News and Tribune

November 10, 2012

DODD: A lot of huffing and puffing

Local columnist

“We shall, by and by, want a world of hemp more for our own consumption.” — President John Adams

This past Tuesday two states, Washington and Colorado, passed statutes that will have a wide-ranging and certain effect on every state in the country; they made it legal to smoke marijuana for recreational use.

It will be months before the statutes actually go into effect. It is almost certain that the federal government will legally fight the new laws. The issue of state’s rights versus federal law will make for some very interesting and entertaining courtroom battles the likes of which have not been witnessed seen in this country since the Civil War.

In Colorado, the new law would even allow for an individual to grow up to six plants in their home for personal use. Possession of less than an ounce would be legal.

Pandora’s Box has now officially been opened. The legal and practical applications will be enormous for the police, the courts and for the issues relating to jail and prison population.

This past week, I have read two articles that relate to upcoming proposed discussion of legislation for the decriminalization of the personal use of marijuana in Indiana. Conservative Republican Sen. Brent Steele has been an outspoken leader in initiating the discussion. His argument stems mostly from the harshness of simple possession laws, which can often result in felony charges and the added cost and burden to the legal system.

I have seen conservative estimates that as many as 14 million Americans are regular to casual pot smokers. One government study concluded that more than 83 million Americans over the age of 12 have tried marijuana at least once. It estimated that the number of kids who try it before the age of 18 is about 50 percent. You can see many different studies with results all over the charts.

Four of the last five presidents have admitted to varying use of marijuana with the most notable quasi admission being that of Bill Clinton who famously said he tried it but did not inhale. Although Ronald Reagan never admitted any use, in one unauthorized biography it was stated that he attended many Hollywood parties in his younger years where marijuana was present.

Some very prominent presidents personally used marijuana. George Washington smoked it to alleviate the pain from his ailing teeth. Thomas Jefferson grew it and routinely gave out special blends to personal friends as gifts. James Madison remarked that hemp gave him insight to create a new and democratic nation. In fact, there is historical evidence that 13 presidents used marijuana (commonly referred to as hemp).

Most studies I read found that the plant is rarely addictive in a physical sense and then only in the case of very prolonged and daily use. It is commonly agreed upon that the psychological addiction can be an issue for some users.

Many studies are deemed as unreliable because of the political issues which might have a tendency to show bias.

The legal issue with marijuana use has been around most of my lifetime. The earliest known laws relating to the use of cannabis in America occurred around 1860. At various times since then, the mood of the enforcement has varied quite cyclically. Regardless of the laws or enforcement, at any given time the use seems to have been relatively steady, at least on the bottom end. Marijuana is by far the most commonly used illegal drug in America.

Arguments for and against will center on such American values as civil liberties and personal freedom up to the harm to society by allowing any drug use.

Pre-employment drug screening now can result in about 1 in 15 applicants failing and marijuana is usually in the top two drugs for which positive tests occur.

It will be very interesting to watch the evolution of individual state’s political positioning now that the Washington and Colorado laws have been passed. My best guess is that under the current administration, there will not be active enforcement of the federal laws by agents, rather any battles will be between lawyers in a federal courthouse.   

I suspect the arguments for and against decriminalization will be as emotional as such topics as gay marriage. The fact that so many have intimate experience will make it much more personal.

Admitting that you had any personal use history in some states will be a plus and in others might be a death knell for a political career. My personal prediction is that many people will simply not be truthful when it comes to personal accounts. In other words, I suspect a lot of hypocrisy.

Whatever happens, I will find the discussion entertaining and very interesting. I would also predict some of the highest (no pun intended) ever ratings ever for C-Span.

— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at