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A Casualty of America's
Ugly War on Drugs

I recently put on my news reporter's hat and attended some Circuit Court criminal cases in the rural Michigan community where I live. Appearing before the judge that day was a young couple awaiting sentencing on marijuana charges. A lovely little girl was clinging tightly to her distraught mother.

I was angered by the twisted story I heard.

It seems that these two seemingly normal, hard working, middle-class people had their lives torn asunder because somebody burglarized their home.

If you have never had your house broken into, you probably don't understand the way the victim feels. I have been burglarized at least twice. That senseless act leaves you feeling violated. The thought of strangers sneaking around in the dwelling where you live, picking up and handling your private personal things, and stealing anything he or she desires, is difficult to deal with.

This young couple did what we are all programmed to do when we are burglarized. They called the police.

In their moment of distress, however, they forgot to get rid of a private stash of marijuana tucked away in a bedroom dresser, or perhaps in a closet. The burglars overlooked that packet of marijuana but the investigating officers didn't. The moment they found it, the man and his wife were victims all over again.

Instead of helping these distressed burglary victims, the police arrested them for possession of marijuana. In some twisted way, the police in Michigan appear to regard possessing marijuana a much more serious crime than breaking into someone's house and stealing a stereo. I suspect the person who broke into this particular house sold the stolen items to get money to buy some cocaine or perhaps some heroin. I also suspect the thief is still at large and still burglarizing homes for drug money.

Now cocaine and heroin are dangerous and addictive drugs that need to be taken off the street. Addicts commit crimes to get their daily fix. I am told the craving for these drugs gets so severe, the user will do anything, including murder, to get money to buy them. In contrast, I am convinced that marijuana should not be listed among the prohibited "drugs." I also refuse to accept the argument that using marijuana leads to a willingness to try the real narcotics. I have known "pot heads" that have remained this way for years?people who enjoy their marijuana but don't go any farther.

The young man and wife standing before the judge that day may be contemporary examples of the "average" American family. I have been around enough to know that a lot of Americans keep stashes of marijuana tucked away in their homes. I suspect that many police officers puff their share of joints. It is a social secret . . . a lot like sex. The weed goes by so many street names it is hard to hold a conversation without accidentally using a word that has a double meaning.
Marijuana is something a lot of people use but nobody talks about. The secrecy linked to private marijuana use is the result of our nation's misguided drug laws. Those laws say possession, use and distribution of this weed are serious criminal acts.

There is a reason why the sharing of a "joint" has become a popular all-American pastime. The THC when inhaled with the smoke of the burning leaves, calms jangled nerves, soothes the brain, and makes a bad day suddenly mellow out. And when we are dealing with such contemporary disasters as job lay-offs, labor unrest, crowded highways, ringing telephones, rising energy costs, crowded neighborhoods, invasion of privacy, and the effects of global warming, bad days seem to occur more and more frequently. People really need a substance like marijuana to help them cope.
Prozac, which is a legal prescription drug, is a very bad substitute.

The fact that this Michigan family had some marijuana in their house does not make them criminals. At least in my eyes. It certainly doesn't even make them drug addicts. Marijuana is classified as a "controlled substance" because it cannot be listed as a drug. It is a weed that can be grown in anybody's back yard, wood lot or even in a flower pot on the back porch. For years it grew in the wild all over Michigan.

Also the THC in the leaves of the plant is not addictive. Users like the slight "buzz" it gives them, but they don't go out the next day and break into houses and steal for money to buy more of it. In fact, this kind of behavior might be unnatural for a true marijuana user.

Unlike alcohol, which is quite legal and responsible for thousands of traffic deaths, ruined marriages and bar fights all over the landscape, marijuana does not create violent behavior. Instead, it seems to keep everybody in the crowd in a calm and generally friendly state of mind.

A few years ago my wife and I accompanied our teen-aged daughter and her friends to a Grateful Dead concert. That was back when Jerry Garcia was still living and the Dead shows were known for drawing crowds of marijuana and LSD users. Even though police surrounded the building and patrolled the halls, the thousands of young people present at that show openly smoked marijuana. The auditorium was so filled with marijuana smoke my wife and I probably enjoyed the same effects as everybody else in the building.

What was so remarkable about that concert was that Doris and I, who felt about as out of place as a couple of harpists at a Heavy Metal Concert, really had a good time. In fact, all of the concert goers appeared to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. There were no fights, no scenes of fans rushing the stage, or any kinds of the disorder reported at contemporary rock concerts. I believe it is because marijuana (and perhaps LSD) were the primary drugs used by that crowd. The music was happy and generally upbeat. Contrary to the propaganda, it was obvious to me that night that these drugs did not cause the users to go crazy, get violent, and commit dangerous acts endangering either themselves or the people around them.

This is why I winced when I watched a Michigan judge send a young husband with a small child to support off to spend several months in jail because police found marijuana in his house. Because she "knew but didn't tell," the judge placed the man's wife on probation, but wisely allowed her to stay at home and take care of her child.

I will never believe this couple, or the thousands of other Americans who also are spending time in jail and being put through months if not years of torment by our legal system because they were caught possessing, using or passing marijuana to friends, are criminals.

They are the victims of a system that is running amuck.

So where did we go wrong? How can a nation of educated people like this be so collectively blind to the pure stupidity of this imperfection in our drug law? We have successfully declared a substance illegal that gives millions of users relief from the horrors of everyday living.

I haven't begun to mention the
medical benefits of marijuana for people suffering from cancer chemotherapy, glaucoma and numerous other illnesses. That they have been waging battles in various corners of the nation to have the right to grow and use this plant for personal relief is no secret. I commend legislators in New Mexico who are considering a bill that would legalize marijuana for medical use and stop slinging users in jail when caught using it for social reasons.

The fact that the
cannabis plant was used for years in this country as a source of fine paper, rope and cloth products seems to have been forgotten. I have argued for years that farmers should be allowed to grow this crop so it can help save our forests.
I have made no bones about my opposition to the drug war. The war has been an exercise in wasted money. It was an effort that has only served to force the price of narcotics up and make the people who deal in this merchandise very rich.

It is my belief that this is the real reason marijuana remains illegal in this country. If legalized, everyone could grow his own plants and no longer need to seek a neighborhood supplier to purchase a carefully weighed package of the substance. Marijuana is a very big cash crop for certain operators. Making the plant legal would make millions of Americans very happy and put these crooks out of business.

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