On May 16th it was announced that a bill legalizing medical marijuana in New York State made it through the Assembly’s Health Committee and that it would come to a vote in that chamber this year. That, along with what seems to be an impending about-face by Governor Cuomo (he’s studying the merits of the plant after previously having sworn it off) and a Sienna Research poll that shows 57% of New Yorkers support medical marijuana, there is a slight chance – especially with the anti-pot Republicans having such a thin lead in the Senate – that the bill might become law.
That news made me wonder: Why stop there? Why not decriminalize marijuana in New York or, better yet, legalize it at the federal level, allowing not only the terminally ill, but the healthy as well, to enjoy its properties?
Some readers might now be asking, “what is Confer smoking?” The answer is “nothing”. I have never had alcohol, tobacco products or drugs in my life, not even a sample in the smallest of quantities. My almost Mormon-like abstinence from toxins and mood enhancers is of my own choice and for my own personal reasons and benefit. Likewise, those who choose to have a drink or smoke do so for their own personal reasons and benefit. I find no fault in them doing that. We’re supposed to live by a simple concept in this country called “personal liberty”; you should be able to do with your body what you want as long as you don’t infringe upon the rights of others (or demand that they shoulder some of the burden for the consequences of your actions).
If someone wants to take a drag off a joint, more power to him. As a matter of fact he and the people around him would be better off than had he consumed alcohol or tobacco products. The merits of reefer versus those substances are numerous:
Marijuana is not addictive. Alcohol and cigarettes can be. Once someone becomes an alcoholic he is always an alcoholic, even if he has maintained sobriety for a period of time. He’s always one sip away from relapse. Even the most pedestrian of cigarette smokers have a hard time stopping their habit. Someone who starts in high school might carry that habit to his early deathbed, even while knowing the dangers. A marijuana smoker, on the other hand, can begin and end consumption of pot with absolutely no side effects.
Marijuana does not ruin families. Booze can. The destructive nature of alcohol dependency and the ugly monster that drunkenness can unleash through domestic violence and child abuse cannot be found in pot smoke. If anything, pot makes people friendlier and less violent. It should be noted that the only time marijuana ruins families is when government intervenes: There are 850,000 weed-related arrests annually and many of those unlucky souls get more jail time than they would have had they killed somebody.
Marijuana does not hurt or kill the user. 50,000 people suffer from dangerous alcohol poisoning annually, with 5,000 of them dying. Worse yet, each year 400,000 suffer slow, agonizing deaths from tobacco-related illnesses. No one dies from the non-toxic cannabis plant which various studies have shown does not cause lung cancer.
Similarly, marijuana does not kill or maim innocent bystanders. Second-hand cigarette smoke does. It can adversely affect friends and families (including small children who have no say in the matter), socking them with cancer and debilitating respiratory and coronary diseases through no fault of their own.
Marijuana can help those who are sick. It can help the afflicted deal with pain, glaucoma and more. It can also help the demented and HIV-stricken develop an appetite, crucial in preventing wasting. Alcohol and tobacco? They help people become sick.
So, just why do we crucify this plant -- that is far safer than what law allows to be consumed -- and let government waste $10 billion annually on its prohibition, when the 1920s showed that prohibition of recreational substances (alcohol at that time) is a complete failure? It comes down to control.
Even the most morally-rigid must realize that by relentlessly denying people the liberty to ingest the mellowest of drugs, our government continues to set precedent for further intrusion into our most personal of behaviors. Before you know it, they’ll be concocting laws telling us how much salt, trans fat, unpasteurized milk, or sugar we can have in our diets. Oh, wait, we’re already there!
Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column originally ran in the 28 May 2012 Greater Niagara Newspapers