By Susan Hamilton
I watched the pundits argue for and against marijuana legalization in Texas a couple Sunday mornings ago on WFAA. This is such a polarizing subject to people who don’t know anything about pot, I feel like this is one of those situations where two opposing arguments are ridiculous when no one is discussing the real issue behind marijuana legalization legislation. As business owners, parents and citizens, these issues directly affect you, your family, seniors, veterans, health care and the way you do business.
Medicinal use is one perspective – and it does concern health care and veterans. I’m going right where the money is, and why it matters to your business.
Let’s talk about recreational pot.
First of all, I want you to know I don’t talk about this ignorantly. I spent over 22 years of my life smoking pot casually, privately, and believed for many years that it was my right. I started around 15, and by 18 I became involved in a very dangerously abusive relationship that lasted for the next seven years. No one was gonna tell me I couldn’t get high; they had never been ME.
One thing about potheads, my friends, is that they like to hang with other potheads. I’m well aware of what stupid looks like, and well aware of what responsible looks like to a pothead, and I’m convinced after what took years to clean pot out of my system, there isn’t any argument or discussion I haven’t heard or participated in.
Pot is NOT All Fun and Games
Let me just say for the record that the reason I don’t smoke pot anymore isn’t because I quit liking it. As a matter of fact, I don’t hang in those circles today specifically because it’s very hard for me to turn it down, and I’m not sure I will. I’ve got a super active mind, and I like the idea of ‘not thinking’ once a while.
No, I stopped getting high when I realized that I had allowed my oldest son to get into trouble, and though I was private with my behavior (or so I thought) I’m convinced that I could have seen what he was going through had I not thought I had some kind of right to ‘check out’ in my bathroom before I went to sleep at night. It’s more like the mom who will always wonder if she had correctly secured the baby’s car seat before the life altering wreck. Did she double-check? Would it have made a difference … You can’t answer that, you just make sure it never happens again.
People who get high are unaware of what it takes to quit. They feel cranky when they go a couple of days without, but it takes much longer to get your brain to work the way it’s supposed to again. Had I seen a doctor, they would have put me on meds to ‘balance me out’ and I didn’t want to trade one form of withdrawal for another one day. I believed I could clean up over time with diet, exercise and a new focus – and I did, but the two years it took me to do so included extreme anxiety, inability to drive over 40 mph, mood swings, sweats, and severe depression. I’m quite certain there’s a doctor out there reading this that thinks I should have gone for the drugs!
I Didn’t Have The Right To Get High After All
Jesus held my hand through it all. And I’m grateful He pulled my head out of my butt before three more of my five rebellious teenagers would eventually do time for drug and alcohol related crime. If God made pot so people would get along better, which I reasoned He did, then I should be able to find some reference for it in the Bible. I read and searched and prayed all through my oldest son’s years of routine incarcerations while I tried to make sense of what had happened to our lives, and one day I came upon ‘Be alert therefore to pray.’
It changed my life. That’s the last thing you want to do high. You just want to ‘chill.’ Do nothing. I might put my baseball cap on and scurry off the grocery store, but I wasn’t about to see if a neighbor needed anything. Chances are, I wouldn’t look the check-out clerk in the eye, either, because I didn’t want anyone to know I was high and I just wanted to be left alone. But that’s not my right, you see. Things happen all around us all the time. With a clear head, life is easy to miss! I had – and still have – a responsibility to think about others, and NOT be so inward focused that all I want to do is go through the motions of life comfortably numb.
I know with many of you, that struck a nerve. Good. Here’s the deal. I like my brain. I learned I could learn, and learn I have. I now run three businesses and enjoy a life in community and service I would never have known high. My friendships are REAL friendships, and I can see things I never saw during those years. The un-commonality of common sense is a RUDE awakening.
So whether you get high or not, you should agree this much is true: potheads are non-violent. Potheads tend to do more thinking and talking about their dreams and visions than ever accomplishing them. Potheads are less likely to take up civil activity and lend a hand to people they don’t know, because people who don’t know they get high make them uncomfortable.
