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05.27.09

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The Last Big Closet

Come on out, ye potsmokers, and shine in the taxpaying sunlight

By Will Shonbrun

Pssst, here's a big secret: a lot of people in the North Bay smoke pot, have for many years. Most are responsible, active, generous with their time, community-oriented people. Some hold higher, more prominent positions in our little corner of the world; most are just ordinary folks.

Little by little, we in that camp—the editorial we—are able to come out about it. It's way past high time we put this hypocrisy behind us. We smoke pot. So what?

We (not the editorial we) live in the so-named wine country, and we heartily promote altering consciousness with alcohol. That's OK and pot's not? Please! Alcohol consumption kills scores of people every year, be it from overuse to lethal accidents to violence while under the influence. No one has ever overdosed on pot, nor does it release violent or aggressive behavior, as is too often the result of excessive drinking. The worst that can happen is you get a little stupid and forgetful, and it's certainly not recommended to smoke and drive. Furthermore, the violence that arises comes from those trying to steal it or cultivate it for selling on a large scale.

San Francisco assemblyman Tom Ammiano has introduced a bill to the legislature that would legalize marijuana and regulate and tax its sale much the same as we do alcohol and cigarettes. Common sense dictates we should have done this years ago, but finally a politician has had the courage to say what millions of us have wanted to for far too long. I can wholeheartedly support this bill if it has in it a proviso that individuals can grow their own pot in their own backyards for their own personal use. People who want to grow their own, not for sale, the same as those who make wine for themselves and friends, should not be prohibited from doing so.

I can hear the sound of hand-wringing from the arbiters of the nation's morality, and the fevered question, "But what about the children? What kind of a message would legalizing marijuana have on the kids?" Well, the same message we send out when we drink alcohol, be it wine or some other form of booze. Wisely, intelligently, we caution our children, once they are of age, to not overdo it—don't drink so that your faculties are impaired and you are no longer able to function, mentally or physically, in a responsible manner. Laws and punishments are in place to enforce responsible drinking. It's seriously hackneyed by now, but kids are far more influenced by what parents or adults do than what they say. Modeling responsible behavior starts with us putative adults, whether it's drinking, smoking or living ethical lives.

A recent article by Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters makes these important points: "[We] would save countless millions, perhaps billions, of dollars in law enforcement, court and prison costs each year while pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the state treasury. What's not to like?" Walters also quotes Aaron Smith, director for the Marijuana Policy Project California. "It is simply nonsensical that California's largest agricultural industry is completely unregulated and untaxed."

In addition, and very importantly, we must decriminalize marijuana retroactively and free from California's prisons and jails people who have been incarcerated for possession. Exceptions might be made for those in prison for violent offenses while trafficking, but such circumstances should be handled on a case-by-case basis. In this regard, legalizing marijuana would effectively put a major dent in the criminal drug cartel's thriving business outside and within our borders. Tons of marijuana are shipped into the United States from or through Mexico, and distributed throughout the country. Make the stuff legal, the price goes way down and you remove the criminal element—foreign and domestic.

Let's legalize the use of marijuana, a recreational and nonaddictive natural substance, regulate its production and sale as we do alcohol, and come out of this stupid, hypocritical closet.

Will Shonbrun is a former editor for the 'North Bay Progressive' newspaper and commentary writer for 'The Shonbrun Report.'

Open Mic is now a weekly feature in the Bohemian. We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 700 words considered for publication, write openmic@bohemian.com.

 

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