4/20 Hangover


Yesterday was 4/20– the unofficial American pot-head holiday, and with public rallies taking place across the country, and in parents’ basements, buddies’ garages, and out back behind dumpsters everywhere– it was supposed to be a day of celebration and assorted edibles until a shooting broke out during Denver’s smokey open air rally:

Alexander Pringle was showing off the picture he had taken of a “guy with this massive joint,” when people began to stampede past him at Saturday’s 4/20 rally.

“I thought someone was about to start a fight. Then this guy came up and started shooting at people,” he said Sunday.

Two people were shot, including one of the victims’ dogs, though not fatally. But in a week filled with highs and lows, heroes and villains, Alexander Pringle was a hero. As “a photo-journalism student at Metropolitan State University, and former U.S. Army medic,” and after chasing down the shooters to no avail, Pringle came back and tended to one of the victims who had been shot in the leg. No one stopped and demanded he take a drug test before administering first aid. Damn. What a buzz kill.

It’s too bad that the pot culture and the gun culture had to meet under such circumstances, but to me, there’s something fundamentally familiar about the two cultures. When I looked at the photos from the Denver rally, I couldn’t help but think that through all the smoke and giggles, there seems to be a serious lack of maturity in showing up in the public square with your guns and doobies, respectively, to declare your independence from authority figures.

I thought of Josh Marshall’s comments a few weeks ago countering a poignant argument that favors decriminalization, rather than outright legalization on the grounds that once you legalize it, you’re opening up the doors to the commercialization of pot, with “Camel Joe,  Anheuser-Busch and Phillip Morris” rounding out “Big Pot” with just as much lobbying influence.

Here in Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel threw his support behind decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana. And on the state level, Illinois representatives close to the effort to pass a medical marijuana bill  in the state have described their efforts as somewhere between seeking “to provide healthcare options for people who need it,” to being “the toughest medical marijuana bill in the country.” Meaning that, yeah, they’re going to establish dispensaries and government-funded growing operations, but only for the people who have HIV and terminal cancer. Seems a little biased and uselessly stern.

But getting back to Josh Marshall’s counter-argument where he sums up the legalization effort as a movement similar to the LGBT movement, and explains his 180 degree turn on the subject:

So there it is: the drug war is a massively wasteful, society crushing exercise that has done as much as anything else to militarize law enforcement, puts millions of people behind bars and in so doing wrecks families and, even many criminologists now believe, criminalizes many people who might never have otherwise been so. I basically knew that a long time ago. Where pot has been legalized or de facto legalized I see no evidence its done anything but allow people to smoke pot, which basically they were already doing and basically with no harm other than whatever level of physical harm is tied to use of the drug itself.

So should pot be legalized? Regulated, yes, but legalized. I can see no good reason why it shouldn’t. And that’s why I changed my mind.

I’ve always thought of the pot culture as one that really needs to come out of the closet, maybe more importantly than stopping the arrests and property seizures, or encouraging pot-based jobs, or pot-based economy, or revenue it’s been said to generate.

There is a bona fide social movement in there somewhere. Because pot heads are your neighbors, teachers, cops, and lawyers. They drive your kids to school. Walk a beat. Change your bed pans. Teach love and empathy and conflict-resolution in our schools and universities. And why should all the alcoholics get to call themselves ‘responsible adults’ and make all of our decisions regarding war and peace while marijuana smokers and “the leaf of peace” are considered second class citizens?

I’m torn between full legalization and simple decriminalization, though, because looking at the rally in Denver, or any big outdoor pot rally in recent years, like gun rallies, I’m not really convinced that we’re mature enough as a culture to collectively handle our shit like grown ups. But that’s all part of growing up as a culture, I guess.