While in Haight Asbbury as a young guy, being stoned and sitting in near-by Golden Gate Park looking up at tall trees reaching toward the sun could be a mind-blowing experience. Pot was my drug of choice. Bob Dylan in 1966 sang, “Everybody must get stoned.” However, being stoned is not for everybody. Hippies dabbled in pot, LSD, mushrooms, peyote and assorted uppers and downers. Today with an opioid crisis and more drug research available we are increasingly aware of the advantages and disadvantages of different drugs.
The Jefferson Airplane’s sang, “One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small. And the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all.” The uppers and downers tend to have temporary effects. LSD can take you on a trip to heaven with wondrous brightly covered visions, but just as often to hell with delusions and even severe psychosis. Peyote from cactus is a hallucinogen that gets you tripping to another world but can have serious side effects with increased heart rate and blood pressure. Like peyote, hallucinogenic mushrooms have been used in native rites for centuries and provide intensified feelings and sensory experiences, but also bring potentially serious side-effects. The pills in your mother’s cabinet, like Percocet and OxyContin, can in a short time lead to drugs like heroin with disastrous addiction and even death.
Bob Marley (pictured left, hanging in my hippie room) in 1964 sang in Legalize Marijuana, “Down here in sweet Jamaica, only cure for glaucoma. It can build up a failing economy yeah, eliminate the slavish mentality. So there’ll be no more illegal humiliation and no more police interrogation. And there’ll be no more need to smoke and hide when you know you’re takin’ a legal ride.” These lyrics over 50 years ago explain clearly the reasons for the legalization needed today.
In popular imagination, the 1960s and 70’s were the heyday of illegal drug use, but historically that’s not the case. In a 1969 Gallup poll, only 4% of American adults said they had tried marijuana. In 1972, 60% of Americans thought that marijuana was physically addictive although later research has shown that such is generally not the case because regular users rarely display physical withdrawal symptoms. For the first time in history, a majority of Americans now support both medical and recreational use of marijuana. People understand the medical benefits and limited marijuana side-effects. Almost nobody has ever overdosed on pot.
IN THE GARDEN STATE
More than 50 years after Bob Marley spelled out the advantages, the issue remains unresolved in our state, and has become more complicated as some people favor decriminalization rather than legalization. The former only reduces the penalty to something like a misdemeanor or a small fine, but perpetuates the scourge of drug warlords, street vendors and associated gang violence, even shootings over turf. Furthermore opponents ignore the fact that a reecently published analysis shows that in 2016 New Jersey was third in the nation in total marijuana arrests and second only to Wyoming in marijuana arrest rate.
Three views from Newarkers: State Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, chairman of the New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus, says legalizing marijuana will entice people who have never used the drug to try it. Bishop Jethro James Jr. of Newark’s Paradise Baptist Church says the pot shops will be over-concentrated in urban areas as suburban communities ban them. Former Newark Mayor, now U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, touts his effort to legalize marijuana on the federal level as a matter of justice. He says more than half of all drug arrests involve marijuana, and blacks are almost four times more likely to be arrested than whites even though marijuana use rate is the same.
The murky government picture: Governor Murphy wants to legalize marijuana. The Assembly has been holding public hearings on the matter with the final hearing on May 12 at Bergen County College. Speaker Coughlin has been vague: “I’m going to let the committee do its work and I’m going to look at what they’ve done.” State Senate President Sweeney says he supports full legalization not decriminalization of recreational marijuana. The legislative effort is being spear-headed by Sen. Nick Scutari (pictured left). Meanwhile, some Republicans want to make it a Ballot Question. Neither house yet has the majority votes needed to pass the bill. The Trump administration strongly opposes legalization.
NJ Polls. According to a February Fairleigh Dickinson University poll, about 68 percent of New Jerseyans are in favor of some kind of changes to the state’s marijuana laws. Another 27 percent don’t want any change. A March Quinnipiac poll finds New Jerseyans overwhelmingly want marijuana to be legal in the Garden State, by a margin of 59 percent to 37. An April poll from Monmouth University reports similar data: Fifty-nine percent of residents now support allowing adults to possess small amounts of marijuana for personal use, while 37 percent are opposed.
In 1967 in the Yellow Submarine album the Beatles proclaim, “Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends, Mm, gonna try with a little help from my friends.” This relaxed attitude and acceptance of recreational pot should be embraced today, and is even more important to the many who need it for medicinal purposes. Legalization in New Jersey is still blowing in the wind, but change seems inevitable. As to when, it’s up to us to continue advocating it.
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