Don’t Bogart the facts

by Paul Mero

Most Utahns do not know what it is like to smoke pot or use cannabis in any of its commercial forms. I do. I smoked lots of pot when I was a teenager – lots of it. I bought it. I sold it. It’s no secret among people who really know me and I do not mind talking about it. I do not care who knows about it. My kids know. Any close co-worker knows. I unhesitatingly reported it on my application to get a Top Secret security clearance when I worked in Congress.

Whenever I write or speak about any aspect of public policy dealing with marijuana, I inevitably receive all sorts of feedback from people correcting me about this or that. Everyone has an opinion and that is cool. Most criticisms of my pot commentaries complain about my use of generalities. Pot supporters, it turns out, are obsessed by pot minutia – everything from vernacular to science to medicine to the law. And, you know, I am not really surprised by these high-minded attempts to intellectualize a narcotic. Have you ever actually listened to two potheads discuss world affairs? They think they make sense.

The worst bunch of critics, though, is always the overly serious, overly dramatic pedestrians in this debate – the ones who claim righteous objectivity because they are pot virgins. Some claim to only have the best interests of suffering people at heart. Some claim smoking pot is an emblem of freedom. And some just like to argue. Utah’s pot initiative has brought all of them out of their shells. They actually think that pot is logical and they try to make all of these logical arguments like we are talking about refined science, noble philosophies or the basis of all human understanding. We are not. We are talking about a mind and mood altering substance. That’s it.

Pot is pot. You want to feel better? Smoke it, ingest it, rub its oils all over you. You will most likely feel better for a moment. But I suppose the same is true if you eat a good meal, meditate, exercise, chug a bottle of whiskey or take any number of pain-killing or mood-altering drugs. Human beings are experts on how to momentarily feel better.

Supporters of the pot initiative somehow fail to hear me when I say I support its legal use in cases of terminally ill people and people suffering from debilitating illnesses as well as very specific applications like stopping childhood seizures. You have my support in those very humane cases. But you lose me on the issues of “chronic pain” and recreational use.

No sane person supports the idea of the recreational use of opioids. And, even with as much alcohol Americans consume, few people, alcohol retailers included, cheer on its recreational use. “Drink responsibly.” So why cheer on the recreational use of pot? Makes no sense to cheer for altered states of mind, especially in the name of freedom. You’re not a free human being when you’re high. Period.

So supporters of the pot initiative focus on “chronic pain.” Evidently, too many people to count suffer from chronic pain and need the pain relief pot provides. I have an excruciatingly painful bulging disk between L4 and L5 on my spine. It affects everything physically that I do, including just sitting. After I mow our lawn, I am nearly in traction. If only I had a joint to smoke or a gummy bear to eat I might be able to finish my yard work pain-free. But that is not how it works. Pot simply eases some pain. It does not make my bulging disk go away.

Do you see how simplistic the “pot solution” is? It is pain management – physical, psychological, emotional – and little more. And that is its exact appeal to supporters of the ballot initiative. Their argument is shockingly simplistic: Utahns have access to all sorts of pain relievers…why not one more?

But why one more? Why not one less? Pot culture is real, like unto booze culture. How juvenile is it to argue that we should feel free to endorse pot culture just because we already endorse a harmful booze culture?

Around 55 million Americans have tried pot. Yes, that is a lot of people. But very few people permitted to use it legally in thirty states do so for chronic pain and other illnesses. The total population in legal medical marijuana states is over 200 million. Legal card-carrying medical marijuana patients in those states are almost exactly one percent of that total population.

One percent. That is the audience the Utah pot initiative is addressing. Given the prospect of future legalization, if this initiative is passed, this sweeping, poorly defined proposed law will only burn down the house down to fry a piece of bacon. What a stupid idea.

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