Just legalize it

Surely we know by now that the only real difference between taking a sip of Scotch whisky at the Polo Club and smoking a joint under cover of darkness is an outdated, hypocritical, embarrassing law that needs to be scrapped. That probably explains why the Nevada Conference of Police and Sheriffs — the state’s largest police organization — has decided to endorse a state ballot initiative that would allow grown-ups to legally possess small amounts of marijuana.

Yep, you heard right. Just last week the board of the 3,000-member group, which represents about 65 percent of the state’s street-patrol officers, voted unanimously to support a change in the state constitution that would decriminalize possession of up to 3 ounces of marijuana. Under the proposal, marijuana would be sold in state-licensed shops and taxed like cigarettes and other tobacco products. A distribution system would also be put in place to provide cheap reefer for medical uses.

Prior to this enlightened attitude adjustment, Nevada had the country’s harshest laws prosecuting marijuana possession.

In order for the proposal to become law, however, Nevada’s voters will need to approve the measure this November, then again in 2004. Unfortunately, federal law currently bans marijuana possession, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that states aren’t allowed to make exceptions, not even for medical use.

But that’s just for now. Every movement has to get a bit of a shove before it can gain any downhill momentum, and this is definitely a movement that deserves momentum.

Legalize it.

Meanwhile, here in Michigan, it seems a similar attempt to embrace reality could get back on track. Election Tuesday was supposed to have been the day when Detroit residents were to be given the chance to amend the City Charter to place possession of marijuana for medical use at the bottom of the municipal law enforcement priority list. Funding for prosecutions related to such possession would have been eliminated from the city budget — and considering the condition of the city’s budget, I’d say we could use the extra cash elsewhere.

As those of you who bothered to vote may have noticed, there was no such proposal.

“We did everything we were required by law to do to get this issue on the ballot, and [the city] basically said, ‘Fuck you, we’re not putting it on the ballot,’” says Tim Beck, founder of the Detroit Coalition for Compassionate Care, the group pushing the medical-marijuana issue.

According to Beck, Detroit City Clerk Jackie Currie notified the group Feb. 26 that the issue would not be placed on the ballot. After a month of trying to negotiate the matter with the city — which argued that the charter doesn’t allow budgeting by referendum — Beck’s group got fed up and filed a lawsuit. Wayne County Circuit Judge Timothy Kenny heard the case, then ruled against Beck’s group May 13. The case is currently under appeal on an expedited basis.

“We expect oral arguments to begin any day now,” says Beck.

So even in a hip, soulful city like Detroit, there are still those out there who would argue that legalizing even medicinal marijuana is immoral, bad for kids and a dangerous step down the slippery slope that leads to hell — or something ridiculous like that.

“City Council won’t touch this issue with a 10-foot pole,” says Beck.

Gee. Now there’s a shocker.

Yes, there are probably health risks associated with marijuana just as there are risks with tobacco and booze. So? Listen, I’m one of those who believes adults ought to be permitted a few pleasurable risks in life so long as those risks don’t bring serious harm to anyone else.

The first time I smoked a joint, nothing happened. I mean not a thing. I was about 13 years old and walking through the park late at night with a group of friends. I was the only one in the group who hadn’t been stoned before so, naturally, something had to be done to correct this situation. I was a little nervous, but my buddy Doug had assured me that getting high was just like taking a huge drag off a cigarette and then holding it in your lungs as long as possible while walking briskly down the street. Having already tried that one for kicks — with Doug, naturally — I figured I was ready for the big deal.

I was so ticked off and embarrassed when nothing happened that, after a number of determined, useless tokes, I started trying to act like I was stoned just to make my friends feel better. Didn’t want them thinking they’d wasted good reefer, you know?

Months later I tried again, several hours before I was supposed to sing in the choir for the school Christmas pageant. Let’s just say I made it to school but not to the pageant. I spent the evening hiding under the vice principal’s desk whacked out of my mind and scared to death that I wouldn’t come down before I had to go home to face the folks. I can still hear Mr. Riley, the choir director, striding up and down the hall asking loudly, “Has anyone seen Keith? Has anyone seen Keith?”

Yes, I admit it. I did inhale. Big deal. And I admit I’ve been high a number of times since then. The last time I touched the stuff, however, was about 20 years ago. I do realize that a Just-Say-No mentality is prevalent these days, and that I should tearfully confess that terrible experiences getting high led me to quit. The truth is that a lot of my times high were great, and I’m not sure why I decided to quit. Probably because, unlike some of my friends, I couldn’t write and play music when I was high, so it started to get in the way of my life.

I also couldn’t stand to hurt my mother. That’s the other truth.

I still take a drink now and then, and I used to smoke nearly a pack a day. However, I have yet to read anything in any reputable medical journal that says cigarettes and beer just may help cure glaucoma. The potential medicinal value of marijuana for such illnesses as glaucoma and other health matters has been recognized the New England Journal of Medicine and other respected medical journals.

It has also been recognized by one hell of lot of musicians as a pretty decent way to unwind.

Legalize it!

Keith A Owens is a Detroit-area freelance writer and musician. E-mail [email protected]
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