and Toking in Las Vegas
new ballot initiative to drastically mellow out population
l u k e
o ' h a r a
November, Nevada will vote on a bill that provides for the legalization
of up to three ounces of recreational marijuana. Additionally, the bill
would provide for the regulation of growth, processing, and sales industries.
Question 9 on the ballot has provoked praise and denouncements, while
some are quite simply still holding their breath. But the only reason
why this little tidbit made it out of the conspiracy column of High Times
is because it has a chance of passing. Don’t get too excited: the
bill would have to pass again in 2004 before it could become law. But,
for the moment—riding the wake of the 65 percent supported medical
marijuana initiative—a “Yes” vote on Question 9 is polling
in the high 40 percent range.
Stop a second to contemplate…three ounces?! A Nevada police captain
called a press conference recently to prove that he could role 255 joints
with the allotted three ounces. Now, I know what you’re all thinking.
We should head over to the captain’s because, damn, Motherfucker
rolls joints in the hundreds. That’s professionalism. After his
response, reporters allegedly asked him exactly what side he was trying
to support with that explanation.
Nevada, the same state immortalized in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear
and Loathing in Las Vegas, for its 60s era billboards reading “Don’t
Gamble with Marijuana: 20 years to Life” is considering adding marijuana
to its already impressive national “sin” industries. Nevada
has become infamous for its maverick allowance of gambling, quickie-marriages
and divorces, prostitution, and alcohol (during prohibition).
Nevadans have known for a while now that the lone reason for their national
importance is that strange scion of the desert, Las Vegas. Centuries from
now, the city will be dug up by anthropologists and understood for what
it is: a cult center to our own American neon-inflected version of Bacchus.
The calls for legalization have gained force in an America slightly less
cannabis-phobic than its predecessors. A Zogby poll recently asked people
their opinion of which was the most dangerous drug out of alcohol, tobacco,
and marijuana. The poll resulted in 47 percent alcohol, 28 percent tobacco,
and 20 percent marijuana (coincidentally that’s also a popular Court
breathalyzer result). Another Zogby poll showed 61 percent of Americans
opposed to arresting non-violent smokers, with only 18 percent strongly
Nine states now have medical marijuana programs, despite federal opposition
and occasional crackdowns. San Francisco, which was the vanguard of medical
marijuana fight, even established a card-access system with 2,600 users
and has a ballot initiative that could legalize city growing programs.
The National Organization for the Legalization of Marijuana (NORML) estimates
that 45,000 people are behind bars for marijuana related convictions.
Most smokers don’t go to jail for it, though. Possession of less
than 1.5 ounces is a misdemeanor. Nonetheless, poor and minority users
go to jail almost twice as often as white users. UK Police estimated that
decriminalization saved time equivalent to the work year of 500 extra
police. All of this for a drug whose proven side-effects are comparable,
if not less than, alcohol or tobacco.
Opposing drug laws is somewhat like shooting intellectual fish in a barrel.
The idea that drugs “promote” crime is about as dated as The
Scarlet Letter. Moral opposition to the “vices” of the poor
and the libertine is the cultural update of the monotheism’s repression
of pagan and shamanistic rituals involving hallucinogens. Outlawing a
product creates the environment in which it is possible to arrest the
user. The drug war is as flimsy now as it was during prohibition. Prevalent,
insulting propaganda preaches that we ought to lead clean lives of hard-working
dignity, full of patriotism, without questioning this standard. Drugs
are not political, but they become politicized as an excuse for the United
States to pursue a low intensity class-warfare at home and abroad.
Maybe Nevada will answer the question “No,” maybe the delineation
is inherent to the system, and maybe the state requires an “other”
to arrest. But regardless, marijuana is part of a class we all take in
college: civil disobedience. Whether you drink with a fake ID or hotbox
your car, you are defying the arbitrariness of ideology. The keystone
to a democratic society is civil disobedience. So, even if marijuana stays
illegal, maybe that isn’t so bad if even a few people learn the
tools of resistance, independence, and critical thought.