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The Criminalization of Pot Killed My Best Friend (and Ruined My Life)

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Some days I wonder if my best friend is the lucky one. He's dead. Since he -- I'll call him George* -- died, I quit my corporate job that I hated, became a full-time freelance writer, and published my first book. I've traveled all over North America. I've fallen in love for the first time. And yet, some days I wonder if George -- who never experienced any of these joys -- is the lucky one. He does not have to live his entire life with the gutwrenching, horrific, never-ending grief I feel every day.

George had an anxiety problem. He had it from a young age, but it was never diagnosed until about a year before his death. In high school, George found a way to sooth his pain: smoking pot. He smoked a lot of pot. I'll never argue that smoking pot is healthy (it isn't), but at least nobody overdoses on pot and dies from it. You can't say that about alcohol, or many pharmaceuticals, all of which are legal.

When George was just old enough to be charged as an adult, he was caught with a decent amount of pot and charged with a felony. In his state, anywhere between 30g and 500g of marijuana gets the same sentence. He had a little more than 30g, I think. Ultimately, he was given a few years probation and perhaps a fine. But he could no longer smoke pot, unless he wanted his legal problems to get a whole lot worse.

George was a young adult facing a bad economy and the dilemma of choosing a college major and a career that he both enjoyed and expected to make a living from, and his anxiety ripped him apart. Finally he admitted his problem and sought help. He was prescribed a cocktail of prescription drugs, including an addictive anxiety med called Clonazepam. At the time, I never questioned it because a doctor prescribed it. After his death, I told his story to a psychiatrist and she said she would NEVER prescribe Clonazepam to a patient like George.

The last week of George's life was a happy one. Things were looking up. He decided to change his major from one he hated but thought would be profitable (finance) to one he loved and was gifted in (English). He told me he was on an emotional high and he had not been this happy in recent memory.

The last day of his life, I considered calling. It was a Thursday. I decided to call over the weekend instead. I had no idea that, had I called, I might have gotten in one last precious conversation with him before he popped those pills. I called Saturday; no answer. I called Monday; no answer. While I was leaving a voicemail on his phone Monday, his parents were trying to reach me with the news. They couldn't reach him for several days either so they checked his apartment. There, they found a four-day-old rotting corpse.

I will never know if George would be alive if pot was legal. If he had never been charged with a felony, what would have happened? If he never had to look to another drug to take the edge off his pain, what would have happened? There's simply no way of knowing. But there's a reasonable chance that his life could have been saved if marijuana was legal. And there's a reasonable chance that more lives will be saved in the future if California passes Prop 19 and legalizes marijuana.

The pharmaceutical industry -- which got a rather lucrative customer in George (if only briefly) -- does not want marijuana to be legal. Neither does the alcohol industry, which is now openly spending money to defeat Prop 19. And, in an even more cynical twist, the prison lobby likes keeping pot illegal. Oh how profitable it would have been if they could have locked George up instead of letting him go on probation!

I do not even have words to say what I think about this. They are after money, but it's lives that are at stake, not money. They want a few more dollars for their shareholders, but I want my best friend back. And I do not want any other person to lose their loved ones (to either death or jail) because of this stupid, immoral law.

If marijuana is illegal because it's a gateway drug, then why are cigarettes and alcohol legal? It's just money, and always has been. And -- I was in my 20s when I lost George -- I'm paying the price by living nearly my entire adulthood without my best friend. How many others are paying such a dear price so that a few industries can profit? Please, vote on Nov. 2, and vote YES on Prop 19. Do it for George.

*George's family is sensitive about several of the details I shared here, so that is why I have changed his name.