An open letter to the editorial board of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
A collective response, written and edited by John Howard and Laurel Johnson
While the purpose of an editorial piece is to editorialize, the arguments presented in the Sept. 11 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin piece "Don't make marijuana legal in state" lack substance, coherence, and logic. It's a disservice to your readers. Here is a rebuttal.
“Legalizing marijuana in Washington state is a bad idea. We urge voters to reject Initiative to the Legislature 502.”
If this editorial is any indication, “we” are ignorant and frightened, and “we” misunderstand marijuana, liberty, and grammar.
“We take this stand not because we see marijuana as significantly more insidious than alcohol. Nevertheless, we don't see a lot of positives coming from an increased use of marijuana.”
There aren’t “a lot of positives” stemming from the consumption of alcohol, tobacco, soda pop or cheeseburgers either, but they are still tolerated. That isn’t the real issue. The issue is inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Like almost anything, there are positive and negative effects of marijuana use. With regard to individual health and happiness, it should be up to each person to decide whether the good outweighs the bad.
“We favor marijuana for medical purposes and continue to believe it should be regulated like prescription medications.”
This is a positive step, but not enough.
“The reality is recreational pot smokers inhale simply to get high. That's not always the case with alcohol. People who have one or two drinks in social occasions aren't necessarily significantly impaired.”
This argument is logically inconsistent. It’s saying that because the potential exists to NOT abuse alcohol, it should remain legal. But since the potential DOES exist to abuse marijuana, it should remain illegal. A person who smokes a joint isn't necessarily significantly impaired either—inebriation is not a binary state with pot any more than with alcohol.
It is not society’s job to police the motives that lead people to put substances into their bodies. Wine tasting is legal, binge drinking is legal. Smoking one cigarette a month is just as legal as smoking two packs a day. Do we really want to start down this path?
“However, when stoned on marijuana, people are impaired. Steady use can make them unproductive and unmotivated.”
People are impaired by all kinds of things; even something as innocuous as a big meal. A good book, Facebook, television, video games—all these things can diminish a person's motivation and productivity.
We do not make laws to enhance personal productivity. The idea that your editorial board stands in judgement of how we chose to spend our time is, frankly, violating. What is worthwhile, and what it means to be productive, are to be decided by the individual.
“Now, we understand some people can smoke marijuana occasionally without slowing their productivity or messing up their lives. Yet, many become pot heads who literally allow their potential to go up in smoke.”
You’re out of touch with the reality of marijuana use. Many business owners, professionals, and respectable citizens smoke weed on a regular basis. They use marijuana to tap into their creativity, to improve the quality of their social interactions, to enhance their appreciation of the world around them, or to make menial work more pleasant. While moderation is key, and overconsumption has the potential to cause real harm, the greatest harm that comes from marijuana use is the social stigma and persecution that its users face.
“Passage of the initiative would not only make marijuana easier to obtain, it would make it even more socially acceptable.”
These are good arguments in favor of legalization “Easier,” means “less dangerous.” “More socially acceptable,” means “smoking a joint in your backyard without fear that the neighbors will call the police.” These things benefit not only people who chose to partake, but also those who would like to see law enforcement make better use of its resources.
“So do we, as a society, really want to make it any easier than it already is to get stoned?”
This isn't the issue. It should be, “Do we, as a state, want to save money, generate revenue, and stop persecuting decent people with bad law?”
“Sponsors of this proposal are touting this plan as a reasonable way to regulate marijuana, tax it and stop wasting law enforcement resources policing its use.
‘Marijuana prohibition has wasted billions of American taxpayers' dollars and has made our communities less safe,’ proponents wrote in the statement for the measure in the state's official voters guide. ‘Just as when we repealed alcohol Prohibition, we need to take the marijuana profits out of the hands of violent organized crime.’
The difference between alcohol prohibition is that alcohol had been legal. When people drank illegal booze it did not carry a social stigma.”
There was no marijuana prohibition in the U.S. until 1937, four years after alcohol prohibition ended. The social stigma came from misleading propaganda such as the 1936 exploitation film, “Reefer Madness.” The role of a free society is not to enforce personal opinion. It is to find ways to maintain individual freedom while mitigating potential harm to others. Marijuana prohibition fails.
“People still wanted alcohol and some of the booze produced illegally was dangerous causing health problems or death.
Today's illegal marijuana, while more powerful than pot 30 years ago, does not carry those health risks.”
So you're saying because it's NOT as dangerous as prohibition-era alcohol, it should be illegal?
People still want weed, and its prohibition fuels drug cartels and black markets, not to mention the expansive prison industry, which lobbies to keep it illegal.
The United States jails more people per capita than any other country. We comprise a mere 5 percent of the earth’s population, yet house 25 percent of the prisoners IN THE WORLD!
“Pot has long been illegal just like other drugs used for recreational purposes.”
...except alcohol, tobacco, and numerous other psychoactive substances.
“Making small amounts of marijuana legal in Washington state isn't going to dent violent criminal organizations selling meth, cocaine and other drugs across the globe.”
No, just the ones selling marijuana. Drug cartels strongly oppose legalization of pot. Additional revenue from taxes could bolster law enforcement’s efforts to curb more serious crime.
State law is not intended to solve global problems. The best-case scenario is that other governments look at the outcome of state laws and choose whether to implement them in their own jurisdictions.
“But it will turn Washington state into a more attractive place to live for those who are heavy into weed. That could carry with it many downsides.”
The quality of a person can no more be discerned from their use of pot than from their use of any other substance, be it alcohol or aspirin.
The upsides of this initiative include: reduction in crime, increased tax revenue, reduced prison and law enforcement cost, and more effective use of law enforcement. Most importantly, we would be a step closer to the liberty so loudly proclaimed and so readily infringed.
“The issue of marijuana decriminalization and its legal distribution has to be tackled at the national level.”
Why? Because the federal government is so effective? Washington State could chose to set an example for other states to follow. We could chose to stop wasting resources to prosecute people who, at worst, are harming themselves.
Alcohol prohibition was repealed because states resisted it. It catastrophically failed to deliver the anticipated benefits and caused myriad problems. The pressure of public opinion forced the federal government to repeal the ban. It all starts at home.
“Right now, marijuana is illegal under federal law. And since federal law supersedes state laws, legalization in Washington would not make it fully legal.”
That's true, but this already applies to medical marijuana, which you are in favor of.
The federal government wastes too many resources on this vain pursuit—states are not obligated to do the same. Change must start somewhere. Instead of toeing the line, Washington could be a bellwether for positive change.
“This initiative is going to create more problems than it solves.”
Even if this were true, doing what is right is more important than doing what is comfortable. Truly imagine how you would feel if someone chose to outlaw an aspect of your personal life because they disliked or feared it. If the liberty and equality we claim to value are truly important to us, then we must be willing to let others make their own choices as well.
Most of you are probably acquainted with several people who smoke pot without your knowledge. You probably like and respect them. You'd probably never dream that they use weed. They don't tell you because they are afraid of what would happen to them if you found out.
No problem has ever been solved by the sudden appearance of a perfect solution. As a free society, we do not need a bevy of research and evidence to make something legal. We need that to make something illegal. Maintaining the status quo is no justification for anything.
Initiative 502 is a step toward correcting a grave injustice. It gives our state more resources and less crime. Beyond that, it shows that we are willing to tackle tough problems and make hard choices to improve the lives of our citizens.