Hesitation on legalizing recreational pot use

Posted: April 30, 2014

Imagine: A Berkshire Hills back road on a scenic summer evening in 1974.

One of my best friends is at the wheel, Zep is on the eight-track, and the skunky musk of marijuana is in the air.

The guy in the back exhales and hands me a torpedo-size joint. "This stuff," he says languorously, "should be sold as a cure for cancer."

Forty years later, one might think such a marketing campaign is actually happening.

The Garden State is among 20 that have authorized the sale of medical marijuana for palliative purposes, which I heartily support.

Meanwhile, Colorado and Washington State have legalized recreational weed use, and momentum is building in Minnesota and at least 11 other states.

In New Jersey, not so much.

"You say it's going to come down the road. You know when it may come down the road? When I'm gone," Gov. Christie told a caller to the April 21 Ask the Governor show on New Jersey 101.5.

"I am not going to be the governor who is going to tell our children and our young adults that marijuana use is OK," he said. "Because it's not."

Chris Christie is right.

Despite my congenital liberalism, I am more in sync on this issue with conservative Christie than with retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who came out last weekend as pro-legalization.

My less-than-sanguine view of recreational marijuana's purportedly inexorable march into the mainstream is colored by my being in recovery from alcoholism and addiction, which almost ruined, and darn near ended, my life.

Sobriety has been as essential to me as breathing for seven years now. Without it, I can't live.

But one need not be in recovery, or believe that Reefer Madness is a documentary, to have misgivings about the prospect of an ever-weedier future.

Marijuana has long enjoyed a wink-wink acceptance in popular culture and beyond. The drug's reputation as a relatively low-risk indulgence has been burnished to a glow by legions who have used it with few evident consequences.

Unlike the drink on the bar or the latest mood-enhancers in the medicine cabinet, weed, we're told, is so user-friendly, it's actually good for you!

But consumer enthusiasm doesn't render marijuana benevolent. Psychological dependence is a worrisome reality, not a fantasy cooked up by pot party-poopers, and puffing regularly on smoldering vegetation isn't healthy.

It's strange to find myself sympathizing a bit with some well-intentioned people with misgivings about other recent "times have changed" developments, such as same-sex marriage.

Now, that's a right I might like to exercise myself some day. (Hope springs eternal.) So I'm disinclined to buy slippery-slope arguments that gay nuptials will encourage people to marry their pets any more than I believe people who smoke weed automatically graduate to heroin.

I do wonder, however, about our collective quality of life if this giddy rush to free the weed - and turn it into a commercial product - succeeds.

I regard the overheated predictions of pot partisans (less stress, more happiness!) with the same skepticism I bring to bear upon claims by big pharma about the latest mood-enhancing, pain-removing prescription panacea.

People are hardly suffering from a lack of opportunities to feel better. But we are suffering from a drug abuse epidemic. And legalizing recreational marijuana won't help.


kriordan@phillynews.com

856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

www.inquirer.com/blinq

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