420 Lessons We Can Learn from Legalizing Weed
If you’re wondering why I am a bit late publishing this week’s TRUTH: In 1000 Words or Less, allow me to apologize for my malfeasance. See, I fully intended to pen this column last night, on the eve of the 4/20 holiday when stoners from around the world stay up late hoping to espy a glimpse of Willie Nelson bringing them “wrapped” presents of joy and merriment from his sleigh, but the next thing I knew, I had nodded off pleasantly after furiously poring over my ill-mannered prose. Oh-who am I kidding? Truth is that I keeled over two sheets to the wind after celebrating with two weed cookies my friend Margaret gave me over a week ago- or what we in Colorado like to call “a fun Wednesday night”. When I was awoken this morning by the dog licking the freshly-formed saliva from the corners of my mouth, I rustled to, immediately grasping the horrors of my delinquency and setting off to write the column I should have written last night. Right after finishing off the last of those two cookies.
For those of you out there predisposed to straightforward, literal interpretations that preclude the nuances of humor and satire, let me assure you that the previous paragraph was pure folly- I do not actually eat marijuana edibles. Fact is, such things did not even exist when I was a teenager. Sure, weed-laced brownies were the substance of many a folk legend, but in high school, I had never met a soul who would dare risk their own precious stash in the speculative venture of making marijuana baked goods. That’s because marijuana wasn’t legal back then and was thus much harder to come by. Back then, nobody dreamed of a day when you could just walk down to your local pot shop and buy as much as you wanted. Sure you’d see the editors of High Times magazine staging protests around the country on April 20th, but then all of them would smoke a big fat doobie and go home. Like many a weed-induced aspiration of the perpetual stoner, they went nowhere. But then something truly amazing happened that changed the entire trajectory of the marijuana legal reform movement: big money came walking on through the door.
In last week’s column, I talked about how the Citizens United case opened the floodgates of corporate political influence by allowing unfettered campaign contributions. But money has been a part of American politics for quite some time now and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So perhaps it’s time to take a look at a couple ways we might spin the framework to actually reflect the interest of the American people.
Throughout the 80’s and 90’s, Americans’ attitude toward marijuana legalization grew progressively more lax, with a majority believing that it should be decriminalized. But what kept legislators from moving on the issue were the sizable donations that kept pouring in from the tobacco and alcohol industries both of whom had a clear interest in keeping marijuana illegal lest it cut into their own projected revenue. While many states began legalizing marijuana for medical use throughout the early 2000’s, it was not until the Cole Memorandum in 2013 that the prospects of legal sales of marijuana for recreational use became tangible. That’s because the Cole Memorandum provided some assurance of protection from federal prosecution that finally allowed investors to put real money into the business of growing weed and thus buy a lobby of their own. In other words, it was when weed made people money, other than your drug dealer Lenny, that the law finally changed. Money is what changes laws, not values.
But perhaps we can all glean a valuable lesson from this and apply it in other areas where reform is greatly needed. The most obvious example of this, of course, is gun control. Many of us who are not insane, buffoonish, gun-toting stooges of the NRA recognize that something must be done about the epidemic of gun violence in this country but feel like we are just banging our heads against the wall when even common sense gun legislation fails to pass despite overwhelming public support in favor of it. That’s because, as I wrote last week, the lobby of the NRA makes enough backhanded corporate donations to keep even Democratic legislators from passing meaningful gun reform laws. So perhaps instead we should just focus on getting one gun bill passed, one that would dramatically alter the entire financial dynamic of the gun epidemic.
Think about what changed the influence of the tobacco industry in the United States. It wasn’t an enhanced understanding of the deleterious impacts of smoking. It was the lawsuits that gouged their corporate profits and funded a series of anti-smoking ad campaigns. In the 1990’s a series of lawsuits threatened to do the same thing to the gun manufacturers but the Bush administration and a Republican-controlled legislature passed the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), a law that gives gun manufacturers and sellers unprecedented immunity from lawsuits. While that still permitted legal liability at the state level, 34 states have since passed similar legislation, barring victims of gun violence from suing gun manufacturers. But in 2012, the families of the Sandy Hook massacre, living in the state of Connecticut where there was no such lawsuit immunity, were awarded a $73 million settlement against the manufacturer of the assault weapon used in that tragic event. Now just imagine what would happen to these peddlers of death if they were able to be sued by every single family that died at the hands of their products. We don’t need to outlaw the guns. We just need to make them financially unviable.
Fact is that we can use that same financially motivated approach for a host of issues where our elected officials prove intractable in terms of passing meaningful reform legislation. Since we cannot seem to pass legislation to protect the reproductive rights of women, let women sue the men who get them pregnant or just let them sue the state for forcing them to have the baby. Don’t ban TikTok. Let angry parents sue them for the damage it is doing to their kids’ brains. Don’t start an investigation into airline practices. Allow bumped passengers to seek damages for the impacts incurred due to the cancellation. And then we can all sit back, enjoy a couple of Margaret’s cookies and watch the world become a better place.