Potheads do not rob gas stations, they won’t beat anyone up, they don’t do violent, and they aren’t very dangerous at all because they have lost ‘gumption’ to do much of anything let alone make a difference – even if occasionally emphatic. They get loud in their backyard or living room with a handful of select friends and talk about what they would do differently if they were in charge, but the odds are very good they would have no opportunity, no wherewithal and no real desire to actually get anything done but have that conversation.
Just Lock ‘Em Up … ?
In effect, what we have done with our current legislation, is take a bunch of people who aren’t willing to do much of anything at all, and arrest them, making sure that getting a job or apartment is out of the question. Then we tell them to pay our probation departments to pee test them monthly or weekly and pay off that big fine for a couple of years and if they can do all that, they won’t go back to court. If they do get lucky and get employment, the employer has to let them do all that stuff during the government work hours or they go back to court, also on the employer’s time.
Who wants that? Nobody. Odds are real good that unless they have a relationship with someone willing to take that chance on them, they won’t find a job, they won’t be able to pay their fines, and they will eventually get picked up and returned to jail because the only people who can stand this situation are other potheads. OR, their parents will see the stupidity of it all and pay the damn fine they can’t afford because they can’t get hired. This is NOT about correcting a pothead. At ALL. This is about securing revenue.
We take people who are doing nothing, and tell them because they will do nothing, we will take away their ability to get employment or a home of their own. But here’s what people who understand this issue know too well, and what private prisons are counting on. A pothead won’t stop getting high because of a pee test and a fine. They’ll risk jail over and over and over again because of their ‘right’ to do something that’s not hurting anybody. It’s the most political stand they will ever take.
Current data is hard to find, but in 2013, the greatest arrest rate for juveniles and adults in Texas for possession was for pot. 80%, according to Domingo Garcia during the argument I heard on WFAA. You could argue that didn’t necessarily mean incarceration, but it surely does mean probation fees at the least. It’s GREAT money, and our state, county and local budgets depend on it. We incarcerate kids as young as twelve years old – I’ve volunteered with people who tell me they’ve seen 7-year olds in jail – and get them started in the system knowing full well that the younger we get ‘em in there, the more they can count on those beds being filled indefinitely. By PRIVATELY run prisons.
Wouldn’t you think the younger the criminal, the easier to rehabilitate? Not true. Youth counts AGAINST those seeking parole. No, marijuana is seldom a felony for a youth, but it’s a Misdemeanor A or B, carrying quite a punch if they do it within blocks of a school. It doesn’t take much for a kid getting into this type of trouble to continue to escalate criminally when they’ve already been exposed to courtrooms. By the time they’re 17, we say they are acting as adults. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met an adult 17-year-old. Met plenty of cocky 17-year-old punks, though. And it IS frustrating to figure out what to do with them. But it sure is worth a LOT of money the longer we can keep them locked up.
We expect 80% of people who get incarcerated to go back, and of those of them who are parents, we expect 70% of their kids to consider this a normal life. My kids were always the only white kids in jail. If you work in the juvenile or adult criminal justice, and you’re white, you’re a big time minority from what I’ve seen. I volunteer in jails weekly, have worked in and will continue to work in prisons, and can tell you that our incarcerated tend to come from the same zip codes, they all know each other well; their brothers and sisters – the whole community. EVERYONE who knows anything about this situation is well aware that marijuana legislation is a part of our city, county and state budgets – and without all those potheads in jail, significant money would have to be made up.
The Marijuana Debate Has Nothing To Do With Morals
Most of you remember our teen years. We’d get pulled over, the officer would take our pot and tell us to go home and stay out of trouble. That was before the War on Drugs, which is actually a war on our society. Today, that’s a potentially unemployed person living off of others for years. Guess what? A pothead can work and some can do a pretty good job. Not all of them, for sure, but some can. A pothead not working is much more likely to experiment with and become addicted to more severe drugs.
