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Sun., April 7, 2013

Smart Bombs: Pot paranoia is preposterous

Alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana. If we could do it all over again, which of them would a rational society place off-limits?

Each year, alcohol kills about 75,000 Americans. The massacre of Connecticut schoolchildren was certainly horrifying, but do you recall the 1988 Kentucky tragedy when a drunken driver killed 24 students when plowing into a school bus?

As for cigarettes, let’s fire up the figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “The adverse health effects from cigarette smoking account for an estimated 443,000 deaths, or nearly one of every five deaths, each year in the United States. More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined.”

We all know somebody who’s been killed by cigarettes and alcohol, but do you know any victims of marijuana? Me either. It makes people high, but it doesn’t put them six feet under.

So, knowing what we know now, which of the three substances would you make illegal? For me, the last choice would be the only one that’s currently against the law … in most places.

In Washington and Colorado, voters legalized marijuana, which has put government officials on the spot. They know marijuana isn’t worth the vast sums spent cracking down on it. They know cops execute busts and then recount those adventures over a shot and a beer – or more – before driving home.

But it’s their job, and “we’ve always done it this way.”

Currently, the state Liquor Control Board is trying to draw up rules that fulfill the public’s wishes for the legal consumption of marijuana, but they can’t avoid the contradictions with alcohol. Gov. Jay Inslee recently warned of the possible spread of “pot bars.” Gosh, wouldn’t that be terrible. Marijuana consumed in public places!

Think I’ll crack open a cold one while pondering this quote from Inslee spokesman David Postman: “We will implement the will of the voters and create a well-regulated industry. Washingtonians did not vote for a wide-open policy.”

No, they did not. Neither did they endorse a passel of laws being pushed to relax alcohol limits. Spokesman-Review reporter Jim Camden wrote about those in Tuesday’s paper.

How about a glass of merlot or a shot of Jack Daniel’s while watching a movie at a theater? There’s a bill for that. Could you have a marijuana brownie, too? Nope. How about letting wine-making students sample their wares? There’s a bill for that. But good luck finding a horticulture class on cannabis cultivation.

Voters passed an initiative that limited alcohol sales from craft distilleries to two liters per customer per day, but there’s a bill that would expand that to three liters. A couple of bills would let stores and farmers markets offer free samples of booze. And marijuana? Nope on dope.

The arguments for not wanting to promote marijuana use are familiar. In fact, Derek Franklin, of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention, employed many of them … in urging lawmakers not to relax alcohol laws. To do so, he said, would encourage “the normalization of alcohol,” and sends a message to young people that drinking is acceptable, even at the movies, from which they’d have to drive home.

Kinda late for that, Mr. Franklin. Government promotes wineries and breweries for tourism dollars. It pushes gambling via the lottery.

I’m not suggesting we shut all of that down; but I am trying to reconcile the liberalization of liquor laws with the government freakout over marijuana, which is lumped with heroin – heroin! – in federal statutes.

It seems that marijuana’s only crime was failing to gain acceptance in “respectable society,” because the fear is out way out of proportion to the threat. Let’s at least be honest and accept that the greater danger lies in Fast Times at Olympia when it comes to booze.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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