Later this week, I’ll be posting a complete list of my endorsements for the California general election to be held in just 29 days. Though I don’t overestimate my influence, I’m often asked by students and others for my views on ballot issues, and I’m happy to share — outside of the classroom setting, of course!
But this post deals with just one initiative on the state ballot next month: Proposition 19, which would legalize marijuana and allow local agencies to tax and regulate it. After some careful consideration, I’m voting “yes.”
I haven’t smoked pot since sometime during the spring of 1990, when I was a first-year grad student at UCLA. I’d been a periodic marijuana user since my freshman year of high school, but my consumption level skyrocketed at Berkeley. While I knew that alcohol and other drugs were a source of trouble for me, I’d always felt that I could control my pot usage. But on one Tuesday evening in the UCLA co-ops, I smoked two joints that had been laced with PCP. I hadn’t been told the pot had been “enhanced”; I ended up having a nightmarish multi-hour battle with the worst paranoia I’d ever experienced. I ended up in the emergency room (not the first time, nor the last.) And though it would be another eight years before I got clean and sober “for good”, I never smoked pot again after that night more than twenty years ago.
But my experiences do not good public policy make. I’ve known countless people, including responsible colleagues and mentors, who have been casual pot users for years with no discernible ill effects. While I’m leery of some of the more extreme claims made by marijuana’s most zealous advocates, I’m even more leery of those who see it as a gateway to despair and addiction. At worst, marijuana’s impact is no more deleterious on either the individual or society than alcohol’s, and at best, it has genuine therapeutic potential. Thus it makes sense to me to legalize not only the consumption of marijuana, but its production and sale. And of course, once legalized, it can be taxed and regulated, resulting in greater revenue for state and local agencies, reduced law enforcement costs due to decriminalization, and greater oversight of quality.
When it comes to drugs, or animal agriculture, or pornography, or sex work, I tend to think that the focus should always be on gradually reducing demand while legalizing and regulating the production of the “supply.” I have huge problems with prostitution, but support the legalization of sex work so that those who work in that industry can organize for protection, better pay, and greater respect. I am a vegan who wants to see everyone stop eating meat — but until that blessed day arrives in the far-off future, I want to regulate farms to guarantee the most humane conditions possible. And I want to see pot legalized even as I hope that my daughter’s generation will use it (and other drugs) less frequently than those that came before it.
Let me clarify again: I am a clean and sober alcoholic who refuses to use the drugs which are permissible for him to buy (like vodka); I’m hardly going to start smoking pot merely as a result of a change in its legal status. Continue reading