Growing older doesn’t always make a person wiser, but it does give one the perspective of time. I’ll turn 67 tomorrow.

I first smoked pot in 1969, when I was 15. We smoked a joint at the drive-in theater while watching Easy Rider. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. A couple years later, I rode a Triumph motorcycle and wore a black leather jacket and stars-and-stripes helmet just like Peter Fonda in the movie.

Briefly I was part of the counterculture that supposedly believed in world peace, free love, and expanding one’s consciousness through psychedelic drugs. However, by the time the hippie counterculture reached my Midwestern town from its origins on the East and West coasts, it was severely diluted and already going out of style.

I rode the final small wave of hippiedom the last few feet before it crashed onto the shore. For the most part, it was fun while it lasted—not just the drugs and music, but the whole hippie philosophy was cool. Perhaps naively, we believed that there would be an end to war, racism and sexism and all forms of intolerance, inequality and hatred. (I still work toward those lofty, noble goals.)

We believed that cannabis (or marijuana) would be legal in America soon—probably before 1980, surely by the year 2000. But then came Ronald Reagan—

In the 1970s, I sometimes sold a little pot, just enough to get my weed for free. For example, I might buy a quarter pound (4 ounces) of pot for $100, sell three ounces for $35 apiece, and have an ounce to smoke for free. I knew dealers who mostly dealt in pounds. They were ordinary guys like me—criminals only in the sense that they bought and sold an illegal product.

And then came Ronald Reagan—

During the ‘80s, Reagan strengthened and expanded many of the “war on drug” policies that President Jimmy Carter had ignored in the ‘70s.

“We’re taking down the surrender flag that has flown over so many drug efforts. We’re running up the battle flag,” said Reagan.

The Anti-Drug Abuse Act, signed by President Reagan in 1986, substantially increased the number of drug offenses with mandatory minimum sentences, including marijuana. Marijuana dealers no longer got a slap on the wrist—probation, or minimal jail time; now they were sentenced to many years in prison. Additionally, new laws allowed the seizure of one’s property and assets. Marijuana dealers lost not just their freedom, but also their homes and properties and vehicles and savings.

Faced with these stiff penalties and punishments, virtually all the old hippie types got out of the marijuana business. Now that it was a serious crime, it was taken over by serious criminals—namely, organized crime in the US, and vicious, murderous drug cartels in Central and South America.

According to Aljazeera: “A record high of nearly 35,000 people were murdered in Mexico in 2019, according to official data, as President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador struggled to rein in violent crime....

“The 2019 rate equals an average of 95 murders per day in Mexico, a country that has been plagued with violence since 2006, when the government deployed the military to wage the so-called war on drugs. Since then, nearly 275,000 people have been killed in Mexico....”

Many if not most asylum seekers at our southern border are trying to escape the persistent and pervasive drug-fueled violence in their native lands where drug cartels make life a living hell.

The human suffering caused by our archaic cannabis laws doesn’t stop at our southern border. In Forbes (6/26/2020) Joan Oleck reports: “With 40,000 Americans Incarcerated For Marijuana Offenses, The Cannabis Industry Needs To Step Up, Activists Said This Week.”

“An estimated 40,000 people today are incarcerated for marijuana offenses even as: the overall legal cannabis industry is booming; one state after another is legalizing; and cannabis companies are making healthy profits.

“That discrepancy is dead wrong, four activists agreed this week. ‘There are 70 million people in this country with criminal records, and each and every one of them goes through hell finding a job,’ said Richard Bronson, founder and CEO of 70 Million Jobs, a staffing agency for people with criminal records.

“Many, many are men and women of color who have done their time,” Bronson pointed out, “and too many are in jail for activity that has subsequently been legalized. It’s an irony of gruesome proportions.”

Our neighbors in Illinois are solving these problems. According to Wikipedia: “Cannabis in Illinois is legal for both medical and recreational use. Illinois became the eleventh state in the US to legalize recreational marijuana on January 1, 2020.”

“With the passage of the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act in 2019, Illinois became the first state in the nation to legalize recreational sales by an act of the state legislature...Illinois is expected to generate between $2 to $4 billion in annual revenues from recreational sales...Illinois will also expunge an estimated 700,000 marijuana-related police records and court convictions in a phased approach forecast to be completed by 2025. Retail sales from recreational cannabis in Illinois average an estimated $40 million in revenue each month since legalization.

“Since 2014, the Illinois Medical Cannabis Patient Program (MCPP) has also enrolled nearly 147,000 qualifying patients in the state’s medical cannabis and opioid alternative programs across 55 dispensaries offering a lower tax rate when compared to recreational transactions....”

Legalizing cannabis creates enormous tax revenues and thousands of good-paying jobs. Expunging cannabis-related police records and court convictions makes it easier for thousands to obtain good-paying jobs.

And legalizing cannabis hurts the drug cartels. When people can buy weed legally grown and sold here in the US, the cartels’ marketplace shrinks away to nothing.

In Marijuana Moment (8/3/2020), Kyle Jaeger reports: “Demand for marijuana illegally trafficked from Mexico will continue to decline as the legalization movement spreads, a new report from Congress’s research arm states.

“With a growing number of U.S. states—as well as Canada—allowing people to legally purchase cannabis in a regulated market, they’re less inclined to seek out the product through illicit channels,” the Congressional Research Service said.

Fifteen states have legalized recreational marijuana and 35 allow medical marijuana—and it’s not a red state/blue state thing. Last year, South Dakota became the first state to legalize medical and recreational marijuana in the same election. Montana and Arizona, two states where Republicans control the governor’s office and legislature, also legalized recreational marijuana. Mississippi voted to legalize medical marijuana.

In February 2020, the Kentucky House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed HB 136 (65-30) that would legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky. Then came the pandemic, and the bill never made it to the Senate.

As near as I can tell, most lawmakers opposed to legalizing medical marijuana in Kentucky and elsewhere are beholden to Big Pharma and trying to protect its profits.

Lawmakers should look out for the common good—not Big Pharma’s bottom line.

Mark Heinz lives at Nolin Lake. Visit his website at amazon.com/author/markheinzbooks.

Mark Heinz lives at Nolin Lake. Visit his website at amazon.com/author/markheinzbooks.

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