Debate Forum Commentary 01 – 12/01/10

Maybe what’s legal shouldn’t be … like thinking ‘Phish is awesome’

By Benjamin Tompkins

Benjamin Tomkins

I challenge any of you to say “Oh my God, did you know that person smokes fake weed?” without sounding like an 8-year-old describing one of his friends who discovered the shredded beef jerky that comes in a dip can.  That friend was me by the way, and for about two hours after this jerky epiphany, we stood in front of the entrance to the grocery store waiting for adults to walk by so we could take a friggin’ huge wad of that crap and shove it into our mouths as they passed in a pathetic attempt to freak out middle-aged small town Ohio. Guess what?  They looked annoyed, but nobody actually cared because it’s a stupid can of over-processed beef jerky with no nicotine in it and we were stupid kids.  I’m sure you see where I’m going with this.

Listen, I’ll make your job easy.  Let’s skip all the talk about cannabinoids and chemicals in synthetic marijuana, and cut right to the part where you convince me I should care if people smoke actual weed.  It’s far less destructive than alcohol, far less addictive than nicotine, and compared to the lot of other stuff one can do legally, it’s far less dangerous.

For instance, it’s legal for me to grind an old tire into pebble-sized chunks and smoke it.  It’s really stupid, but unfortunately the Constitution doesn’t regulate stupidity. I can also get a boxing license and allow someone to punch me in the head for 10 rounds. I can even run a marathon for God’s sake, which is nothing more than a commemoration of the fact that the first person to ever run 26.2 miles without stopping died.

I mean, people act like the second you legalize pot, millions of curious 40-year-olds are suddenly going to crawl out of the fabric of our society and start smoking. I hate to break it to you, but 1) anyone who wants to smoke weed already smokes weed, regardless of the law, and 2) far more people smoke weed than you probably realize.  Tons of people smoke weed every day and civilization somehow carries on. Besides, who’s going to know as long as you don’t do the same things you aren’t supposed to do with alcohol, like drive, get in fights and give it to kids?

I know this because I live in Colorado where everyone gets high, and the worst side effect I can see is having to listen to my stoner friends convince me that Phish is a good band.  Sorry Ian, Phish sucks.

Ian:  Shut up dude, Phish is awesome.

Me:  No dude, they suck. People only go to Phish concerts to get stoned, and at that point it doesn’t matter if they suck. You’re stoned.

Ian:  Whatever, Phish is like, the greatest band ever, man. They’re so talented, and they’re amazing live.

Me:  Yeah, because you’re stoned. And I’ll prove it to you. Name one Phish song.

Ian:  That’s easy. There’s … um … wait …

Me: Uh huh.

Ian:  No wait, there’s that one really famous song. It goes like, nuh nuh nuh, nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh. It’s on the radio all the time. You know the one I’m talking about.

Me:  No dude, I don’t. Because I don’t listen to Phish.  Because they suck.

Ian:  Shut up dude, Phish is awesome.

Yeah, pretty much. But more importantly, I think that little vignette gets to the heart of the matter. See, when Ian plays Phish when I’m in the car, he hurts me as well as himself. When Ian smokes weed at home, he only hurts himself.

Now generally our country only regulates behavior that causes tangible harm to others. Harm is the Constitution’s measuring stick, if you will. So of course, if Ian gets stoned and crashes his car, we would do the same thing we’d do to him if he were drunk: punish him. But then why is it legal for an alcoholic to drink himself to death in a bathtub, but smoking weed and watching the ceiling fan for four hours is grounds for an arrest?

Incidentally it’s practically impossible to overdose on THC, but as far as I can tell, the situations are analogous except that one is arbitrarily legal and the other arbitrarily isn’t. So what we are really saying when we look objectively at THC consumption, is that the reason it’s illegal is because there’s a law against it. That’s tautological criminality.

Should our arguments for criminalizing behavior end at “because we said so”? That’s a terrible basis for law, particularly when the solution to crime in this country is to spend tax dollars to lock people up. Frankly, at this particular point in history, a single tax dollar is a little more precious than it’s been in past decades.  Let’s spend them wisely.

Benjamin Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, CO.  He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue.

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