New Jersey is taking the lead. Will we follow?
Last week I bellied up in my local dive and bumped into "Barry," a pothead and occasional dealer who lives in my neighborhood.
"Dude, can I just tell you what a moron I am?" he said, as he waved a few bucks in the air trying to get the barmaid's attention. "Really. Even when I try to do the right thing, it just gets all messed up."
"Oh Jesus. What happened this time?" I replied. You have to understand, Barry's a piece of work: the guy can't help but step on his own feet.
"Oy." He leaned back in the stool, and almost toppled over. "Well.... I was on what you might call a 'Mission of Mercy' yesterday. A good friend of mine up in Germantown has some terrifying form of cancer. It's horrible: he's lost a lot of weight from all the chemo, the radiation is literally killing him from the inside out, you know how that stuff affects people. So every once in awhile, he gives me a call to replenish his weed. Usually an ounce."
The barmaid finally walked over and dropped off a couple of beers.
"And ya know, I don't make any profit when I hook him up," Barry went on. "The guy's sick. It'd be wrong to make money off some dude that's in dire straits like that." Funny how a pot dealer can grasp that, but the CEOs at Cigna, Aetna, and the rest can't.
"So anyway, he gives me a call late last week. We've got it all worked out so no one says anything on the phone. Long story short, I ended up driving over to his place this Saturday. Now, I always put the weed in that little storage compartment where I keep the spare tire, just in case the cops pull me over. Which reminds me, you do know what to do in that situation, right?"
"Spare me," I said. "You sent me that video like a dozen times!"
"Yeah, my short-term memory's a joke at this point. The point is, I get to my guy's place, and guess what? There's a freakin' block party goin' on. Kids, moms and dads, moonbounce in the street, the whole shebang. And now I have to get this big ol' bag of weed out of the trunk and into his house without anyone seeing it."
I could already see where this was going.
"So I go to the back of the car, and I start rooting around by the spare tire like I'm looking for something. I must look sketchy as hell, but I find the bag and shove it down the front of my pants. And that's when my guy sees me. So I turn to walk over....
"And just as I pivot, I realize that not only has the little zip-lock thing come open, but the bag is upside down, and I'm getting a crotchful of kind buds. Seriously, I shake my leg, and nuggets fall out all over the street. So now I'm frozen in place, deer-in-the-headlights, dude's waiting for me, kids are nearby..."
I started laughing.
"Dude, it's not fuckin' funny!" Barry glared at me. "First of all, it's not like I'm gonna charge the guy for weed he's not getting, so I'm taking the hit. Second of all, if a cop showed up, what the hell am I gonna do with weed all up in my balls, and buds all over the street? It's not mine officer, it just um... um.... Riiiiiiight.
"Third, weed itches and the resin gets all sticky. The ride home? NOT COMFORTABLE."
I put my head in my hand. "Barry," I said, stifling more laughter, "I'm sorry, but you ARE a moron."
But it got me thinking.
Barry may be a bit of a clown, but he's doing a good thing. Although there's some vestigial controversy, there is no doubt in my mind (or the minds of thousands of others) that marijuana has real medical benefits. It helps allay the nausea that accompanies chemo-therapy, the wasting syndrome associated with AIDS, and other illnesses. It helps relieve pressure in the eyes of people affected with glaucoma, and helps soothe chronic pain. And these facts have been recognized by thirteen states , with New Jersey a strong candidate for number 14.
But here in Pennsylvania, my friend Barry the Pot-Dealing Samaritan is risking his freedom (PDF) to provide a sick person with the medicine he needs to fight cancer. Prison time. Fines. A criminal record that would follow him for his entire life.
Yesterday, the New Jersey Senate voted 22-16 to pass a bill legalizing the use of medical marijuana. Yes, after hearing testimony from sick people, 16 people managed to vote against the bill. Not surprising, of course. First, some background: A lot of people in California buy their weed legally (under state law) in medical dispensaries; [...]
Did you hear about the Houston woman arrested for allegedly smoking pot during jury selection for a marijuana case? How about the teenagers (also in Texas) alleged to have dug up a corpse so they could use the skull as a bong? Or the Kentucky man caught with two "large baggies" of marijuana after cops noticed him pumping gas into an imaginary vehicle? These are recent, true stories--but they're also the prevailing images of drug users in the news media. Most people don't use illegal drugs. In 2005 the National Center for Health Statistics reported only 8.1 percent of the population had used an illegal drug within the past month. And most people who don't use illegal drugs don't know illegal drug users. They aren't aware of the local lawyer who relaxes with marijuana on weekends, the student who occasionally uses amphetamines to study, or the chipper who uses heroin recreationally. Drugs are dangerous. Drugs ruin people's lives. Drugs can kill. But that doesn't mean they always do. The truth is, most people who use drugs--both legal and illegal--do so responsibly and without any noticeable detrimental effect. Drug policy analyst Mark Kleiman of UCLA wrote last year in The American Interest: "Most drug use is...
Search "salvia" on YouTube and you'll find a ton of videos of teenagers acting incredibly stupid. One ponytailed redhead says it feels like her mouth is going to fall off, as her friends laugh at her; a kid can't stop laughing while staring at his hands; another girl has a big smile as she says, "This is weird." The videos are purportedly of people using salvia divinorum, a psychoactive plant that's unscheduled in the United States--meaning it's currently legal without restriction in most states. Indigenous populations in Mexico have used salvia divinorum (Latin for "sage of the seers") for centuries in shamanic medicine. Salvia use has grown in popularity in recent years partly as word spread on Internet messageboards. Naturally, the law stepped in. Several states including Delaware have already placed salvia in Schedule I, the class supposedly restricted to drugs with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. A North Dakota man recently became the first person in the U.S. ever arrested for salvia possession. Media reports have jumped on the story with a nice dose of fearmongering. NBC's Bay Area-affiliate incorrectly described the drug as "potlike." An Associated Press story wondered if it was "the next marijuana." The drug isn't...
For those who want complete reform of American drug policy, this week's primary election doesn't offer much hope. President Nixon began the modern-day war on drugs in 1969; almost 40 years later all the presidential candidates--besides, of course, Ron Paul--enthusiastically support it. What if all the candidates for president in 2044 were to favor staying in Iraq indefinitely? Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have far superior drug policy plans than Republican nominee John McCain, who claimed to not even know that many federal raids on state-approved medical marijuana patients have taken place. Not to mention his wife Cindy is chair of one of the nation's largest Anheuser-Busch distributors, making McCain unlikely to support any marijuana decriminalization efforts just to prevent competition. Both Democratic candidates are preferable to McCain, but neither is the reformer this nation's drug policy needs. They both favor ending the mandatory minimum sentencing disparity, which until recently treated 100 grams of powder cocaine the same as one gram of crack. (Currently it's 20:1.) Both have vowed to stop the federal DEA raids McCain didn't know about. (But in a recent interview Clinton simply said she didn't think it was a "good use of law enforcement resources"...
In 1972 President Nixon appointed former Pennsylvania governor Raymond Philip Shafer, a Republican, to chair a commission studying marijuana usage. The commission came to a stunning conclusion: Mariju...
If you totally spaced on the Marijuana March down South Street on Saturday, you can still maintain your cred: Just tune into State Sen. Leach’s press conference today. He’s got a little surprise for Pennsylvania’s toking class.
Savage Love: Sondheim is solace