The National Review, May 14, 1990, Volume 42, Number 9, p. 58

Marijuana, Argument For Legalization, Column

By D. Keith Mano

MY MOTHER was dying in the winter of 1986. A metastic tumor clasped her spine. She couldn't walk. Radiation therapy was undertaken to burn the growth out, and, after ten sessions, a CAT scan found her spinal compression much reduced. In itself, though, radiation can be traumatic. It nauseated my mother: the mention of food was repulsive. Even with intravenous sugar her weight fell from 105 to under ninety pounds, and she couldn't answer my grip. An already fragile 76-year-old constitution had shrugged and given up: she was wasting. And so I went out and committed a crime.

I bought marijuana in the untidy neighborhood around 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue. At home I made dough and baked pot cookies. Crumb by crumb I force-fed my mother. She had little saliva: often cookie bits were regurgitated. But the appetite-arousing chemical in marijuana got to her system. Three hours after I had begun feeding pot to her, my mother signaled me near with her hand. I bent to listen. "Maybe I could try just a taste of cheeseburger," she said.

While in hospital my mother ate pot every day. The nausea was mitigated. In time nourishment lit her metabolism again. After 15 days she was sent home to begin the tiresome process of regaining mobility. I confided in her medical team. One doctor said, "Keep feeding her the dope. Just don't tell anyone I recommended it." In 1987 the tumor got leverage again: this time it pressed on her brain stem. Again my mother underwent radiation. Again she deteriorated. And I went back to the streets for marijuana. 1988 was a peaceful, active year. My mother died after spinal surgery in March 1989. Marijuana, I'm certain, gave her almost three years of life.

The drug war will never succeed (assuming that it should be fought at all) while we maintain our absurd attitude toward marijuana. Children in Harlem and Bed-Stuy laugh: they know marijuana isn't crack or heroin or ice. Children lose respect when you lie. A Third World budget's worth of cash and the lives of policemen are being squandered to suppress marijuana. That is nothing less than tragic. I don't advocate the use of marijuana--except for obvious medical reasons. If you can live pot-free, be my guest. But to lump marijuana with the addictive drugs is preposterous. In plain fact, you can't even lump it with wine or beer. Alcohol--honored by custom, available everywhere--has been ten thousand times more destructive than pot. And, to make a point, this will become my refrain: Alcohol is legal, but you can be put in jail for pot.

Marijuana doesn't cause cirrhosis of the liver. Nor ulcers. Nor a hangover, nor foul breath. Better yet: with pot you don't slur words and become boring and fall over your own feet. (No one should drive on either drug.) Lab studies done with marijuana have disappointed the reefer-madness claque --there might be some sperm change, but not much else. Alcoholism, according to my medical handbook, "can affect every system of the body." Public-service spots say that marijuana smoke is bad for lung tissue. Of course. You shouldn't smoke it. I hardly ever have. Ingested in a cookie or fudge, marijuana is even cheaper than alcohol. An ounce will generate three years' supply for casual use. It won't addict you unless you're an addictive personality (10 per cent of adult males in America are addicted to alcohol). Most important, marijuana doesn't destroy children the way drinking does. (Yet alcohol is legal, but you can be put in jail for pot.)

Alcohol doesn't just wreck people--it has wrecked generations of people. This datum is only now being understood. Children of alcoholic parents display a recognizable syndrome. They have low self-esteem and are irresolute. They distrust intimate relationships. They are overcritical and often depressed. I know a dozen adult children of alcoholics. You know many, too. (I have before me one of ten self-help books on the subject available at Shakespeare and Co.) Alcoholism is devastating to children because--night after night--gross personality change occurs in one parent or both. The slobber. The rage. The lack of coordination. The bogus good-fellowship. The y'know-yer-a-real-swell-guy-and-I-love-you-pour-me-another bull. These metamorphoses bewilder children. They can't tell what normal should be and are forced to parent their parents. The unpopular truth is this: no such gross personality change appears with marijuana use. My children know when I've had one glass of Scotch. They have never known when I was on pot. If alcoholics were allowed to substitute pot for liquor--and many would--ten thousand children might be spared depression and neurosis. Yet, I forgot, alcohol is legal, but you can be put in jail for pot.

Mind now, the anti-drug lords are well aware of all this. They know marijuana is relatively innocuous. But they are afraid, as politicians tend to be, of making a relevant distinction. The electorate, they figure, can only grasp ALL DRUGS ARE EQUALLY BAD. Last month a high government official said on radio, "Maybe marijuana won't kill you, but it will make you stupid." Sure, and when last did the conversation of a drunk engross him? Alcohol, remember, is big business. It has a powerful lobby, I'm certain. I suspect that, by intent or not, some of our most passionate anti-drug people are serving as mercenary militiamen in the liquor cartel's fight to keep marijuana from competing with beer or hooch. And so, sing it, alcohol is legal, but you can go to jail for pot.

Marijuana, anyhow, isn't some ersatz substance put together by geek pharmacologists in a crack loft. It hasn't been distilled and set out to age. It grows just about everywhere in nature--like, well, corn or wheat. It is organic to the planet Earth. Might just as well outlaw traffic in goldenrod. But, yes, alcohol is legal and you can fill in the rest yourself.



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Go to The War on Drugs is Lost, The National Review, February 12, 1996. Includes the full text of essays by publisher William F. Buckley Jr.; Ethan A. Nadelmann, a scholar and researcher; Kurt Schmoke, the mayor of Baltimore and a former prosecutor; former police chief Joseph D. McNamara; Robert W. Sweet, a federal judge and former prosecutor; psychiatrist Thomas Szasz; and Steven B. Duke, a law professor.

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