Hypocrisy and reefer madness

New law provokes stale arguments

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Cliff Vancura/Durango Herald

When I recently went to Wikipedia and typed in “I did not inhale,” the entry that popped up was “Bill Clinton” who, when asked during his 1992 presidential campaign whether he had ever smoked marijuana, is reported to have said, “Yes, but I didn’t inhale.”

Wily Willie’s prevarication, a towering monument to the prevailing hypocrisy, has been surpassed during the recent election campaign by our honorable Gov. John Hickenlooper, who urged the residents of Colorado to reject legalizing the “recreational” – meaning private, discretionary – use of marijuana. The governor was joined in this silliness by craven politicians and pliable editorial boards.

Some of the people who screamed loudest against Amendment 64 were self-styled defenders of individual liberties and state rights, including our very own Rep. J. Paul Brown. Yet on Nov. 6, the people of Colorado spoke loud and clear: The criminalization and prosecution of this harmless private behavior now contravenes our state Constitution. The vote for Amendment 64 racked up a majority of 55 percent statewide, and 62 percent in La Plata County. Yet has the prosecution and criminalization stopped?

Two quotes from the Nov. 30 New York Times suggest otherwise: “Prosecutors in more conservative precincts in Colorado have vowed to press ahead with existing marijuana cases and are still citing people for possession” and “In northern Colorado’s Weld County, the district attorney, Ken Buck ... said his office would continue pursuing marijuana prosecution cases, mostly as a way to press users into getting treatment.” Treatment for what exactly, Mr. Buck? The Times concluded that such illegal prosecution “depends less on the law than on location.” The tea party stalwart from Weld County seems intent on subverting the will of the people.

Our anti-marijuana laws have, from the very start, defied both science and common sense, let alone common decency.

On the one hand, we have been letting two of the most destructive, addictive chemical agents known to man, nicotine and ethanol, be legally produced, hawked, consumed – and profited from. We have allowed giant corporations to snare our young and vulnerable into life-long dependency and untold suffering. To add insult to injury, we have been collecting hefty taxes off the misery and havoc wreaked by tobacco and alcohol.

On the other hand, we have had the temerity to outlaw, criminalize and severely punish the use of this non-addictive, mildly euphoric, oft-benevolent weed – with no firm scientific evidence to back up our fantasies, except perhaps that hilarious propaganda movie, “Reefer Madness,” produced by the federal government in 1935. Indeed, our governor, who in a fit of rank hypocrisy, urged us to reject Amendment 64, had himself made a respectable living producing and dispensing one of those addictive poisons. Conflict of interest?

For the sake of truth in packaging, let me recount the life experience of the generation I happen to belong to. We earned our multiple degrees in the 1960s; we had 40-year professional careers; we loved our families, raised our children, worked our butts off. As your friends and neighbors, we are still productive contributors to our professions, society, community and – yes – church. And all the while, on the sly in our spare time, we have been indulging in the good weed, peacefully disrupting neither life nor work nor family. True, we turned our back on our parents’ addiction to the twin demons tobacco and alcohol. But our lives, taken together, are silent if eloquent testimony to the insanity – indeed utter imbecility and flaming hypocrisy – of “Reefer Madness” and the legal nightmare it has spawned.

The hypocrisy of lumping marijuana with dangerous addictive drugs persists at the very top. During his 2008 election campaign, President Obama owned up to having smoked the weed in his wild youth. Yet zealots like Ken Buck continue to threaten smokers, growers and medical providers – in states where the weed is legal – with criminal prosecution and wrecked lives. As one of Pete Seeger’s beloved old songs, “Where have All the Flowers Gone,” observed: “Oh will they ever learn?”

Tom Givón ranches near Ignacio. His next novel, Downfall of a Jesuit, will becoming out early next year. Reach him at tgivon@uoregon.edu.