Everybody must get stoned?

When the going gets tough, politicians turn to pot, and they’re bound to screw it up

Medical marijuana: serious medicine.

Medical marijuana: serious medicine.

Photo illustration By david jayne

Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I find mainstream newspapers, cash-strapped politicians and libertarian think tanks all on the same page, I tend to get suspicious. Almost nothing good can come from this axis of weasels. Such is the case with the recent calls for legalizing marijuana, which is being billed as some sort of great awakening but in fact is nothing more than another attempt to pick the people’s pocket.

Oh yeah, we’ve come a long way, baby. Back in the 1980s, Reagan administration drug czar Carlton Turner informed us that “Marijuana leads to homosexuality, the breakdown of the immune system, and therefore to AIDS.” No doubt Turner would have to revise the statement in the present environment, perhaps something along the lines of “Marijuana leads to homosexuality … and therefore to gay marriage. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

My point is, have any of these formerly square-headed yahoos actually considered the hard-core ramifications of out and out legalization of cannabis? According to surveys, some 100 million Americans say they’ve smoked weed. What happens when all of them spark up blunts at the same time? Do we even have the resources to support such an endeavor?

For example, imagine 100 million people having a simultaneous attack of the munchies. Treasury bonds and Wall Street equities would suddenly pale in comparison to the breakfast cereal aisle at the local supermarket. There’d no doubt be a run on Cap’n Crunch, and Quaker Oats would have to start up a third shift to meet the demand. It’d be great for the food industry, but the already out-of-control obesity epidemic is certain to snowball.

Visine stores would at first be stretched tighter than Joan Rivers’ face, before snapping back like an errantly hooked bungee cord. As is well-known, the national eyewash supply peaked in the 1970s, when widespread marijuana use first became prevalent. Visine sales would accelerate with the legalization of marijuana, then violently crash as everyone realizes that everyone else’s eyes are red, too.

We can also expect the wages of glass blowers to plummet as the market becomes glutted with handmade smoking paraphernalia.

Fortunately—and all kidding aside—cooler heads are prevailing for the moment, at least at the federal level. At first, I was disappointed when the U.S. Justice Department failed to intervene in the case of Charles Lynch, the Southern California medical-marijuana collective operator who was raided by the Drug Enforcement Administration in 2007, convicted in federal court last August and sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison last week. Now, I’m not so certain.

Even though President Barack Obama pledged to leave medical-marijuana regulation up to the states during the campaign, even though Attorney General Eric Holder insists that it is now federal policy, even though I think Lynch and anyone else busted by the feds while operating entirely within state guidelines should be freed immediately, I now believe the slow and steady approach is appropriate, especially in the case of carte blanche legalization.

Here’s why: Laugh if you must, but medical marijuana is no joke. It’s serious medicine that provides relief for countless maladies, from chronic pain to mental illness, for millions of people. Visit any medical-marijuana collective, and you’re going to find some very sick individuals. Many of these patients have been politically active in the cause for years, and collectively they’ve shaped a culture of caring and solidarity that’s the antithesis of mainstream medicine.

To my mind, it is this culture of caring and solidarity that is really at stake here. California’s medical-marijuana policy did not appear overnight; it’s the product of decades of grassroots activism. Now that the economy’s gone south, everybody wants a piece of the action? It’s true that local, state and federal governments can rake in billions taxing cannabis. But with so much at stake, we may want to think twice before succumbing to the disingenuous whims of the very same fickle, desperate bureaucrats who got us into this mess in the first place.