By Mara Leveritt | Published in MaraLeveritt.comMara Leveritt is a contributing editor to the Arkansas Times and past Arkansas Journalist of the Year. She has reported for almost three decades on police, courts and prisons.
Family Council president Jerry Cox opposes the ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana. “It’s a family values issue,” he said. So, let’s talk medicine, marijuana — and, especially, family values.
I began suffering undiagnosed leg pain in childhood. At 17, my doctor’s best advice was to take aspirin until my ears started ringing. I married, had two children, and started smoking marijuana when I returned to college in my 20s. To my surprise, the leg pain abated.
I continued to smoke for almost 25 years, roughly a joint a day. As I never smoked in secret, I’m betting I’ve got a perspective on marijuana and family values that Mr. Cox does not.
In our family, marijuana was treated as something like wine. I appreciated it as a spiritual, medicinal and occasional social blessing. It was not for children. It was to be used in moderation, not abused. From an early age, my daughter and son understood that there was risk in smoking marijuana, but that the risk arose not from the plant, but from the laws that made it illegal.
I even grew a few plants and admired them all the more. But in 1996, when I began writing my first book about the criminal justice system, I decided the legal risks were too great. I quit marijuana. Cold turkey. No problem. Well, almost…
As a consequence of quitting, my old leg pain came back. I now take three prescription drugs at a cost, after insurance, of more than $300 per month. But hey! They’re legal.
So that’s my criminal saga. What kind of example did it set for my children? I’ll say an honest one. It was not hypocritical, as our “war on drugs” has been.
In our house, there was truth about drugs. We were serious but not hysterical. We used no broad brushes. Drugs, like everything from mushrooms to motorcycles, can range from safe to deadly. It depends how they are used. I felt I could protect my children more with candor than by serving them more of the rubbish our state and federal drug czars have been dishing out for years.
My children saw me in many lights — some critical, I am sure. But they never saw me gripped by “reefer madness.” We ate meals together, read, worked hard and laughed often. They saw me pay bills, care for pets and pick up litter. They knew I was a criminal, but not much of one.
And they turned out just fine. My daughter majored in philosophy and became a teacher. My son’s a linguist and a lieutenant colonel. We remain very close. Neither of them smokes.
Sixteen years ago, when I gave up marijuana, I acknowledged my law-breaking past in a column for the Arkansas Times. I pointed out that I’d been working as a reporter the whole time I’d smoked. Whatever my deficiencies, my brain was not obviously fried. Just from a taxpayer point of view, I asked, wasn’t it better that I was working and not prosecuted, imprisoned and then monitored on parole?
All the same, I knew that I’d been lucky. In my years as a reporter, I’d come across many, many others, no more wicked than I, who were languishing behind bars. And I’d heard all the arguments. It was not so much the users, but that shady world of the growers and dealers that made marijuana so dangerous.
OK. I agree. But who makes that world so shady? It’s our era’s Prohibitionists, sure as Capone shot up Chicago. The well-meaning people who criminalized marijuana created a needless but lucrative black market. By banning marijuana, the Prohibitionists made it dangerous.
Worse, they assaulted our most fundamental “family values.” Because marijuana is illegal, thousands of moms and dads have been yanked out of families and sent to prison. Kids have been sent to foster homes. Parents — released, but with a record — have had to struggle to find work to support their fractured families.
These are the “values” we’ve been practicing for decades — with heartbreaking results. Our laws are not working. They are not keeping marijuana out of communities. They can’t even keep it out of prisons. What our laws are doing instead is making communities more crime-ridden, families more broken, children poorer and more cynical of government.
Nobody believes the weary lies anymore about how dangerous this ever-newer, “more potent” marijuana is. To the contrary, many believe that marijuana may, in fact, be beneficial in ways that other medicines are not. Count me among those.
Demonizing marijuana is like demonizing beer. I’m sure that, like beer, marijuana will someday be legal. Meantime, why deny its comfort to those it might relieve? Where’s the value in that?
Mara Leveritt, a contributing editor to the Arkansas Times and past Arkansas Journalist of the Year, is the author of two nonfiction books about crime and public corruption. She has reported for almost three decades on police, courts and prisons.