Marijuana laws need to go up in smoke

I’ve been saying it for a while, but nobody wants to listen to me.

Now, lawmakers in Denver, Colo., are starting to perceive marijuana the same way I have for years: a sound alternative to alcohol. Before critics come screaming from the rooftops, I’m not claiming that marijuana is good for you, just that it is socially harmless.

The debate about whether to legalize pot has been going on for decades. Actor Robert Mitchum was arrested in 1948 and thrown in jail for a few months for marijuana possession.

Since our parents’ generation got stoned on the fields of Woodstock, people have been pining over the decriminalization of marijuana. While Denver is among the first municipalities to legalize pot smoking, it is not the first to establish possible advantages of marijuana use.

In 1999 and 2001, Illinois and Hawaii, respectively, passed resolutions that allow researchers to study the industrial and economic advantages related to marijuana and the plants it comes from. Since 1965, more than 11 million Americans have been arrested for possession of pot. The Moscone Act of 1976 took the offense of possessing a small amount of marijuana out of the court system and many states are continuing to put minor possession on the bottom of their law enforcement’s “to do” list.

According to the Human Rights 95 project, aimed at minimizing sentences for individuals arrested for minor drug charges – with marijuana charges as one of its tops priorities – it costs taxpayers an average of $38.01 per day to house inmates at a minimum-security jail, as of the 1994 fiscal year.

Minimum-security jails and prisons are where the authorities stash petty criminals, such as a woman arrested for possession of one-eighth of an ounce of pot. Let’s see: $38.01 per day times a 100-day sentence equals $3,801 per average sentence that taxpayers forfeit to keep the pothead at bay.

Just think of the schools or soldiers who could benefit from an increased budget with the money the state saves from letting Jane Doe smoke her pot in peace. Instead of putting Miss Doe away on my tax dollar, why don’t we reserve that jail cell for the rapist, the murderer or the thief? Also, studies have proven marijuana may have some medicinal benefits apart from reducing pain. According to BioMed Central Medicine, THC, a class of active constituents in cannabis, has been proven in laboratory mice to prevent cancer-causing viruses, such as gamma herpes, from spreading through white blood cells. Prior research has also shown THC to exclusively target and stop the production of other types of cancerous cells, including prostate cancer and breast cancer.

I have a dear family friend in her early 60s who spent her law career working for legal equality. She was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a painful disease characterized by intense muscle and skeletal pain. She described to me marijuana’s effect on her physical and emotional health in battling this ailment, but wished to remain anonymous.

“I used marijuana through the ’60s, ’70s and until mid-80s basically as a recreational drug (usually) and occasionally at parties with friends,” she said. “When I contracted fibromyalgia and other auto-immune system conditions, with no exceptions, every rheumatologist that I saw (including the head of rheumatology at the Mayo Clinic) would, at some point in the consultation, get up, close the door and say ‘I don’t know if you have ever used marijuana.’ I would indicate that I had, and they would say, ‘It would clearly soften the pain. I can’t tell you that officially, but I tell you that unofficially.’ I smoke daily, and it does soften the pain. And I have smoked daily since I was 43 years old (I am 63 now), and it hasn’t led me to any other drugs.”

The Food and Drug Administration simply needs to establish strict standards around the manufacturing and usage of marijuana. A pot smoker should be 21 years old to legally purchase and consume the substance, akin to the legal drinking age. And just like you cannot roam the streets of Ybor with an open container of alcohol, the pot smoker would have to smoke in designated bars or in the privacy of one’s own home.

Just as one cannot produce bootleg alcohol for distribution – one must hold a license – the marijuana vendor would have to be held to the FDA’s standards. Denver is already establishing these criteria in their landmark decision, and it’s time the rest of the state – nay, country – followed suit.

I spoke to a student about this matter, who also wished to remain anonymous. He’s 18, and under my proposed hypothetical conditions, he wouldn’t be able to legally smoke pot for another three years. He seemed eager to see how the Denver decision influenced the rest of the nation. However, he added that just because the government sets age regulations on substances doesn’t mean underage people will not consume them.

“I would definitely be all for (decriminalization), but just like with alcohol and tobacco, you will still have underage people using the drug. They’ll just find older friends to buy it for them, like with cigarettes and beer.”

As I indicated previously, I think pot is socially safer than alcohol. It may seem absurd, but consider this:

Ever heard of a man getting stoned and going home to beat his wife and kids? What about a stoner picking a bar fight?

I think the only real danger of legalizing marijuana is the poor potatoes that are doomed to become Frito-Lays and devoured by potheads.

Taylor Williams is a junior majoring in English education.