WALLY'S WORLD: Legalization won’t solve pot problem

By Wally DuChateau

Let’s talk about marijuana. It’s an interesting subject that never fails to spark an engrossing conversation in the bars around town.

Marijuana has a fascinating and colorful history in America. (Far more than I can explore with any detail in this column.) During the early 20th century, grass wasn’t a crime, but relatively few people used it. In the 1920s, it was generally popular only among jazz musicians, particularly black musicians including famous personalities like Louis Armstrong, and Greenwich Village artists and writers like Maxwell Bodenheim and E. E. Cummings. During the early 1930s, it spread into various big-city ghettos; for example, Chicago’s South Side, Harlem and the Jackson Street region in Seattle.

The “war” against marijuana wasn’t launched until Harry Anslinger came along. He was America’s first “drug czar” and directed the Federal Bureau of Narcotics for 31 years. Anslinger was perhaps the most important promotional and productive force behind that notoriously awful, unintentionally humorous, 1936 film, “Reefer Madness.” In 1937, he succeeded in having pot added to the list of illegal narcotics, like heroin.

However, because of – or in spite of – Anslinger, pot smoking continued to increase in underground circles throughout the 1940s and early 1950s. Nevertheless, by and large, the public wasn’t generally aware of weed until the late 1950s when the press started promoting the wild antics of beatniks like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who openly flaunted their daily use of grass. From there, the drug spread to college campuses and, in the late 1960s, exploded all across America as the drug of choice among hippies and the counter-culture of the “Now Generation.”

Today, its estimated that 40 to 50 percent of U.S. adults have smoked marijuana at least once.

Since the war on pot began, the average potency of pot has increased, it has become more readily available, the percentage of people using it has increased tremendously and it’s now one of the most profitable agricultural pursuits in America. (Indeed, grass is the most profitable crop in California.) Like Prohibition in the 1920s, the war against marijuiana has been an absolute, unequivocal bust that’s wasted billions upon billions of dollars and thrown a bunch of kids in jail for no good reason.

Today, pot smoking is no longer a felony in 14 states. In many more cities, including Seattle, the possession of weed has been reduced to a misdemeanor and even enforcing that statute is given the lowest priority. In our state, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Rep. Toby Nixon sponsored a bill that would have lowered adult possession to a civil infraction, subject to a fine. (The fine was meant to make the bill more attractive in these buget-strapped times.) The Legislature even introduced the idea of selling heavily-taxed marijuana in state liquor stores. Both these bills were shot down, but the fact that they were even submitted is significant and predictive of things to come. In Novermber, California voters will decide a statewide initiative that would legalize weed for fun and profit. If passed, this statute would run contrary to federal law, though I suspect our current president, who has freely admitted using pot in the past, wouldn’t file any objections.

I’m convinced legalization is long overdue. I don’t believe we have any other rational choice because prohibition is such an obvious failure.

Be that as it may, I don’t for an instant think legalization will solve our “pot problem.” Far from it. In fact, just the reverse. It will create a host of new problems.

More next week.

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