It#039;s all pot of the problem

by Beacon Staff • September 30, 2009

Two Saturdays ago, Boston Common inhaled a long pungent whiff of marijuana during a lovely celebration called HempFest. I am not a pothead, but HempFest caught my attention. I entered the park early, just before the crowds, and it was not too long before the riffraff wandered in, engulfing me in the stench, the smoke rings and the terribly generic music. The park remained packed with people, dogs, bands and bongs until late that evening. Overwhelmed by the hippie pomp and circumstance, I finally found refuge with a few gentlemen standing under a green NORML sign.

NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is a Washington-

based non-profit organization working to decriminalize marijuana use in the United States. Rather than lighting up and joining in the festivities, the NORML team was pitched and prepared to garner signatures for the reform of medical marijuana policies in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. NORML works to revise policies that infringe upon the rights of millions of Americans-policies that even a straight edge guy like me can see lack common sense.

The top three causes of death in the United States are tobacco, poor diet and inactivity and alcohol, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association-marijuana

doesn't even make the list. In fact, the US Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration

has found no credible report of a death induced by marijuana.

In other words, unless you drive high or start dealing, marijuna

probably won't kill you. The decision

to smoke pot is a private one, one that should never be under the scrutiny of the federal government. Massachusetts has come to realize this and decriminalized the drug this year. This is a good start, but the state law still has problems: In Massachusetts

you can still be fined for possessing weed, and no one is allowed to sell it.

That marijuana is banned for medical use is even more nonsensical. According to NORML, only thirteen states permit the use of medicinal marijuana. Tests performed by The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California-San Diego found that cannabis assuaged the neuropathic pain related to HIV infections, pain described as an intense burning sensation

caused by the lightest touch to the skin. Cannabis is also well known to relieve the nausea induced by chemotherapy and to aid glaucoma.

Thirty-seven states block their citizens from this proven relief for horrific pain. The conservatives who are fighting government intrusion into health care are knee-deep in irony: Big government now stands between our loved ones and a miraculous medical treatment. How can any state, or the federal government, restrict a citizen's journey to recovery in this way?

If science and common sense do not speak loudly enough, money might. If it were legalized,

NORML-California estimated that a $1-per-joint marijuana tax could bring in over $1.2 billion of desperately needed revenue (the state recently issued IOUs to creditors) per year-a hefty chunk of change, and that's only one state. Imagine

the possible treasure

trove if the entire country was earning money off marijuana. Perhaps we could use it to fund a real crime fighting measure:

education.

Whether you smoke or not, one thing rises above the haze: The people in the smoke circles at HempFest last Saturday

are not criminals,

and it's costing Americans a lot of money to treat them as such. Marijuana should be controlled by regulation and competition in our marketplace,

not by drug lords, and, most importantly,

it should be taxed. This is Capitalism 101. We might as well make some dough off our stoner citizens. Making it illegal clearly isn't going to stop them.