Voices Column: Don't Bogart that evidence

I got a fit of the giggles the other day, and not because I was smoking pot — but it was pot related. I was reading the numerous Facebook posts (and we’re talking a record number) we received on the subject following last Friday’s feature.

More than a few folks were having a good time (in a Reefer Madness kinda way) with civic leaders who fretted out loud about “pot parties” and the general mayhem and debauchery that could follow the legalization of marijuana — which is set to happen by next summer.

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One person wrote, “Sure, I’ve seen pot smoked at a party but not an actual ‘pot party.’ I imagine it would be people with a large assortment of fine foreign and local munchies watching and discussing how you have to have a very keen intellect to actually get Rick and Morty. The most violent thing happening was the heated argument over pizza toppings and a cup was knocked off the table.”

...you get the idea.

One person did warn of the dangers to children, but he was quickly countered with a series of wink-wink, nudge-nudge comments that attested to the fact it’s easier for kids to score a joint than get alcohol ­— because of regulation.

But joking aside, we can’t deny there are legitimate concerns regarding smoking marijuana. Bob Marley died of cancer at age 36. Granted, it was melanoma, not lung cancer. Still, the smoking couldn’t have helped.

And we all have a story of someone we knew who smoked pot and then went on to harder drugs or simply became hopelessly addicted to weed.

But argument-by-anecdote, the old “I had a friend and he ....” or “I’ve smoked lots of pot and I’ve never ...” is a bad way to form public policy. We can find examples on all sides of the issue, and reiterating them only polarizes the debate; you’re either hip to the blaze or going to hell in a hand basket.

As with most things, it’s complicated.

And because it’s complicated, it’s even more important that we look at the body of research and listen to the experts who have studied the data to guide us in the right direction. And from what I can surmise, that direction is legalization.

Health experts, particularly those who work in the area of addiction, are vastly in support of it, as are many law enforcement authorities.

While we can fret about individual cases — and I get that, it’s not just an anecdote if it’s one of my kids — we need to think big picture. Besides, how’s that war on drugs going for us, anyway?

The key is going to be in regulation. And by the looks of it, our city council is all over that. Although, I have to agree with our many letter writers who note Richmond has more smokin’ problems than the odd “pot party.” In fact, it seems a bit suspect that a council that consistently points to “loopholes” or a lack of enforcement resources to explain flagrant violations of bylaws, is suddenly so keen to flex its law-and-order muscle on this issue.

Regardless, we have the best chance of creating a healthy, safe environment by developing evidence-based policies ­— not by pandering to fear and prejudice. And that goes for both sides.

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