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What the pot?

opinion / Columnists
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There’s the Rub

What the pot?

/ 10:05 PM January 07, 2014

Congress won’t legalize pot.

Several lawmakers came out forcefully recently to say so. This was after Colorado legalized it on New Year’s Day, a thing that gave residents of the state good reason to say “Happy New Year!”

“How can you legalize something that alters the mind?” says Speaker Sonny Belmonte. Giorgidi Aggabao, the deputy speaker, agrees: “Colorado legalized it but under tight rules. Our failing is that we can’t enforce rules. Thus, we will surely end up with our youth immersed in drugs.”

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I don’t particularly mind that Congress doesn’t legalize marijuana—or cannabis, or pot, or joint, or doobie, or jute, or ganja, or damo, whatever generation you come from. It’s not high-priority, other than to the youth that are being harassed at night and made to cough up a near-fortune to avoid jail time when caught, or framed, for having a small stash in their car trunk.

I don’t particularly mind that Congress doesn’t legalize marijuana, but I do particularly mind its reasons for it. They’re so knee-jerk, they’re so uninformed.

Why legalize something that alters the mind? Good question, except that the same question may be asked of those things that do and are perfectly legal today. Chief of them is alcohol. How much it addles the brain you know from the shootouts and knife fights that break out during furious drinking bouts. Neighbors kill neighbors, friends kill friends, relatives kill relatives. Last year, a father shot his son to death in a drunken altercation. I don’t know that pot does that. It’s been known to make some people praning and (temporarily) catatonic, but it’s not been known to make people homicidal.

If the point is that we shouldn’t legalize mind-altering substances that we can’t enforce rules on, why do we allow liquor to be sold? If there are any rules governing their distribution, only Emperador and Tanduay know about it.

In the past, of course, liquor was prohibited in the United States, during the period aptly named the Prohibition. Which succeeded only in giving rise to gangsters and hoodlums who began their careers by manufacturing and distributing moonshine. Arguably, alcohol is a deadly product, a brain-addling product. But more arguably, which the more sensible American legislators did in fact successfully argue, banning it is worse than legalizing it.

Since then, the compromise has been to allow it with regulation and with constant reminders in ads and various information programs to drink moderately. A thing that in this country is subverted anyway by a macho culture. “Drink moderately” is the official line, “Tunay na lalaki, lashing” is the unofficial one.

Just as well, if marijuana is addictive, why are we allowing cigarettes to be sold? You can’t have anything more addictive. I know that for a fact, having gone through hell just to quit it ages ago in the early 1980s. There is no doubt in my mind that if I hadn’t, I would be dead by now. I had asthma as a child, and smoking brought it back. I ran the gamut of various respiratory ailments before I was finally able to quit smoking. Each time friends ask, “How did you do it?” I always reply, “With humongous difficulty.”

The testimonies of those who have tubes protruding from their throats that smoking is not just a bad habit but also it is an addiction are absolutely true. Nicotine is violently addictive. Cigarettes do not just create a psychological dependence—it was work-related in my case, I imagined I couldn’t write without cigarettes, which turned out to be absolutely wrong—they also create a physical dependence. It’s not just the mind that craves it, the body also does. It takes time, a hellish time, to be weaned from it.

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So why is it legal? Why do we allow it to be sold? Of course we now have dire warnings in cigarette packs that tell you of the various diseases you will get from it, quite apart from the more direct “Cigarettes kill,” but they’re still there. They’re still legal. They’re still being advertised. The warnings themselves are farcical: Try warning a shabu addict of the dangers shabu poses. It presumes a rational choice, and addicts are not rational.

The irony in fact is that cigarettes are addictive and marijuana is not. Marijuana is a plant, not a chemical substance. Of course you can have people addicted to it in the same way that you can have alcoholics. But it is not naturally addictive in the way that cigarettes are. Certainly, the proposition that people, particularly the youth, who take pot will naturally graduate to shabu or heroin is unfounded. There is no evidence of it, unlike the one that says—though cigarette companies do not lack for high-powered lawyers to controvert it—that cigarette-smoking causes lung cancer.

Like I said, I don’t mind whatever decision Congress takes on it, only how sanely it comes to its decision. Heaven knows we do not lack for things in this country that addle the brain. Guns do: Look at the number of people killed recently in instances of road rage; why were the assailants carrying guns in the first place? Corruption does. Power does. Quite apart, of course, from cigarettes and alcohol. Why pick on pot?

Of course one can always argue that we already have these mind-altering banes, we already have these brain-addling substances, why want to add yet another? Good question, except that it opens you to constitutional challenge. If you can allow a substance that can cause violent behavior (alcohol) and that is so patently addictive (cigarettes), why can’t you allow one that doesn’t, or isn’t, or is far less so? There’s such a thing, too, as justice, which says that the law applies equally to everyone, and everything, or it’s not law at all. The lack of which addles the brain. The lack of which makes you ask:

What the pot?

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TAGS: Addiction, cigarettes, column, congress, Conrado de Quiros, drinking, legalization, marijuana
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