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End of an Outlaw Era: Legalized Marijuana

12/11/2012 01:15 pm ET | Updated Feb 10, 2013

I paid no attention to the text. I just saw on the ballot something about approving marijuana use. Assuming it meant medical marijuana, I voted for it, muttering to myself that I thought medical marijuana was already the law in the state of Washington. Oh, well, I thought, probably just a backup law for when they knocked the other one out-of-the-way.

So imagine my surprise when watching CNN on election night I learned that not only would I never have to say the words, "President Romney," but, like most people in Washington, I'd also just voted to legalize marijuana. "What!?" I cried out to the TV screen, "How'd that happen?" while my teenage daughter muttered something about what a travesty it was to give me the right to vote if I didn't have sense enough to know what for.

At long last, after 75 years, the plant was finally legal. Oops. Scratch that. The plant remains illegal. The processed elements of the plant are legal, but the plant in its natural state remains against the law. (Why can't we outlaw dandelions and kudzu while we're at it? I mean, really, if a species can be banned, why don't we go after the ones that truly cause us anguish?)

So, I wondered, is marijuana still a drug? And just what constitutes a drug anyway? Is the bare naked but illegal plant a drug or the legal but synthesized-hydroponicked-THC-concentrated extract? Ah, I see. Taxed at every stage of transformation from plant to product, it moves from drug to resource. So growing the potted plant is a no-no; consuming it is fine. Got it. Such a contradiction is entirely too much for a pot-addled brain to grasp, so I figured I'd forego thinking about it, and just round up some friends for a party.

At midnight on December 6, the minute the law went into effect, the city would be celebrating at the base of the Space Needle with a commemorative smoke-in (which might make tolerating the Needle's new vintage orange paint job a whole lot easier). For such an historical occasion, surely I could round-up a few potheads to join me. I figured I'd start with the neighbors.

"Midnight?" they responded one-by-one, "We can't stay up that late."

So this is what it's come down to. After nearly a century of prohibition, the potheads are too old to stay up long enough to notice that it's over.

Alright, midnight was too late. I'd shoot for the happy hour celebration the following evening, at the end of the first official day of legalization.

"The Space Needle?" the guy on the first floor said, "that means parallel parking." Good point. Decades of smoking marijuana pretty much does away with spatial-temporal reasoning. I figured I'd try someone else.

"Hmmm," the woman two floors down considered, taking a sip of her gin and tonic, "that might be fun. But I haven't smoked marijuana in 20 years; it always made me suspicious of everyone around me."

Which is not what you say when someone's inviting you to a pot fest; no one wants to party with a buzz kill. Better to keep looking.

I went next door and asked my neighbor if she'd like to come with me to celebrate this historical occasion, but she declined because she feared it might make her nervous system go berserk. Considering that as she explained this to me she was magnetizing herself with a giant light bulb designed by Nicolas Tesla, I was sympathetic. The human body can take only so much stimulation and a pipe-full of the wrong stuff and all those THC molecules could end up magnetically bonded to her solar plexus and no telling what might happen. Better leave well enough alone. I'd try some friends.

"Celebrate?" they said, filling the bong. "But it would be like going to a rock concert. We can't handle crowds."

I wondered if the Beatles had ever imagined this would happen.

I was just about out of pot-headed friends and neighbors when I remembered the theater people down the street. Surely they'd be up for it.

"We have to go to work in the morning," my friend explained, "but we can do something quiet here at our place."

My dreams of celebrating with the masses were over. They were right. I couldn't stay up that late myself, much less parallel park, and the thought of crowds makes me shiver. I'd grown as old as my pot-headed friends, and it was time to admit it. I really didn't want to go to the Space Needle to celebrate the end of reefer madness. I wanted to honor the occasion by just joining my friends for a respectable smoke, like grownups minding our own business, free to do so at last. So thinking if it's legal I should at least be honest, I told my daughter I'd be down the street with the theater people to usher in the end of an outlaw era. We'd be criminals no more.

"You're doing what!?" she screeched, the disgust in her voice ringing through the air.

"I said, I'm just going to be a few doors down the street, celebrating the end of Prohibition with the neighbors. I'll be home by 10."

You'd have thought I'd just told her I was going to make a movie with Octomom.

"And you expect me to respect you?" She spat out.

"Of course not," I countered, "You're a teenager. You don't respect me if I wear the wrong outfit." She stormed off to her room to fume about what a bad parent she got stuck with and I grabbed my keys and a plate of cookies. We might need them.

Of course, legal or not, smoking or possessing marijuana is still a federal crime and even talking about it carries risk and social stigma. Cannabis remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act. That means that despite 10,000 years of medicinal use, marijuana is considered by the federal government to have no medical use or accepted safe way to consume it, even under medical supervision. Cocaine, speed and opium, all Schedule II drugs, are considered lesser dangers and unlike cannabis can be prescribed by physicians.

Now, here's where I get confused, and that's probably because my blood has been saturated with Schedule I legalized debris, so bear with me. The Obama administration opposes legalizing marijuana even for medical use, throwing science out the window in order to defend keeping it as a Schedule I drug, while railing at conservatives for disregarding science. Okay. But if you get to say marijuana can't be safely consumed even if prescribed by doctors, then they get to say that dinosaurs climbed onto the ark and nature has a way of controlling rape sperm. It's only fair.

Meanwhile, conservatives who promote states' rights but oppose marijuana are afraid to open their mouths because two states took the feds on and made marijuana legal. States' rights for old hippies? That wasn't what they had in mind. These folks want less government, but more laws; they want more freedoms, but if someone is smoking bud in the bedroom, it's okay if the government seizes their home and throws their ass in prison. Whoever said that marijuana facilitated logic?

And then, to make the whole thing even weirder, alcohol kills 2.5 million people annually, but it is not only legal, drinking it is as much a part of doing business as wearing the right suit, and declining it when offered after 5 p.m. raises eyebrows (religious freak or recovering drunk? Either way they're probably trouble). And while we've gotten far less tolerant of cigarette smoke, not many people are calling for banning the sale of tobacco. Yet nicotine is more addictive than heroin and cigarettes kill six million every year

Clearly, it's not the health impacts that concern those who oppose legalizing marijuana, or they'd extend their argument to booze and cigarettes. And it's not the goofy "gateway" argument (as if a pothead has the capacity to look for their car keys, much less a stronger drug), given that tobacco and alcohol are as much "gateway" drugs as cannabis.

Those who oppose legalizing marijuana do so not for any intrinsic quality in the plant itself, but for its meanings. Marijuana remains a federal crime because it symbolizes an era of rebellion, an era of living outside the social norm, however oddly that era ushered in conformity to the non-conforming times. It isn't what marijuana does that bothers those who oppose its legalization, it's what marijuana means. So to keep the cultural meanings of the plant at bay, our government has made outlaws of its citizens who choose to forego whiskey for a toke, who skip the nicotine for THC to make our TV shows more funny.

But at least for now, in Washington and soon in Colorado, those who'd rather smoke a bowl before bedtime than take a sleeping pill, who'd rather relax with a few hits off a joint rather than a few hits off the bottle, are outlaws no more. We're mavericks. Just as long as we get to bed by midnight.

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