Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Hanging on to hang-ups regarding pot

I still recall a moment I observed nearly three decades ago in Grant Park while attending the annual Blues Festival.

Some images just won't wither away
I saw a pair of police officers grab a shaggy guy, pull him aside and take something out of his jacket pocket that appeared to be a plastic bag with some marijuana.

THEY TOOK HIM away. But a few minutes later, I saw him, with an angry look on his face and muttering some choice obscenities. It appears that what the officers did to him was took his pot, threw it into the sewer, then let him go.

That approach violates the sensibilities of many law-and-order types, some of whom have refused to believe this story when I have told it throughout the years.

They want that dreaded “hippie drug” as an excuse for a crackdown – even though many of the people I have known throughout the years who have tried marijuana are far removed in mentality from “hippies” or liberal in any form. It truly is a bi-partisan drug.

Yet the old image lives on, even in these times when official policy is trying to knock down the stigma of marijuana.

MANY MUNICIPALITIES HAVE passed measures making marijuana an offense for which the police issue tickets to people, rather than any kind of criminal charge. It means fines, and not jail time, for the people who get caught in possession of a joint or two.

We also have the fact that the Illinois Legislature and Gov. Pat Quinn altered state law to create the impression that marijuana has a legitimate medical use – mainly in reducing the amount of pain some people suffer from long-running (and incurable) illnesses.

Using marijuana does not cure the illness, but offers some relief in coping with it.

But many just don’t want to accept it.

CONSIDER THAT THE state laws that took effect Jan. 1 are so rigid in how far away from people these cannabis cultivation and distribution facilities have to be from people that many communities are finding that they have very few sites where such a business could exist.

Some are finding that they can’t have these facilities anywhere!

Not that many municipalities are complaining. Some of them are reacting by passing their own ordinances to impose even further restrictions on the way these companies are operating.

We’re certainly not treating this issue as one involving a legitimate medication. We have our old hang-ups.

THEN, THERE’S THE study released Monday by Roosevelt University, whose consortium on drug policy found that Chicago police are sticking by the old idea of arresting people for possession – even in instances where a ticket (and fine) are called for.

Some 93 percent of incidents involving marijuana possession result in arrest, rather than ticket.

The study found that from 2012 (when pot possession was decriminalized in Chicago) to 2013, the number of possession arrests fell only 21 percent.

Chicago Police Department officials say that, in itself, is progress. But the Chicago Sun-Times reported how suburban Evanston (which has a similar ordinance concerning decriminalization of possession) has seen its arrests fall nearly 50 percent.

THE REACTION TO marijuana seems to remain to see a criminal act. It makes me wonder if, in the years following the repeal of Prohibition, there were some police still wishing they could make an arrest for those drinking alcoholic beverages.

Actually, there were those individual patches of the nation that voted themselves dry and kept the concept of prohibition alive for decades to come.

Is that the era we’re in now? Because there is a part of me that believes the approach I saw police take all those years ago might have been the most effective in terms of actually taking marijuana out of distribution.

By putting it into the sewer, however, we run the risk of it getting into the Lake Michigan water supply. Would pot in the water wind up causing our political people to act even more goofy than usual?


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