The Nation: Carter’s Grass-Roots Appeal

The Nation: Carters Grass-Roots Appeal

Can 35 million Americans be wrong about pot? Penalties against the possession of a drug should not be more damaging
to an individual than the use of the drug itself.” So said Jimmy Carter
in urging Congress last week to reduce federal penalties for possession
of up to 1 oz. of marijuana, enough for about four dozen joints. For a
first offense, the maximum penalty now is a year in jail and a $5,000
fine for possession of any amount of pot. The President's appeal stirred little enthusiasm on Capitol Hill, though
an estimated 35 million Americans, including Carter's three sons, have smoked pot on occasion. Nonetheless, liberals
hope that his message will enable them to get a hearing next year on a
bill that would lower the penalty to a $100 fine. The legislation has
been stuck in committee for five years. Chief reason: polls show that
most Americans still believe that pot is addictive, harms users
physically and usually leads them to hard drugs. None of this has been proved in more than ten years of scientific
studies. Early research raised fears that even occasional puffing on a
joint might lead to personality changes, birth defects, brain
shrinkage, sterility in men, lowered resistance to disease and heart
damage. Other studies have disputed these findings. Moreover, several
studies have indicated that the major active ingredient in pot,
tetrahydrocannabinol , might even have medical uses. THC expands
bronchial passages, which helps asthma patients breathe easier. It
decreases pressure inside the eyes, which alleviates glaucoma. It also
controls vomiting, relieves depression and, in some cases, eases pain. Although a final verdict must await further studies, most researchers
now believe that aside from rare bad trips by novice smokers, marijuana
is hazardous only for chronic heavy users—people who get stoned nearly
every day. They risk becoming psychologically dependent on pot and
damaging their lungs with the tar in marijuana smoke. But light or
occasional use of marijuana—once or twice a week —usually produces
only a pleasant high, no more dangerous than mild intoxication from
alcohol. Of course, pot like alcohol affects users' judgment and
reflexes, so it can lead to accidents if people drive or operate
machinery while high. Alaska has no penalties at all for possession of small amounts. Nine
other states* have reduced the penalties; 34 more may follow suit.
Entrepreneurs would like to cash in on the growing demand for pot.
Louisville Promoter Gatewood Galbraith has organized a grassroots
campaign to put Kentucky in a position to corner the market if and when
pot is legalized. Says he: “Kentucky's already got parimutuel betting.
It's got whisky and it's got tobacco. You just can't beat the
combination of marijuana and money.” Under his plan, the state would
license growers and retail dealers. He calculates that the scheme would
cut in half the street price of pot and earn Kentucky about $150 million a year in fees—a
heady prospect for politicians who would like a painless way to cut
taxes and raise revenues at the same time. -*California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, New
York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon.