Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Thank You, Mary Beth Buchanan

Back in September of last year I wrote about Tommy Chong’s run-in with the feds and his subsequent incarceration. It hasn’t been that long, and yet a lot has happened since Mr. Chong’s imprisonment. After giving that unfortunate incident and some more recent events some serious thought, I’ve decided to go out on a limb and make a prediction. At some point in the future, when prohibition has ended, we will look back and mark the bust of Tommy Chong as a major turning point in the war on the war on drugs. I believe that the national publicity that surrounded the unreasonable treatment of Mr. Chong at the hands of our federal government finally brought the situation (i.e., the horrors of prohibition) to the attention of the American public. And that is a significant accomplishment.

So what exactly has happened since then that makes me want to go a-predictin’? Well, for starters we got ourselves a new president. I won’t go so far as to attribute any credit for that to what happened to Mr. Chong. But it didn’t hurt that this new president came into office when the media’s interest in the prohibition issue is at an all-time high. It’s getting so you can’t hardly turn on the TV or read a blog without seeing a news report or editorial about some aspect of prohibition. Mostly against. Then shortly after taking office, our new president appointed a new attorney general, as new presidents are wont to do. Although nothing is official yet, that new AG has stated publicly that the federal government is not interested in raiding law-abiding medical marijuana dispensaries. (A few have been raided since then, but that’s another story.) And let’s not forget our new Drug Czar, who said he doesn’t like the term “war on drugs,” and thinks we should probably call it something else. Again, nothing earth shattering (or even real), but at least people in the executive branch are talking about the issue. That’s something that hasn’t happened since the 70s.

As for actual legislative activity, just a few weeks ago Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) along with 9 co-sponsors introduced legislation that would protect medical marijuana patients from federal prosecution. Then a week later, Frank and others introduced a bill that would remove federal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. This isn’t the first time such bills were introduced only to die, but clearly some momentum is shifting.

At the local level, the number of states that allow medical marijuana now stands at 14—two of which were added to the roster along with the election of that new president of ours, and one, NH, was added just this week. Three of those states now permit the operation of dispensaries, and together they are home to over one third of our population. And at this very moment 12 more states have medical marijuana legislation pending. It’s looking like within the next couple of years well over half of the people in this country will have access to medical marijuana. No matter how you look at it, these are some significant, unprecedented developments.

And just a few of days ago the United Nations, in an abrupt 180 to their long-standing policy, made a statement in favor of drug decriminalization (sort of). That’s especially surprising seeing as how not that long ago the UN’s position was that prohibition could end all drug use in the world within 10 years. Seems kind of sudden to give up now, seeing as how they were so close. Who knows, another 10 years and their prohibitionist polices might have worked.

But what does all this have to do with Tommy Chong’s imprisonment. As I said, it’s all about the media. Not to mention the effect a martyr can have on a movement. And what better martyr could the cause have? Mr. Chong is well known, beloved by young and now old alike, viewed as mostly harmless, and (here’s the biggie) was clearly singled out and treated more harshly because of who he is and what he stands for. An ambitious young U.S. Attorney who wanted to make a name for herself ended up making a martyr of a beloved American icon. Which also, incidentally, did wonders for his career. And of course, most importantly, gave the anti-prohibition movement some much-needed attention. People, including politicians, are now talking openly about the issue, where not too long ago an elected official wouldn’t dream of using the “D” word, let alone the “L” word, in public. Even the anti-drug, conservative governor of California recently stated that it’s time for an open debate. Decriminalization and even legalization are now in a lot more people’s vocabularies. Unfortunately, they are not yet in our Drug Czar’s.

So a hearty thank you to Mary Beth Buchanan, the prosecutor who I predict will go down in history as the one responsible for getting the anti-prohibition movement off the ground. Keep up the good work! And if I might make a suggestion to all ambitious prosecutors throughout the land: Find a few more harmless, beloved, elderly American icons and bust them for something marijuana related. Single them out and make examples of them. I’m thinking perhaps someone like Walter Cronkite or Doris Day. Or how about Oprah? She’s not elderly, but quite beloved nonetheless. A few more of these high-profile busts, and we’ll be buying weed right alongside alcohol and tobacco at our local convenience stores before you know it.

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