Archived Opinion

Are we near the ‘who cares’ point for legal pot?

op potThe last couple of years have brought a sea change in attitudes about marijuana. I’m convinced pot will be legal in most of the U.S. within the next decade, and I think it will do a lot more good than harm.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a conservative tribe. Yet its Tribal Council voted two weeks ago to start drafting legislation that would allow marijuana to be produced on tribal land and prescribed for medicinal uses. Such a move would, of course, spawn a whole subset of economic development possibilities for growing and processing cannabis.

Back in November 2015, the Tribe had considered a resolution that would have legalized recreational uses. Fearing that such a move would cause tribal lands to become a magnet for users and worsen an already devastating drug problem on the Qualla Boundary, that measure was replaced by the recent decision to consider only medicinal uses. 

Good move. With pot still illegal everywhere in the South, I think that fear was very real — at least for now.

Back when that first resolution came up, I remember wondering what would happen if Cherokee did legalize marijuana. Soon after that, I did what I do at least a couple of nights a week — channel-surfed through an hour or so of cable news to get caught up on national political issues. 

That particular night I watched as several outlets were airing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s heartfelt story of a successful lawyer friend’s descent from the heights of success to prescription opioid addiction and, finally, suicide (if you haven’t seen Christie tell this story, it’s worth a few minutes on You Tube). 

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The man left a wife and three daughters grieving, and Christie — a GOP presidential candidate at the time  — wanted to know why we as a society aren’t doing more to help those who are addicted to the powerful prescription drugs.

As local law enforcement officials have been pointing out for several years, we have a huge problem with this type of prescription drug abuse, one that has had tragic consequences like those described by Gov. Christie. The opioid family of painkillers  — Vicodin, OcyContin, Percocet and others — are extremely addictive and too easy to get. They are stolen or obtained through illegal prescriptions and subsequently make it into the hands of dealers.

What if some kind of synthetic pot pill could replace a substantial portion of these addictive opiates, a pill that could ease pain but never kills anyone? Medicinal pot is available in 24 states but is still illegal under federal law. 

Things are moving fast in this arena. Mexico’s Supreme Court cleared the way for that country to at least consider legalizing marijuana by giving four plaintiffs the right to grow it for personal use. The recently elected Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to support legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Latin American countries, like Chile and   Colombia, have legalized marijuana for medical use. And in Uruguay, pot is also legal for recreational use. Five states and Washington, D.C., have legal recreational pot, and California may do the same before year’s end.

What happens to the illegal marijuana trade from Mexico if pot becomes legal all along the U.S. west coast, even for recreational use? Drug gangs making millions off the illicit pot trade while infiltrating the highest levels of government won’t have a market and so won’t have any money. No money equals no influence and no power. Things would change in Mexico.

As a society, we’ve spent billions of dollars fighting something that’s less harmful than tobacco or alcohol. So much has changed over the last 50 years since pot was decried as the gateway to far more dangerous and addictive drugs. 

Finally, there is the incarceration-law enforcement-judicial side of the issue. How many people are still in jails for relatively minor marijuana charges? How many millions of dollars are spent every year as these cases work their way through the court system, and how much of law enforcement’s resources do we spend in this area each year? How much money is wasted in Mexico and other Latin American countries as the Drug Enforcement Agency and other entities tried to eradicate marijuana fields and arrest dealers.

All of this takes me back to, oh, sometime around 1975 or thereabouts. I remember how shocking it was listening to one segment of my mom’s live Barbra Streisand albums (I don’t know when the album was made) and you can hear Streisand between songs bantering with the audience about overcoming the anxiety of performing, about how she doesn’t like liquor and can’t take pills, so she lights up what we presume is a joint, and asks, “It’s still illegal?” while you can hear her taking a huge toke.

Right now, the hodgepodge of laws across the country probably adequately represents how the country feels about this issue. But now, more than 40 years after I first listened to that album, the question is perhaps even more relevant. It’s still illegal?

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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