The romance with weed is never-ending for California marijuana devotees. Now, they claim their beloved drug can save the state by solving its unrelenting budget nightmare.
State legislation is afoot to legalize and tax marijuana to backfill the state budget. But the reality of this plan would be far different from its vision. I won't go all “Reefer Madness” on you or claim that hemp T-shirts are a slippery slope to damnation. The problem with marijuana legalization is simpler and worse.
California cannot afford more stoned people, especially stoned young people. We need a lot fewer stoned people.
Prevention experts understand the problem with legalization: The greater the access to an intoxicant, the more abuse there will be of that intoxicant. Alcohol isn't the most dangerous drug in the world because it's worse than heroin or cocaine. It's the most dangerous drug because it's so easily accessible. You can get large quantities of it anywhere, and cheaply, too. Underage drinking is a big problem because kids can get alcohol so easily.
Legal marijuana would mean more access to marijuana. The number of marijuana users would spike, including teens. Problems related to marijuana use would spike. Marijuana lobbyists argue that if a dangerous drug such as alcohol is legal, then marijuana should be, too. I've never understood that. With all the problems we have with alcohol, why would we want to legalize another intoxicant?
Right now, there are 127 million alcohol users and 14 million marijuana users in this country – because one is legal and the other isn't. But, most alcohol users don't get intoxicated. About one-fifth of alcohol users binge drink or regularly drink heavily.
The serious problems from alcohol occur when people get intoxicated. With marijuana, you get intoxicated every time you use it. That's the whole point. Marijuana intoxication and alcohol intoxication may be different, but both are bad for society.
Marijuana intoxication means cognitive impairment, grandiosity, short-term memory loss, difficulty in carrying out complex mental processes and impaired judgment. It severely hurts your ability to perform at school and work. It saps initiative and drive. It increases confusion. In other words, it makes you stupid.
An increase in marijuana use among California's young people and work force would be very bad for the state. Right now, we're in a recession in which people without college degrees are losing jobs twice as fast as people with college degrees. Our future economy will be based on innovation, education and highly skilled labor.
But we're already not producing enough college graduates for our future workforce needs. With many more stoned teens and young people, the problems of an unskilled, uneducated and unmotivated work force will get worse. Stoned people can't learn or work very well. Marijuana is the loser drug: That's the big problem with it.
What about the idea that California can balance its budget by legalizing marijuana and taxing the heck out of it? You haven't been paying attention to special-interest politics if you believe that.
Moneyed special interests run policy in this state. Look what happened when California criminal justice policies made prison guards one of the most powerful lobbies in the state. The union quickly began dictating policy in its own interest.
The alcohol industry is so powerful in California that beer taxes haven't increased in nearly 20 years; the last time they were raised was by a minuscule amount and the industry almost killed that. A wealthy marijuana industry will soon co-opt policy-makers and dictate how much tax we charge, where we sell the product and who gets to buy it. Why would a marijuana industry be different from any other special interest?
Personally, I don't think the marijuana lobby believes its own arguments. When I talk to legalization proponents, it usually boils down to their angry demand that people should be left alone to get stoned if they want to. That libertarian sentiment shows a complete disregard for the public good. If legalizers can't understand that, elected policy-makers certainly should.
The disingenuousness of the marijuana lobby becomes clear on the subject of medical marijuana. For marijuana lobbyists to push both recreational marijuana and medicinal marijuana at the same time is duplicitous. It's nakedly obvious where their real desires lie.
Recreational drug use and medical drug use have nothing in common. If pharmaceutical lobbyists pushed recreational and medical use of the same drug, they'd get hauled before Congress and slammed by state attorneys. But the marijuana lobby sees nothing wrong with its tactics.
How about a little more candor from marijuana romantics? Like the panhandler standing on a street corner with a sign that says, “Why lie? I just want a beer.”
Jim Gogek was a former editorial writer for San Diego Union-Tribune.