July 6, 2007
By Norman Kent
Editor’s Note: The following is a letter addressed to Minnesota Republican Senator Norm Coleman — a strong advocate of the brutal federal drug laws on the books — reminding him that he used to be a happy, safe, fun-loving pot smoker.
My friend Norman,
Years ago, in a lifetime far away, you did not oppose the legalization of marijuana. Years ago, in our dorm rooms at Hofstra University, you, me, Billy, your future brother-in-law, Ivan, Jonathan, Peter, Janet, Nancy and a wealth of other students smoked dope.
Sure, we had to tape the doors shut, burn incense and open the windows, but we got high, and yet we grew up okay, without the help of the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s advice.
We grew up to become lawyers. Our other friends, as you go down the list, are doctors, professors, parents, political consultants and professionals. No one ever got cancer from smoking pot or diabetes from using a joint. And the days of our youth we look back fondly upon as years where we stood up, were counted and made a difference, from Earth Day in 1970 to helping bring down a president and end a war in Southeast Asia a few years later. We smoked pot when we took over Weller Hall to protest administrative abuses of students’ rights. You smoked pot as you stood on the roof of the University Senate protesting faculty exclusivity. As the President of the Student Senate in 1969, you condemned the raid by Nassau County police on our dormitories, busting scores of students for pot possession.
You never said then that pot was dangerous. What was scary then, and is as frightening now, is when national leaders become voices of hypocrisy, harbingers of the status quo, and protect their own position instead of the public good. Welcome to the crowd of those who have become a likeness of which they despised. Welcome to the mindless myriad of legislators who gather in cocktail lounges to manhandle their martinis while passing laws against drunk driving.
We have seen more people die last year from spinach then pot. We have endured generations of drug addicts overdosing on a multitude of drugs, from heroin to crystal methamphetamine. In your public life, as an attorney general, mayor and United States senator, you have been in the forefront of speaking out against abuses which are harmful. You have been a noble and honorable public servant. How about not being such a dope on dope?
How about admitting that if the Rockefeller drug laws were applied to Norman Bruce Coleman on Long Island in 1968, or to me, or to our friends, and fellow students, you, I and others we knew and loved might just be getting out of jail now? How about recognizing that for too long too many have been wrongly arrested, unjustly prosecuted and illegally incarcerated for unconscionable periods of time?
How about recognizing that you have peers who have smoked pot for 25 years or more and they are successful record producers, businessmen and parents?
How about standing up and saying you have heard and witnessed countless stories of persons who have used pot medicinally, as I have, to endure the effects of chemotherapy?
You who have travelled to Africa and seen the face of AIDS so up close and personal would deny medicinal marijuana relief to those souls wasting away from malnutrition, nausea and no access to fundamental medicines?
How about not adopting the sad and sorry archaic path of our office of drug control, which this week suggested pot smokers are more likely to become gang members than others?
How about standing up and saying: “I, Norm Coleman, smoked pot in 1969.” That “I am not a gang member, a drug addict or a criminal.”
How about saying: “I was able to responsibly integrate my prior pot use into my life, and still succeed on my own merits.”
How about standing up not only for who you are, but who you were?
How about it, Norm?
I will always love, admire and cherish what you have achieved and accomplished and the goals you have met. I will always fondly look at the remarkable success of your present.
How about you looking back at your past and saying: “What I did was not so wrong and not so bad and not so hurtful that generations of Americans should still, decades later, be going to jail for smoking pot — nearly one million arrests for possession last year.”
Can’t Norm Coleman come out of the closet in 2007 and say “These arrests are wrong — that there is a better way, and we need to find it.”
You might find more integrity and honor in that then adopting the sad and sorry policy of our Office of National Drug Control Policy.
You might find the person you were.
Norm Kent is an attorney based in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, who specializes in criminal defense and appeals, media law and First Amendment issues. He serves on the Board of Directors for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
July 9, 2007
By Kathleen Parker
News that Al Gore’s 24-year-old son, Al Gore III, was busted for pot and assorted prescription pills last week unleashed a torrent of mirth in certain quarters.
Gore-phobes on the Internet apparently view the son’s arrest and incarceration as comeuppance for the father’s shortcomings. Especially rich was the fact that young Al was driving a Toyota Prius when he was pulled over for going 100 mph – just as Papa Gore was set to preside over concerts during a seven-continent Live Earth celebration to raise awareness about global warming.
Whatever one may feel about the former vice president’s environmental obsessions, his son’s problems are no one’s cause for celebration. The younger Mr. Gore’s high-profile arrest does, however, offer Americans an opportunity to get real about drug prohibition, and especially about marijuana laws.
For the record, I have no interest in marijuana except as a public policy matter. My personal drug of choice is a heavenly elixir made from crushed grapes. Tasty, attractive and highly ritualized in our culture, wine and other alcoholic beverages are approved for responsible use despite the fact that alcoholism and attendant problems are a plague, while responsible use of a weed that, at worst, makes people boring and hungry is criminal. Pot smokers might revolt if they weren’t so mellow.
Efforts over the past few decades to relax marijuana laws have been moderately successful. Twelve states have decriminalized marijuana, which usually means no prison or criminal record for first-time possession of small amounts for personal use.
Yet even now, federal law enforcement agents raid the homes of terminally ill patients who use marijuana for relief from suffering in states where medical marijuana use is permitted.
Beyond the medical issue is the practical question of criminalizing otherwise good citizens for consuming a nontoxic substance – described by the British medical journal Lancet as less harmful to health than alcohol or tobacco – at great economic and social cost. Each year, more than 700,000 people are arrested for marijuana-related offenses at a cost of more than $7 billion, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
If marijuana were legalized, regulated and taxed at the rates applied to alcohol and tobacco, revenues would reach about $6.2 billion annually, according to an open letter signed by 500 economists who urged President Bush and other public officials to debate marijuana prohibition. Among those economists were three Nobel Prize winners, including the late Milton Friedman of Stanford’s Hoover Institution.
Mr. Friedman and others were acting in response to a 2005 report on the budgetary implications of marijuana prohibition by Jeffrey Miron, visiting professor of economics at Harvard. By Mr. Miron’s estimate, regulating marijuana would save about $7.7 billion annually in government prohibition enforcement – $2.4 billion at the federal level and $5.3 billion at the state and local levels.
Add to that amount income taxes that would have to be paid by marijuana producers. Drug dealers don’t pay taxes, after all. Nor do they concern themselves much with rules of the workplace and worker welfare.
Mr. Miron argues that legalizing marijuana would not increase use because decriminalization hasn’t increased use. But, he says, legalization would reduce crime by neutralizing dealers and eliminating the violent black market.
Legalizing marijuana isn’t an endorsement of underage or irresponsible use. Best would be that everyone deal with life unmedicated, but adults arguably have a right to amuse themselves in ways that don’t harm others.
While some may balk at the idea of legalized pot, it seems clear that some remedy is in order. At the very least, a fresh debate free of politics and bureaucratic self-interest is overdue. Maybe Al Gore could moderate.