Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

January 10, 2014

Legalization of marijuana: Colorado tokers taking us over the line

— — When American soldiers came back from France after World War I, a popular song swept the nation with funny lyrics that nevertheless posed a serious question: “How ya gonna keep ’em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Paree?”

French majors will realize at once that Paree is a hayseed rendering of the pronunciation of Paris. (Having so noted, these readers may now return to the employment office.)

Of course, back in those days, popular music did not have the sophistication lent by today’s artists such as Miley Cyrus. But as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld might say, you come back from war with the war songs you have, not the war songs you might want.

Still, for the returning veterans after 1918, the song’s question was the right one. For at least half a century Americans had been moving from the farm to the city, a social change accelerated by the war, as wars are wont to do. It’s a process that continues to this day.

As it happens, the question for them is the same for today’s returning veterans from the culture wars. How are you going to keep them down on the farm?

Well, I suppose they could go to a farm in Colorado, there to grow legalized marijuana for general recreational use by adults. This development is a step beyond medical marijuana and Colorado is the first state to take it, for good or ill.

Aye, and there’s the stub of a joint. I have no idea whether this is good or bad, although I would guess bad, this despite my generally negative attitude to the government outlawing people’s simple pleasures. I take the libertarian view that the government should get the heck out of that business as much as possible.

The war on drugs has turned out as a farce often repeated as tragedy. For every narco monster, perhaps 10 non-violent minor characters serve long sentences when they might otherwise be living productive lives. The war on drugs has become simply an excuse for warehousing people at public expense in order for politicians and others to feel righteous.

Yet I find myself in the curious position of suddenly feeling hesitant to applaud Colorado’s full legalization of pot. The trouble with marijuana in particular is that long-term use clearly makes people stupid. I think we can all agree that I am stupid enough already without taking up marijuana as a regular habit.

Now, when I have grown really old, that’s a different matter. Then I will be free to be as stupid and immoderate as I like. Heck, it may make me more acceptable in my new social circles.

In my observation, some old people (blessedly, not all) cannot resist the gravitational pull of stupidity and become reactionary conservatives in their later years. I certainly want medical marijuana to be available in my dotage so, if the worst happens, I can derive more fun than usually provided by right-wing politics.

Besides, once in my life I want to hear a doctor say: “Take two tokes and call me in the morning.”

Who am I — whose preferred poison comes in bottles — to argue that alcohol is acceptable but pot smoking is not? If people want to smoke pot in the privacy of their homes, I have no grounds to object unless I am shortly to be their passenger in a car, bus or plane.

And that brings us back to the original problem — is legalization of pot death to good social policy?

It must be conceded that medical marijuana has proved to be the stereotypical camel putting its nose into the tent. In Colorado, that camel has stuck his neck through the tent flap and announced: “Yo, dudes!” Other camels will surely walk into other states’ tents.

Conservatives are always saying how the states are the laboratories of ideas and how they don’t like the government to play the interfering camel. Now, with the legalization of pot in Colorado, good luck to us all.

All I really know is the answer to the question posed in the old World War I song. Once people have seen Paree, the jig is up. The genie can’t be put back in the bottle, Pandora’s box can’t be shut again. The old-fashioned farm won’t be the same.

Paree comes in many forms and there’s rarely any going back when a new freedom is experienced. But as a more recent song asked: Ain’t that America?

Reg Henry is deputy editorial-page editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Readers may send him email at rhenry@post-gazette.com. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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