Drifting toward a ‘yes’ vote on pot measure

By Jayson Jacoby August 03, 2012 09:23 am

So Oregonians, having dispatched years ago such trifling topics as whether we should pump our own gasoline or pay sales tax, will at last get down to the weighty matter of marijuana.

Literally, what with the munchies and all.

A little over a year ago I wrote in this space about my chronic ambivalence regarding the idea of legalizing (more or less) marijuana in the state.

Now, with the knowledge that a pro-pot initiative will be on the ballot Nov. 6, my position on the topic has started to solidify.

I’m not yet a definite “yes” vote in favor of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, which would allow people 21 and older to grow and sell (to adults only) marijuana.

But my endorsement is congealing, so to speak.

Last year, comfortably ensconced in the theoretical, with no pressure of a blank ballot arriving in the mail, I concluded that I probably would oppose such an initiative.

Now, though, the marijuana lobby has, in effect, forced my hand.

And after more, well, sober contemplation, the insistent voice of rationality has triumphed over my instinctive, but not wholly realistic, antipathy toward heretofore illicit intoxicants.

To express this in more selfish (albeit accurate) terms, I put to myself this question: If voters go along with this initiative, will there be a demonstrable effect, and in particular a negative effect, on my life?

Or, more bluntly, will I have to ward off famished tokers who are pilfering my wife’s patch of pole beans, and rummaging around in my cars to see if the toddler left a couple of cheddar Goldfish in his snack cup?

I could only answer “no.”

The heart of this issue, it seems to me, is public intoxication.

Alcohol is legal, cheap and capable of turning a perfectly ordinary person into a stumbling, drooling drunk in the span of a sitcom.

Yet I rarely see blatantly blitzed people shambling about.

Not while I’m strolling the streets.

Or dining out.

Or perusing the grocery aisles, curious about which foods they’ve managed now to inject into foil pouches capped with a plastic nipple (my toddler son gets a fair amount of his nutrition in this unsettling fashion).

It seems to me highly unlikely that softening our legal stance on marijuana will turn our public squares into Woodstock.

(Or the basement in “That ’70s Show”.)

Based on what I’ve read, people who like to smoke marijuana seem able to get the stuff pretty easily now, despite those pesky laws.

But even in places with a particularly permissive attitude toward pot — Portland, for instance — I doubt you run across hordes of bleary-eyed pedestrians (or bicyclists; it’s Portland after all).

I spent four years in Eugene, for heaven’s sake, a city that (at least until the Ducks got really good at football) was best known for hosting Grateful Dead concerts, and most of the smoke I recall inhaling while out in public came from burning grass seed fields.

(Possibly I was not invited to the right parties.)

You could argue, I suppose, that if Oregon voters give marijuana their stamp of approval, then pot-smokers would, in effect, emerge from their pungent lairs and come out into the sunlight.

Perhaps a relative handful would.

But I suspect that whether legal or not, marijuana smoking will remain what it is now: A private matter, largely conducted within the comfortable confines of the home.

(Which is also where the refrigerator stays, most generally.)

Marijuana proponents insist that legalization will confer other benefits on society, chief among them eliminating the profit motive of trafficking in a banned substance and thus ridding our public lands of the dangerous scourge of illegal pot plantations.

Although this is a plausible argument I’m not entirely convinced — there’s a lively trade in prescription drugs, after all, and those are, in a sense, legal.

Still and all, I’m inclined to endorse any statutory changes that discourage gun-toting criminals from roaming the woods.

In the end, I feel compelled to concede that the reputation that segregated marijuana from alcohol in our legal system has much more to do with pop culture than with chemistry.

Weed is — or at any rate it once was — associated with hippies and war protesters and people who thought Iron Butterfly was a good band.

Small wonder that middle class “squares” are afraid of the stuff.

(The ridiculous propaganda of “Reefer Madness” helped, too.)

In reality, the common claim proferred by marijuana fans — that pot and booze are close cousins as far as your brain is concerned — is pretty apt.

Although those frightening films I was required to watch in junior high implied that puffing on a single joint pretty much guaranteed I’d end up in a dingy apartment with a hypodermic needle dangling from the inside of my elbow, the case against pot as an inexorable “gateway” drug is a flimsy one, unlikely to persuade judge or jury.

Some junkies graduated from pot to heroin, sure.

Although many, I suspect, actually got started by sneaking a swig from their parents’ liquor cabinet.

For the vast majority of users, though, marijuana, like alcohol, is nothing more than that quaint — and to me, silly — euphemism: a recreational drug.

(I like beer, but drinking it is not a sport.)

If some of my fellow Oregonians choose to light up a joint instead of cracking the top on a Keystone Light pounder, well, it’s pretty much all the same to me.

 

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.