Pot, peace, prejudice and Pokemon

PROTESTS against the Vietnam War were common in 1968 (Wikipedia).

PROTESTS against the Vietnam War were common in 1968 (Wikipedia).

This is a week of great anxiety and light foolishness. Much of the nation is absorbed in reflection over whether recent shootings of and by police are tearing the country apart, while another segment is walking into trees and posts while staring at their smartphones playing the latest Pokemon Go! App.

retortsA little perspective, perhaps. America, like almost any other nation, has always been divided. Race, education, gender, income, region, religion, sexual orientation, career, etc. have perpetually been boxes that divided my set of interests from yours. In a presidential year – especially in this era of social media, in which nuttiness finds a huge audience without the filter of sometime inebriated journalists – things get even crazier.

But hearken back, if you can, to the true wildness of 1968. The public was divided much more emotionally by the increasing unpopularity of the Vietnam War. That situation was made more extreme by the surprising rise of the Viet Cong in the Tet offensive, which was ultimately a military disaster for the communists, but a political victory in the sense that it convinced many people that the war was unwinnable.

That same year saw the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, race riots in the big cities and rising violent crime. Inflation was rising and the North Koreans seized an American ship and were holding its crew members hostage.

Compared to deep wounds of 1968, this year is just an inflammation. Of course, it doesn’t seem that way to the directly involved. But for most part, the divisions that exist today are nothing new; they’re just being amplified and exaggerated by Facebook and Fox and MSNBC by people who should know better, but don’t.


The Garden Grove City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to reject a proposal to tax the sale of medicinal marijuana within city limits. It was an odd proposal to begin with, since the sale of medicinal marijuana is banned in the Big Strawberry. Most observers saw the idea of a tax as a prelude to lifting the ban.

Marijuana has a proven benefit – for some people – to aid in the alleviation of pain from cancer therapy and other health needs. But, let’s be frank: most people who want to buy dope are doing it because they want to get high. The same might be said, frankly, of alcohol. However, Demon Rum and its relatives are too embedded in our culture to ever be rooted out. The best we can hope for is for folks to not combine drinking with hazardous activities like driving, using fireworks or having an argument.

I am philosophically opposed to smoking marijuana on general principles, but I don’t think society will collapse if a person lights up a doobie in the privacy of his or her home. As Lincoln (or maybe it was Yogi Berra) said, “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.” So where does marijuana fall, nose-wise?

Reasonable access to Mary Jane for legitimate medicinal uses? Sure. Dispensed through a recognized pharmacy like CVS or Walgreen’s? OK.

Ah, but here’s the problem. The federal government still classifies pot as a Class 1 narcotic and therefore illegal to possess. So not only will the legit drug stores not want to distribute the stuff, the banks don’t want to do business with anyone who does.

That means that the pot shops are almost exclusively cash-only businesses. Considering what we know about human nature, it seems likely that the tax collected from such informal accounting processes will be much smaller than the actual amount owed. So the theory that taxing medicinal marijuana would pay from important public services is a bit shaky.

California’s approach to medicinal MJ has not been well thought-out. The experience of the states that have legalized pot, such as Colorado, will be instructive, but still too limited to draw lasting conclusions from.

It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis. Do we now have the processes and policies in place to keep the fist of marijuana users from the nose of those who don’t care to smell the smoke or suffer from the blight of the cheesy pot shops that dotted the city several years ago?

No. Not yet. And that’s probably a good answer to whether the sale of marijuana in Garden Grove should be taxed or legal at all.

Jim Tortolano’s Retorts column appears every Wednesday. Usually.

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