Sunday, February 16, 2014

When It Comes to Legalizing Marijuana, Is Massachusetts the Next Colorado?

Drug (noun) 1. any article, other than food, intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of humans  2. a habit-forming medicinal or illicit substance
--Random House Dictionary

“Rocky Mountain High” has an all new meaning these days, beyond the old John Denver song. Starting January 1st it became legal in Colorado to smoke, exchange and sell (in state licensed dispensaries) marijuana, for anyone 21 or older.  You can buy up to an ounce of pot at a time and give that much away too. You can grow up to six plants in the privacy of your own home.  In Denver, you can even light up in public, on the front porch or in the back yard. 

Washington also passed a law legalizing pot. Sixteen states have decriminalized marijuana use, including Massachusetts.  Medical marijuana is now available to the sick in twenty states.  The United States has come a very long way in its views towards marijuana use since pot was first classified in 1970 as a Section 1 drug, having a: “high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and no accepted safety for use in medically supervised treatment.” Uncle Sam still enforces laws prohibiting marijuana use but more and more states are going the other way and very fast. 

Is Massachusetts now poised to become the next Colorado in the increasing cultural acceptance of recreational marijuana use as a seemingly harmless high? What is the problem with puffing away in Peabody or rolling some joints in Jamaica Plain?  After all it’s only pot, right? It’s only for personal use. It’s no worse than two martinis after a long day at work.  Why wouldn’t we want to legalize marijuana?

Well…here’s the problem. Marijuana is a drug. A drug. No sugarcoating or denying this fact. Drugs exist for these simple reasons: to alter behavior and feelings, to transform body chemistry and to change perceptions of reality. In pot’s case the purpose is to get high and therefore, to be removed, in a way, from life, to be above it all, hence that apt description: “high”.

Marijuana is a drug. We can dress up it up, rationalize it, minimize its potential harm to people and society, but we cannot deny why folks are drawn to drugs like pot.  Folks use the drug marijuana to get stoned. People sometimes drink alcohol just to get drunk.  Pop pills to get high. Shoot heroin to get wasted. Snort coke to feel exhilaration.

A drug is a drug is a drug, and when not taken for medical purposes, humans use drugs to escape life, in large and small ways. That’s a truth which can’t be ignored, no matter what the drug of choice is, even when a drug, like pot, is now being slowly but surely brought into the social mainstream.

Pot is a drug and users use drugs to change how they feel at any given moment. To take the edge off.  To forget. To be happy if depressed, mellow if stressed out, relaxed if anxious. Some use drugs to silence inner demons or numb haunting memories. Drugs are attractive because they allow us at a basic level to shift our experience of life, to step away from life.  Doesn’t matter if it’s a double Manhattan in a glass or a joint in the ashtray.

I fully own my bias. As I wrote in this blog in my piece about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s drug overdose death two weeks ago, I know addiction and substance abuse first hand, right up close. I work as a pastor with drug addicts and alcoholics who use and abuse drugs and in doing so ruin their lives, destroy families, and threaten communities.  I’ve buried too many folks who died from their addictions. I’ve loved addicts with all my heart and soul and prayed for their recovery, and worked to help them to stop and then watched as everything that matters to them, even life itself, was taken away by their obsessions.

And yes, lots of folks, most folks, can use alcohol or pot and not become addicted. I get that. But still I wonder…why in this beautiful and amazing gift of real life from our Creator, would we want to put something potentially harmful, even addictive, into our bodies, all to avoid or soften or warp what it means to be fully alive?  Why with all the present wreckage we already experience as a world from drug use gone crazy, would we want to legalize and give social cachet to another drug?  Why do we “need” to use mind and life altering substances in the first place? 

We as a state and a nation need to vigorously and fully debate whether or not to legalize pot. Maybe even someday soon “Rocky Mountain High” will be joined by the “Bay State Buzz”. But let’s be clear about one truth before we make that choice: marijuana is a drug.

I’ll pass. Real life is enough of a high already.

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