Pot paradox: A little more rock concert, but perhaps less fear
The campaign to legalize marijuana gets in the news regularly, yet none of the parties involved, pro or con, ever asks what seems to me to be the essential question:
Which is: Do we want America to be more like, or less like, an AC/DC concert?
Because if you want to sample a society that regulates pot the way America controls alcohol — which is to say, by less than draconian means — you don’t have to resort to hypotheticals or simulations.
Just buy a ticket the next time the Aussie hard-rock group plays Portland or Boise.
And that probably isn’t far in the future, since AC/DC has been on tour almost constantly since the Carter administration.
I saw the band on June 14, 1988, at Portland’s Memorial Coliseum.
The atmosphere, and in particular the marijuana miasma that pervaded the place, made anti-pot laws seem not so much quaint as silly.
It was a great concert.
Cinderella, one of the underappreciated bands from the late ’80s heyday of hair-metal, opened.
(You’ll forgive me for claiming that any hair-metal band was actually underappreciated; I am but a product of my era.)
Angus frolicked about the stage in his inimitable, I’ve-just-jammed-my-pinkie-into-a-light-socket fashion, somehow managing to avoid botching a single riff.
The THC-infused haze neither added to (I wasn’t inhaling, except for the second-hand variety) nor detracted from my enjoyment of the show.
Now I understand that a rock concert, deployed as a measuring stick for how an entire country is liable to act, has some serious limitations.
For one thing, performances by the likes of AC/DC attract a disproportionate percentage of young males — and in particular the subcategory of young males who have no regard for their eardrums and who revel in song lyrics which don’t merely condone, but actually celebrate, what you might call a malleable attitude toward intoxication and sexual practices.
This mass of barely bridled testosterone is hardly an appropriate cohort by which to extrapolate the actions of the whole of America.
Then too, a rock concert, in common with many other forms of public entertainment, is an artificial environment which entices us, as the theme song to “Cheers” puts it, to “forget about life for a while.”
Some of us also forget our manners.
Which is why fistfights aren’t exactly rare at concerts, or at football games.
In any case, it would be unfair to cite the sometimes antisocial antics that go on during an AC/DC show as evidence for the decline in Western civilization that surely would follow were the U.S. to decriminalize marijuana.
Which is not to say its evidentiary value is null.
An argument I’ve heard often from proponents of legalizing pot is that, well, we tolerate the use of alcohol even though drunken drivers kill hundreds of Americans every year.
Smoking some weed, the supporters say, is basically the same as drinking a few beers.
That’s a fairly apt comparison, physiologically speaking.
But speaking logically, it seems to me a clumsy case to argue that one of America’s more pressing problems is that too few of us are stumbling around, comfortable, yet not quite able to focus with our usual precision.
And with a severe craving for Fritos, besides.
Getting back to the example of the concert, do you feel deprived because you’re not seeing enough glassy-eyed people wearing “Highway to Hell” tour shirts during your daily routine?
The far more persuasive pro-pot presenters, for me, are those who contend that the consequences of keeping marijuana illegal harm more people, or place more people in harm’s way, than would be the case if we started selling the stuff alongside the whiskey and gin.
This argument sounds especially compelling to me when I read, as I have been this past week, about hunters discovering a pot plantation on public land in Wallowa County.
Police have destroyed several similar crops in Baker County over the past decade or so.
This is the part of the operation you don’t see while you’re standing in the dark on the floor of the Coliseum, waiting for the first chords of “Back in Black” to surge through the speakers.
It’s the dangerous part — the part where, conceivably, an innocent hiker gets shot when all he wanted was a better view of Eagle Cap.
If by legalizing marijuana we can rid the public forests of such a scourge, then I feel obligated, as a member of the public who likes to tramp around the woods, to consider the deal and its inevitable trade-offs in a, well, sober way.
To be sure, I don’t want to feel as though I’ve been to an AC/DC concert every time I go to buy cereal and milk.
But that’s hardly likely — even if we legalize pot it’ll still be against the law to smoke in the grocery store.
As for the point I made previously about adding to the roster of the publicly intoxicated, although alcohol is both legal and cheap, I can count on both my hands the episodes where I’ve had trouble with a drunk.
Maybe I’m just lucky.
Although I’ve attended quite a lot of concerts. And football games.
Were I ever given the chance to vote on the matter, I suspect my instinctive fear of “drugs” — one instilled by a society that for decades has inserted marijuana inside those quotation marks but left alcohol outside — would overwhelm my ambivalence and lead me to oppose legalization.
Whether America’s War on Drugs has been a failure is a matter of opinion, but one thing I know for certain: Those scared straight-style videos the public schools made me watch had a much more powerful influence on me than the years of peer pressure that permeated those same buildings.
But even accounting for this instinctive revulsion, I can’t be sure what I would do, were I to sit down with my ballot and my pen and ponder the blank circles next to the measure that would legalize marijuana.
What I might see in my mind’s eye is not the dazed gaze of the AC/DC fan standing beside me but rather myself, hiking along a road through a forest of pine, fir and tamarack, a three-month old cradled to my chest by a band of padded fabric, and a four-year clutching my right hand, and in my stomach the niggling fear, small but vital, that around the corner there might lurk men with loaded rifles, men with a cash crop to protect, men with no scruples.
I’m not keen on encouraging people to escape the troubles of their lives by tinkering the chemistry of their brains.
But I surely do like to take my kids for a walk in the woods without wondering, for even a moment, whether it might be our last.