Monday, June 27, 2011

Week of 06/27/2011

Are We Finally Ready For The Question?
– by David Matthews 2

Despite the pronouncement as seen in the Declaration of Independence that “All men are created equal”, it’s not always simple to match the words with the deeds.

The very idea of freedom is scary for some people. They can’t stand the idea that someone could have a different train of thought, a different standard, or a different means to an end. They have a hard time buying into the concept that “all men are created equal”, never mind TREATING them as such.

There’s a train of thought that says that if “X” did not exist when the Constitution of the United States was created, then it does not deserve any kind of protection under it. Radio and television were not around then, therefore the First Amendment “shouldn’t apply” to them. “Offensive material” didn’t exist, therefore they shouldn’t be protected.

The problem, though, isn’t the subject or the material. It’s the question of whether or not we’re ready to accept that freedom in question.

Every challenge involving freedom is a question being asked of society. “Are we READY for this?” And the challenge is to be able to say “YES” to that question.

And sometimes, sadly, we’re not ready for the question, never mind ready to say “yes”.

The question of slavery was something that America was not READY to answer until the 19th Century. Sure it was brought up before then. It was heavily discussed and debated, but we weren’t ready for the basic question of whether or not we were ready to END it until the time of the Civil War. So we punted it in the 18th Century; we made grandiose pronouncements about freedom being “for all”, but we still were not really READY to practice what was being preached.

Race relations, women voting, these were things that we were not READY to ask the question about, never mind answer “yes” to it, until the 20th Century. These were not easy questions to deal with, but we did deal with them, and we eventually said “yes” to them.

So now we have two members of Congress… a liberal and a conservative… that think that we’re ready to ask the next question when it comes to freedom…

Are we really ready to deal with the matter of marijuana?

Marijuana has been illegal since 1937, and the reasons why were dubious from the start. Hype and hysteria were generated by a businessman who wanted to use the law to replace hemp paper with his tree-pulp paper mills. And even though we had eliminated Prohibition four years earlier, we still were not ready to deal with the question of other substances, never mind say “yes” to them. So the law was put into effect, and we went along with it because we weren’t ready to answer the question.

But that was then, and this is now.

Today we’re facing a political and philosophical conflict over this very subject. Several states are seeking to allow marijuana for medicinal purposes only, and they find themselves at loggerheads with a federalist mindset that is still bellowing out “NO” at the top of its lungs. Despite all attempts to provide controls and regulation and taxation, despite the jobs that could be created in a troubled economy, the federalist mindset still says “NO” and still is committed to spend countless billions of tax dollars to fight anything connected to this substance. Despite pre-election promises to the contrary, the federal government is still going after those otherwise-legal distributors.

But under a bill introduced this past week by Congressmen Barney Frank and Ron Paul (file this under “politics makes strange bedfellows”), the burden for controlling (and thus outlawing) this substance would move from the federal government to the fifty states. Interstate distribution and cross-border smuggling would still be illegal and would still be prosecuted by the federal government, but not possession and in-state distribution in those states where it would be legalized. This would be similar to the ending of Prohibition in 1933, minus, of course, the repeal of a Constitutional Amendment.

The potential gains are numerous. State legalization and regulation would open the door to legalized and controlled distribution. Instead of “grow homes” and illegal farms operating in secret, legalized grow areas would be created and licensed and regulated stores would be set up, creating jobs and generating tax revenue. The need for an illegal market would disappear, which means drug dealers and street gangs would have to find some other substance to peddle. Again, we can look back at how ending Prohibition also ended much of organized crime’s lucrative illegal business.

Of course the states that do continue their prohibition will find the burden of enforcing it would be firmly on the state and local level. And one would be remiss to not consider that even the most regulated system could be abused and misused. Any system is subject to abuse.

But are we ready to deal with the question itself?

Let’s get brutally honest here… for the past forty years, ever since Richard Nixon coined the phrase “War on Drugs” and applied it to this subject, we haven’t been ready to deal with the question. We’ve defaulted to that automatic “NO” that bellows from the federal government. We bought into the authoritarian claims of it being a “gateway drug”, even while we mock its sincerity. We dismiss the potential benefits for medicinal purposes, telling those that are suffering from the sometimes debilitating effects of chemotherapy to simply endure in their misery and torment. We don’t weigh risks and benefits, and we instead punt the question, lumping the substance in with the worst of the worst.

Sadly, the same political faction that currently screams about “states rights” and complains about wasted tax money is also the faction that defaults to that federalized “NO”, so they have a really good reason to NOT deal with this matter and let the bill in Congress wither and die. And that in and of itself is a pity, because their discomfort would pretty much be the only thing keeping this question from being asked.

The question doesn’t go away simply because we’re not ready or willing to answer it. It doesn’t go away when we say “NO” to even asking it. The question keeps coming back and coming back. It’s only when we are willing to answer it and willing to say YES to it that the question finally goes away.

No comments: