New York State just legalized possession and regulated sale of cannabis, joining at least 14 others where it’s completely legal. Most US states have at very least decriminalized marijuana; others have legalized medical marijuana. The Drug Enforcement Agency of the Federal government continues to consider it a “Schedule 1” substance, ranked with heroin as among the most dangerous.
The details have yet to be worked out, but I am not optimistic. Someone once posted “A Sentence for each State in the Union”. The sentence was supposed to encapsulate the character of the state it was about. My personal favorite was Wisconsin’s: “Too cold to be sober.” New York, true to form, took up two sentences in the form of one long compound: “If you have anything, we’ll tax the living shit out of it and if you enjoy anything, we’ll regulate it to the point where you don’t enjoy it anymore.”
Like all stereotypes, this one contains an element of truth. The taxation part is well-established. As for the regulation, that, sadly, is also true. Many towns, including my own, sponsor summer events in which they block off the main street one night every two weeks and have a series of stages on which local bands play. There are vendors and the bars and restaurants sell food and drink. It’s like a street fair. The first couple of years, it was great: you got a beer and walked around to the different stages and when you needed another beer, you just got one from the nearest place. Then New York State reared its ugly head. It seems there’s a law that you can’t take alcohol for immediate consumption “off premises,” so the smaller beer-sellers had to stop selling streetside and the larger ones set up massive pens, into which you went (after getting past a bouncer) and where you drank and stayed. If you wanted to check out another band, you had to exit and go to another such enclosure. Nothing beats the irony of seeing a crowd of middle-aged folks in a cattle pen singing along with a cover of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”
So I’m sure whatever free and easy get-high vibe might exist in Washington or Colorado will not exist here. There has already been pushback from local governments, who don’t want cannabis dispensaries in their perfect “family” suburban neighborhoods and accordingly exploit the fears of the citizenry. So when there is legal recreational weed, it will probably be sold in “smoke shops” alongside tobacco and vaping products, and probably located in an industrial area, next to a place offering “adult” videos and literature.
Of course, cannabis has been a mainstream recreational substance for the past 50 years or so. And like more legal substances, such as tobacco and alcohol, there’s a great deal of hypocrisy surrounding it. The vast majority try (and even habitually use) one or more of these things in their youth and then pretend it would be the greatest of misfortunes if their own children were to do the exact things they did and enjoyed.
As we know, protecting children is one of the main rallying cries for prohibitionists of various stripes. Use of a forbidden substance hurts/corrupt kids or renders parents and other adults unfit. And of course, conscientious adults don’t want kids exposed to the sight–or smell–of any such deviance.
Some beaches in the US ban smoking and the traditional reason given is “litter”, butts ditched in the sand. By that logic, anything disposable should also be banned. This month, Seaside Heights, New Jersey, became the latest resort to ban smoking on its beach and boardwalk. But this time it was a bit different: concerned parents didn’t want their kids smelling MARIJUANA smoke and so smoking of anything is now forbidden.
Oceanside High School in Long Island, New York, has recently instituted a “peer education” program to warn students that alcohol and marijuana will interfere with their brain development. This is a common scare tactic here and one of the supposed rationales of the drinking age of 21 (the highest in the non-Muslim world). Two things are generally omitted. One is that the parents and grandparents of today’s high schoolers were drinking and getting high at their age and it was much more open then. The other is that we all seem to have escaped any damage to our brain development as the result of our youthful indiscretions.
I expect we’ll see more of this as legalization sinks in. There is talk now of a smoking ban in public parks. A study has been done on secondhand pot smoke, employing the same questionable methods as for tobacco. Laboratory rats were exposed to concentrations of smoke greater than any human being would normally experience and guess what? They found it harmful! But with the spread of legalization, and one impetus for it, an anticipated government revenue windfall, hardly anything has been said about it. My guess would be that, in contrast with tobacco, there are no well-funded pressure groups (yet) to press the point.