[Editor's note:  This column was one of a series I composed
in response to the controversy generated by Jesse Ventura's
interview with PLAYBOY.  It originally appeared in THE TWIN-
PORTS PEOPLE (March 2000), p. 6.]

Non-Random Thoughts

Jim Fetzer

Our Governor stirred up the pot with his candid interview in PLAYBOY.  In
previous columns, I have considered whether his views on the assassination
of JFK had merit (November '99), whether his attitudes toward the religious
right were well-founded (Holiday '99), and whether he was wrong about the
legalization of prostitution (February '00).  The issue that remains is the
legalization of marijuana, which rounds the bases.

Indeed, the situation with respect to pot, if anything, appears to be even
more clear cut.  Our nation is saturated with drugs, from aspirin, Advil,
Tylenol, and Claritin, to cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and even cigars.
You cannot read a newspaper or a magazine, watch television or listen to
the radio, without encountering a plethora of advertising for drugs
promising to reduce weight, to promote hair growth, or to overcome
erectile dysfunction.
The Noble Experiment that endured from 1920 to 1933 with the enactment and
repeal of the 18th Amendment by the 21st had devastating consequences for
the history of this country.  The prohibition of the manufacture,
transportation, and sale of alcoholic liquors for beverage purposes
appears to have produced consequences that precisely parallel those that
we are encountering today from prohibiting the sale of marijuana.

The profound and enduring effects of Prohibition, as Peter McWilliams,
AIN'T NOBODY'S BUSINESS IF YOU DO, has observed, included (1) generating
disrespect for the law, (2) eroding respect for religion, (3) creating
organized crime, (4) corrupting law enforcement, the court system, and
politics, (5) overburdening the police, the courts, and the penal system,
and (6) harming millions of persons financially, emotionally, and morally.

It also (7) caused physical harm, because safe alcoholic beverages were
not available, (8) changed the drinking habits of the country for the
worse, (9) made cigarette smoking more attractive, (10) inhibited the
treatment of drinking problems, (11) produced a new category of       
"immorality", and (12) consumed vast financial resources that might have
been better used to promote education, eradicate disease, and help the

Some of these effects are especially intriguing.  Because Prohibition had
been promoted by evangelists and others who wanted to control how other
people choose to live their lives, the failure of Prohibition was
interpreted as God's failure, especially in the eyes of those who think
everything that happens happens in accord with God's will.  If God had
wanted Prohibition to succeed, after all, surely Prohibition would have
been a success.

Moreover, the cost of this social experiment may be difficult to
calculate, but McWilliams estimates that it had to have run into the
billions of dollars at a time when the average worker at Ford Motor
Company made $5 per day.  "In addition to this cost", he remarks, "let's
not forget the taxes on alcohol the government lost because of Prohibition    
and the profit denied honest business people and diverted into the hands
of organized crime".

The situation with respect to pot appears to be precisely the same.  Every
consequence that attended Prohibition now attends the "New Prohibition".
Marijuana is less addicting than nicotine and less harmful to health than
alcohol.  Yet cigarettes and alcohol are not illegal today:  their use is
regulated, their quality is controlled, and their sales are taxed, thereby
drastically reducing or complete nullifying the effects attending

The arguments that pot use leads to the use of stronger drugs, moreover,
appears to be a red herring.  This claim trades upon an equivocation
because, while it is true that use of marijuana CAN lead to using stronger
drugs, it is false that smoking marijuana ALWAYS leads to the use of
stronger drugs.  Those who use stronger drugs usually have smoked
marijuana, but they typically also smoked cigarettes, consumed alcohol,
and drank milk.

The strongest opposition to the legalization of marijuana, I suspect,
comes from self-appointed religious figures who consider themselves to be
the custodians of morality, cowardly politicians who are unwilling to
address controversial issues with candor, and the liquor industry, which
does not want competition from those who want to smoke their high rather
than drink it.  Even the effects upon health appear to favor pot over

George Pataki, Governor of New York, has granted clemency to four
first-time drug offenders, who were serving long prison terms under New
York's harsh drug laws.  But there are hundreds of thousands more.  The
toll in human life over the casual use of recreational drugs staggers the
imagination.  And the uneven enforcement of the law has to disturb even
the most unconcerned citizen.  This lack of evenhandedness is morally

Anthony Lewis of THE NEW YORK TIMES has observed that operating costs for
prisons, overflowing with non-violent prisoners, will be about $40 billion
in 2000, which could be drastically reduced by legalizing the use of pot.
Our current policies are so completely ineffectual that even our nation's
"Drug Czar", General Barry R. McCaffrey, has now proposed a more humane
approach integrating drug testing and treatment.

No one want to encourage the widespread use of drugs, but they are not
going to go away.  The drug cartels have expanded and flourished because
the demand for drugs exceeds the legal supply.  When marijuana is legal,
its use can be regulated, its quality can be controlled, and its sale can
be taxed.  Profits from the sale of pot will stay out of the hands of
organized criminals.  Crime and its costs will drop dramatically.

Anyone who doubts that the New Prohibition is having even more profound
and enduring effects upon our country than the Old Prohibition simply does  
not understand what the "War on Drugs" has been doing to our nation.  When
our Governor applauds another governor who has called for the legalization
of marijuana, he deserves our applause as well. We know those who ignore
the past are destined to relive it.  He knows we can do better.
Jim Fetzer, professor of philosophy at UMD, used Peter McWilliams, AIN''T NOBODY'S BUSINESS IF YOU DO,
which he highly recommends, in his course on Ethics and Society. In bookstores and via amazon.com or buy.com
Mother's Death Led Ventura to Support Medical Marijuana
USG Aware Since 1974 That "THC" Destroys Tumors


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