of the same reasons they smoke cigarettes. It helps some people to bond and others to relax. Unfortunately, it also helps some folks to escape their realities.
Just as legalizing prostitution offers some people access to sex and others the opportunity to make money but has negative connotations for women, pot has a similar mixed bag of consequences and benefits.
Some people suspect that the legalization of marijuana will divert our attention away from the people who are the real exploiters — the 1 percenters who keep people economically marginalized. Put another way, there are politicians who would prefer that the citizens be high on pot if that will keep them from confronting some huge political and economic realities such as paying off impossibly difficult college loans and giving up on pensions that our parents and their parents depended on.
People also raise the idea of alcohol when they discuss making the legalization of marijuana politically acceptable.
Alcohol is a very bad drug that has enormous social consequences for our population. It has led to divorces, fiscal ruin, untold medical problems and has so many other downsides that it is almost impossible to list them all.
When debating the legalization of marijuana, advocates inevitably raise the subject of alcohol. Somehow they argue that two wrongs make a right. The basic premise is that since alcohol is worse (more addictive and more poisonous) we should not worry about marijuana.
Of course, we really don't know what the social ramifications of widespread use of pot will be but we do know that a lot of people manage to get and use it now and like it or not, it is here to stay.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.