Editor’s note: This commentary is by Ron Jacobs, a writer and library worker who lives in Winooski. His most recent book is “Daydream Sunset: The Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies.”I remember signing my very first petition to legalize marijuana back in 1974 or 1975. I had already been an occasional smoker for three years and seen a couple friends get into some serious trouble after being arrested for relatively small amounts of cannabis — less than a half ounce.
Most marijuana came from Mexico and Colombia at the time. I was living in Maryland, where possession was still a crime punishable by prison. Oregon had become the first state to decriminalize marijuana in 1973. By 1981, a total of 10 other states had joined it. Then Ronald Reagan became president and the clock started going backwards. Of course, the fight to decriminalize had never been easy, especially up until 1976, when Richard Nixon,and then Gerald Ford, occupied the White House. Nixon, after all, had instituted the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which made arresting people for marijuana possession and sales its top priority, throwing thousands of folks in jail for this offense. Although Jimmy Carter’s kids smoked weed, it was under his administration that the DEA worked with Mexican authorities and sprayed marijuana fields in that country with the herbicide paraquat in a vain attempt to end marijuana smuggling.
Ronald Reagan’s administration, peopled with right wing figures vehemently opposed to the counterculture, civil rights and social welfare, stepped up the war on marijuana. I was living in California by this time and saw the effects of this new emphasis daily. Indeed, I was arrested for possession at least three times. At the same time, however, there were dedicated smokers who were enhancing their horticultural skills and beginning to produce some very high quality marijuana in the United States. As most people even tangentially involved in the marijuana culture these days know, virtually all marijuana smoked or otherwise consumed in the United States today is grown within its borders. That amount is not small, either. Estimated weight of the annual U.S. marijuana crop is now around 22 million pounds.
After all, if it weren’t for the current illegality of marijuana, many police forces would be considerably smaller than they are, since it is the war on drugs that sends the funds to enlarge their departments to them in the first place.
I cite the above facts and history because I believe marijuana should be legalized once and for all. Those who cite medical reasons have a point, albeit a minor one that exists anyhow since any problems stemming from marijuana use exist no matter whether it is legal or not. As for those law enforcement officials who oppose legalization, I find their concern suspect. After all, if it weren’t for the current illegality of marijuana, many police forces would be considerably smaller than they are, since it is the war on drugs that sends the funds to enlarge their departments to them in the first place. In other words, I think much of law enforcement opposes legalization because they fear the loss of a guaranteed revenue stream.
Some concerns also exist among those who work with young people (under 21). I am the parent of two young adults. At least one of them has smoked marijuana on occasion. Both have friends who smoke regularly. Fortunately, none of them have encountered any problems with their use of the drug. In fact, there have been more problems among their friends with alcohol. In addition, most of my working life has been spent working with children and young adults, some who have had various issues with drugs and alcohol. However, even when a problem has occurred with a marijuana or alcohol user of any age, it is usually a medical issue. Having to deal with unnecessary legal problems on top of any medical issues just seems to be pointless and retributive.
The current bill being discussed in the Vermont Legislature concerning marijuana legalization has its faults. However, its passage would create a better situation than the current status. Many legalization advocates oppose the fact that home cultivation is either not allowed or not addressed. I also disagree with the criminal penalties for adults in possession of amounts greater than the bill allows. Still, even though these concerns are legitimate, I still support the bill currently under discussion. Why? Because it is important that people do not face legal repercussions for possessing or buying marijuana any longer. Assuming it is passed, we can work on fine-tuning it in the future.