There is a mad rush to legalize marijuana these days, but it’s time to rethink that generous yet foolish move – generous because it lifts the onus of crime from peaceful smokers, but foolish because it harms mental development and health.
Legalization, as we have seen it in Colorado and Washington state, lifts the cloud of legal fears from the shoulders of millions of pot smokers.
But legalizing pot would almost certainly lead to much wider smoking of the weed, leaving millions damaged for life, especially today’s youth.
I know the effects of weed intimately and have seen the good minds of my generation squandering their talents and health on the addictive buzz of pot.
Back in the ’60s, I made my way to one of the best communes in northern California. But time moved on for many of us and we spread out into the wider world. I traveled to India and North Africa and the Middle East. Finally I decided to study journalism and swore off weed until I graduated and got my first full–time reporting job.
When that day came, I began covering the city council, traffic accidents, school conflicts, labor strikes, corruption, elections and the other meaty stories of small–town life in Massachusetts. I found that weed meant nothing to me compared to the rush of participating in public life.
In fact, the journalism career enabled me to return to India, Nepal and Pakistan with a changed view. Where previously I had smoked with the Sadhu holy men and was exalted by the beauty of the Himalayas and the rice paddies, I now began to understand the injustice behind it all: the lack of women’s education, the feudal land arrangements, the limitations of caste. Years later I returned to the commune and found a few old–timers still ensconced in the redwoods. On that visit, a couple of the young’uns – second generation, mostly born on the ranch – were sitting around the main house smoking up a cloud. They said they were going to take the chainsaw and cut up some fallen Douglas fir trees.
After two or three hours trekking down to the river, picking blackberries and gasping in awe at the 150–foot–tall second growth redwoods and Doug Fir, we returned to the house and – guess what? No wood was cut. Nothing happened but hours lost in fantasy.
Pot destroys – in many people and at many times – all initiative.
Legalizing pot may take us to a place we will not want to be in a few short months and years. Hundreds of thousands of American kids may find themselves without the intellectual maturity to contribute to the greater society or to even feed and clothe themselves.
Some artists smoke to unleash their muse, to guide their paint across the canvass, enhance their music, or find the right words to spin a poem down a page.
But for every one of these there are many more who simply will fail to graduate, fail to learn, fail to specialize, fail to excel and fail to contribute.
Ben Barber has covered the Middle East for 30 years for the Baltimore Sun, London Observer, Toronto Globe and Mail and other publications. The opinions are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of McClatchy–Tribune or its editors.