Generation Gap: On marijuana, retiree says moderation makes sense in N.H.
File - In this Dec. 5, 2013 file photo, marijuana matures at the Medicine Man dispensary and grow operation in northeast Denver. Colorado voters still support the state law that legalized recreational marijuana, but most believe it is hurting the image of the state, according to a new poll released Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. The Quinnipiac University Poll found that 51 percent of voters overall believe the measure is bad for the state's reputation, while 38 percent see it as a net positive. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski, file)
My mother belonged to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Though the WCTU’s goal has always been to create a “sober and pure world” through moderation in all things, Mom’s focus when I was a kid was on keeping our home, and our minds, alcohol-free. For a while, my allowance money was tithed to help the cause.
Her fervor was real. When neighborhood dads gathered on a front stoop over bottles of Narragansett beer on a summer evening, I was forbidden to play with their children. When my paper route took me to the barber shop on Main Street, Mom warned me – continually – to steer clear of the “barroom” next door. When, as a teenager, I tried to surprise my parents by purchasing a pizza at the local tavern and bringing it home for dinner, Mom threw it in the garbage.
The fervor also ran to family and friends. Growing up, I never saw a relative touch a single drop, at our house or anyone else’s. And alcohol was never present in the homes of family friends – at least while we were visiting.
When I got to college, in the late 1950s, I quickly got a different take on booze. Like a lot of other things in life, I found, alcohol could be a blessing or a curse, depending on how you used it. I was able – as were most others – to take the sensible path. Mostly.
Later, it was the same with grass. If you worked on college campuses in the 1960s and ’70s, as I did, it was as easy to come by – and as popular among students, faculty and staff – as alcohol. But in a setting in which most of my user-friends were intent on making or burnishing reputations, moderation again prevailed. Stoners and slackers we were not. We may have been frequent fliers, but we were low-altitude. We’d get into Iron Butterfly and Black Sabbath, but that was all we’d get into. Mostly.
In the business world, which I entered in the mid-’70s, pot became even less a part of my life. Now I had more pressing concerns: helping raise two kids, climbing the corporate ladder, paying for a house and two cars in the ’burbs, running marathons, doing home repair, volunteering.
And without students around, weed was no longer so easy to come by. Eventually, by the mid-1980s, thoughts of getting high dropped off the radar screen entirely. I’ve been grass-free since about 1985. Have I missed it? Mostly not.
So what do I think today about the legalization of marijuana, especially for recreational use?
Well, I’ve long believed few things are as good or as bad as they’re claimed to be by the loudest people in the room.
In other words, the idea of moderation in all things is a pretty good one to live by. If you’re not an extremist about it.
So as to the cannabis question, the first thought is that there’s a lot of absolutism and extremism going around: Marijuana is a medicinal godsend. Cannabis will turn your brain to mush. Taxing it will lessen or eliminate the need for a state income tax. The social cost will outweigh the economic benefit. Weed will increase tourism. Grass will destroy tourism as we know it. Legalization will put an end to pot-smuggling and foreign drug empires. Legalization will just force the smugglers to become more competitive. And so on.
My second thought is, Why the rush?
With regard to recreational pot, why enthuse about creating a legislative “first” here? Why not focus instead on getting it right? Why not devise a comprehensive strategic approach to the issue – one that might go something like this:
∎ Let’s work to correct the unfairness of current possession laws, and how they’re enforced.
∎ Let’s learn, from our own state’s monopoly on hard-liquor sales, all we can about how to control cannabis sales and wring revenue from them.
∎ Let’s learn from other states. These can provide important experiments that we can monitor – and at no cost to us. For example, what are the social costs of these experiments? Who’s paying for them? What is the tax revenue being used for? Out of whose pockets is that revenue coming? Is usage on the rise? By whom?
∎ Let’s collect other research that exists, on both the medicinal and recreational fronts. Let’s focus especially on understanding why some folks seem physiologically unable to practice moderation.
∎ Let’s make a serious effort to find out why our state has such a high rate of marijuana use among the young.
∎ Let’s understand the difference between correlation and causation. Because two actions occur closely in time, that fact does not necessarily mean that the earlier action has caused the later one. For example, does marijuana use cause vehicle accidents, or is alcohol – often consumed at the same time – the main causal factor? We don’t seem to know.
∎ Let’s get support for this approach from local foundations and other institutions that have a stake in the game, and in New Hampshire.
In other words, let’s take our time and decide the issue not just from easily recited talking points, but from all the available facts we can gather. Again, what’s the rush?
As H. L. Mencken famously observed, and as others writing on this topic have echoed: “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple – and wrong.”
(Larry Chase of Andover is a recovering corporate American.)