January 13, 2010 in Opinion

Smart Bombs: Be blunt about pot law

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Washington state’s medicinal marijuana law is dopey. It is legal to have a certain amount of pot with a doctor’s prescription, but the police might bust you for obtaining or dispensing it.

Voters approved the law in 1998, but the state Legislature has done very little to make it workable. It isn’t hard, but if lawmakers are truly flummoxed, they could look to their New Jersey counterparts, who on Monday passed a medical marijuana law that includes a framework for implementation.

The law allows severely ill patients suffering from specific ailments to possess 2 ounces of marijuana per month from state-monitored dispensaries. It’s like getting a prescription before buying a bottle of booze from a state-approved store – but with even more restrictions. In New Jersey, there will be a total of six pot shops, and the patients’ maladies must be on the lawmaker-approved list.

These restrictions were adopted to placate those with the traditional fears that gave rise to the ineffective war on pot. Legalization will encourage kids to use it, say the worriers. So we should criminalize OxyContin, because talk show hosts can’t resist abuse? Well, no. There is a medicinal value, just as there is with marijuana, and there are laws to deal with abusers.

Though the New Jersey law is unnecessarily restrictive, at least it gives law enforcement and patients clear guidelines. If Washington adopted a similar law, patients wouldn’t need to grow their own pot or worry about crossing a hazy legal boundary in purchasing it. Police could more efficiently enforce the law and discontinue lengthy investigations into whether a dispensary has more than one customer.

As for the feds, they can continue to ignore simple possession. They have better things to do. So does local law enforcement. The Legislature ought to be clear about that.

Doubletalk. And so with the comment by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid in the book “Game Change,” out come the predictable charges of “double standard.” The irony is that so many critics are eager to drop their previous complaints about the scourge of political correctness.

Here’s the controversial passage: “He was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama – a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,’ as he said privately. Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama’s race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination.”

I’m no fan of Reid, but this strikes me as an accurate – and indelicate – observation about the electorate in general. To others, it’s horrifying because he chose “Negro” as an adjective and it is about race in general. We cannot talk about that. It’s shameful! So apparently, the proper response is to be more upset than Obama himself.

What’s interesting is that some of the critics have a history of complaining that political correctness hinders any discussion of race. This is true. But they make the mistake of comparing this to U.S. Sen. Trent Lott’s resignation as majority leader for a race-based comment. Was it a similar comment?

Here it is: “I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”

Thurmond broke from the Democratic Party in 1948 to run for president as a Dixiecrat, because he wanted to preserve racial segregation. I realize that desegregation was an inconvenience to some and that it caused “all these problems.” But most Americans regard this as progress and a triumph for equality. Without it, we wouldn’t even be talking about an African-American president.

But context doesn’t matter when angling for political advantage, and that hinders frank talk about race. Before this week, that mattered to many people who now profess anger.

Now that’s a double standard.

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Wednesdays and Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or at (509) 459-5026.


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