Why legalize marijuana in a time when tobacco is being criminalized? That is the question on my mind? Not sure if anyone else is thinking about it, but it bumping around in the recesses of my brain. From time to time it surfaces. Usually at parties when people find out that I am a lawyer. I am not against the decriminalization and eventual legalization of marijuana; in fact I am in favor of anything that reduces the number of activities that create criminals out of ordinary folks. But I ask myself, why the push to make pot legal when everyone, it seems, wants to make tobacco illegal?
Why was weed criminalized in the first place, and why is tobacco getting the bum’s rush after so many years of star treatment? For that matter why is Pluto no longer a planet and just how the hell did The Donald get this close to the Whitehouse? I know I can’t answer the last two, but I can touch on the first one. To fully understand the situation would take years, but let me try to summarize.
First, racism plays a large part in the criminalization of marijuana. It was seen as a way to control the Mexican immigrants who were known to use the evil stuff when they were picking our fruit. It became known as a gateway drug, but the science behind that was pretty weak. It did not have a strong P.R. department and no lobbyists on the Hill. Tobacco, on the other hand had a strong public relations machine and powerful lobbyists keeping making it popular, glamorous and relatively unregulated.
Thanks to the even more powerful lobby of the Insurance Industry, and some strong science linking tobacco to cancer, (paid for by the insurance companies) and the result was inevitable. The collective realization that smoking was bad for you. We all knew it all along, but now our government knew it. As a society, we must answer to those we have tasked with keeping us healthy and paying our bills when we are not. Cancer is expensive and so its leading cause must be stamped out. So says the insurance lobby to our lawmakers. As a result, we don’t smoke in public anymore. I am not saying it is a bad thing, but I bristle at any loss of freedom in the ‘‘land of the free.”
Meanwhile the marijuana lobby has been working out, gaining strength and getting results. There is no economic opposition, (i.e. the insurance industry). Quite the opposite, the potential tax dollars have States and Municipalities seeing green. The science is showing pot to be less dangerous then alcohol or tobacco and not a gateway drug. Even local law enforcement doesn’t feel the need to make criminals out of pot smokers. Only the Feds still see pot as a crime, and they have been instructed to stand down. Not look the other way, because they are most certainly watching, but to reallocate their limited resources somewhere else.
The situation is driven by money. Ain’t they all?
I will leave the change in the way we deal with the migrant workers for another day.
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