So we basically farm people who won’t do anything else with their lives. But if that sounds perfectly reasonable to you, then consider who pays. Small business is federally taxed around 40%, and property tax districts are where you’ll find line items for schools and criminal justice.
WE pay for this. Our kids can’t pay. Potheads in the system can’t pay. WE are taking the least likely to do anything violent or aggressive and paying to have them treated like garbage and in our religious arguments say stupid crap like, ‘what benefit to the community is it to allow people to get high?’ Shouldn’t the question be, ‘who benefits when we lock up our lazy kids, abused people and people who work labor intensive jobs?’ Because that’s who’s using pot in America today. Gangs are into much bigger things.
Is your community safer? No. Are we locking up less and less because this is an effective strategy? No. If people want to limit themselves to the routine, mundaneness of everyday life, just pacifying themselves as they move through it, I don’t see why they can’t grow their own plant and just get high. They won’t bother you.
Because not doing it has released the real gateway drug that none of us saw coming. Alternative pot – the bane of every parent, probation, parole and police officer out working today. Ask them, they’ll tell you. You can’t smell it, test for it or understand why the person you’re talking to just started to slur and fall into the deepest sleep you’ve ever seen. And when they wake up, they’ll put a hole through your walls, jump cops and horrify the community. That stuff is addictive and mean as hell. Why isn’t IT getting covered on the news every night? Follow the money. Who pays for advertising during the news? That’s another article. The minute we arrest a pothead for use or possession, we incarcerate and add probation to the end of the sentence. They go straight to alternative pot to show the law ‘a thing or two’ by passing urinalysis and nobody wins, because it turns our kids, friends, neighbors, brothers and sisters into zombies with violent tendencies for years. We cannot legislate marijuana and win.
I’m not saying people who won’t stop behaving criminally should just be let go. But is marijuana use criminal, or stupid – or maybe something else, like self-medicating emotional pain? And if our solution for stupid people and people in pain is just to lock them all up and tell them they deserve it, I think we’re leaning into extremely dangerous territory. It wasn’t too long ago a certain country tried to lock up the masses because they didn’t agree with their religious beliefs. People who didn’t think like them were considered stupid and useless, too. Friends, we’re teetering at locking up 25% of our population.
Are There Better Ways For Our Society to Stop Drug Use?
Most parents agree, a proactive approach trumps a reactive one. One solution is to get kids excited about thinking again. But that might take a teacher with some age and experience behind her, so let’s not force her to retire. It will take creative teachers with more flexibility to encourage a desire to learn. Cell phones severely inhibit the attention a teacher receives. The competition for the students’ attention is very destructive for learning. I don’t know what to do about that, parents want the kids to have phones.
The solution for adults? I’m not sure.
And I don’t see why it has to be my problem, though I’ll do my best to share my personal story in an attempt to help heal another. As an employer, I know full well – and bet you do too – how to tell if someone’s a pothead during the interview. I don’t have to hire them if I don’t want. I don’t have to have a criminal history check box on the application. That check box tells me nothing of someones’ integrity or ability to do things well. That checkbox assumes far too much about people who check it – AND the people who don’t. Just because they didn’t get caught doesn’t mean it wasn’t done.
I don’t have the answers. I just can’t hold my mouth shut when we’re arguing about legislating marijuana use and hit NONE of the issues that should be TOP of the list in that debate.
Common sense is truly uncommon. Please take this discussion beyond the kitchen table.
Susan Hamilton is the editor of The OffBeat Business Magazine and host of The OffBeat Business Show, showcasing businesses who are doing an exceptional job meeting the needs of the American business community and reaching out to the community at large. Find our lineup, replays and sign up to get The OffBeat Business Magazine at OffBeatBusiness.com, and send your very welcome feedback to Info@OffBeatBusiness.com.