Columns 2008

Pot is not the enemy

Every once in a while, I am forced to face the fact that the war on drugs is an abject failure, yet lack of a spine in way too many politicians has made a rational, national discussion of this issue practically impossible.  Which is just pathetically sad because the billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost to this hopeless war could have been much better spent in treating people with a problem, to say nothing of how much we’d save if we emptied our jails of people whose only crime was pot.

This issue comes to the forefront again in my life because of its impact on the work I do with children.  It is apparently OK under state law to adopt children out to parents who drink so long as their drinking is not a problem. So if they have a glass or wine with dinner or a cocktail before a play, the state deems them acceptable adoptive parents. But if a person smokes at all, even once, even away from the child, the law considers them unsuitable and they are asked to get substance abuse evaluations.

Considering that alcohol is a gazillion times more likely to be the problem causing children to be removed from their homes, this simply doesn’t make sense. It makes even less sense when the assumption is that anyone who smokes pot has a debilitating addiction but anyone who drinks is considered healthy unless proven otherwise.

There are a lot of people in this state with a severe drinking problem. Whether we like it or not, many of them overcome that addiction by replacing it with pot.  That might not be the ideal solution, but as someone who has worked with abused kids for over thirty years, if that’s what it takes to make a home where kids are safe, fed and allowed to sleep through the night without blood spattering their bedding from dad beating mom, then I say give them all the pot they want. Most people on pot do not get violent, rape their children or forget to feed them.  Maybe not the ideal situation, but I’ve been around long enough to know that people rarely achieve perfection.

I have been to more than one meeting on abused children where participants go off to dinner after a full day of workshops and order a cocktail or glass of wine to help them unwind from the day.  They see no irony in sipping that beverage while discussing the problems that drug abuse causes in our state and nation. They simply see no connection between their use of alcohol and substance abuse.  Because although they are all intellectually aware that alcohol is a drug, the knee jerk reaction of almost everyone in this country is to mentally exclude our use of alcohol from thoughts of drug use.  Yet it is a drug, albeit a legal one.

So if we can so easily accept alcohol as a regulated drug acceptable for adult use and only a problem when abused, why is it so hard to start a real discussion about pot use?  Seriously, when was the last time you picked up the paper or watched the evening news and heard about someone going nuts on just pot and committing a heinous crime?  If an honest discussion were ever allowed about pot in this country, we’d all have to admit that one of the most violent drugs in our society is the one that is legal – alcohol.

I find it amusing that at this late stage in my life I am writing a column in defense of pot.  It feels like something I should have written in the sixties. The truth is that in an ideal world, all parents would raise their children in safe, sober homes where the strongest substance used was caffeine. But Ozzie and Harriet don’t exist anymore and no home is ever really as perfect as the one they portrayed. So we go with the best possible homes we can create to raise our children. In some cases, that’s a home where parents might smoke pot.  In my experience with troubled families in this state, if forced to choose, I find it highly preferable to alcohol.

It’s like I said, it’s a sin we can’t have an honest discussion about drug use in our society. Because if we did, alcohol would probably end up banned and pot use would be legal.