Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A Year Gone to Pot

This past year has been one of so many developments in American culture that it would be hard to pick any one thing as a signal event in the course of our nation.

From the full implementation of the surprisingly effective Obamacare to the grand jury decisions in New York and Ferguson, MO, with stopovers at the broad expansion of marriage equality and Ebola outbreaks both in Africa and here, there's a lot to mull over, a lot that will move forward with us into the new year and beyond.

For all the world, it looked like it would be a horrible year for President Obama, despite the success of the ACA. The 2014 mid-term elections were a disaster (sort of. More in a few.) and it looked like an earnest effort to impeach him might gain traction in the House next year, backed by a newly-minted Republican Senate. Democrats and Progressives seemed as tho their work was cut out for them.

And then Obama -- finally -- flexed a little muscle. From immigration reform to the renewal of relations with Cuba, Obama single-handedly salvaged a terrible year and turned it into one of the most successful years of any President in history. Abe Lincoln might have had a more successful year in 1865 if he hadn't been assassinated in April.

We saw the darling of conservatives, Vladimir Putin, be revealed as a thug just ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in his home nation -- which probably didn't diminish him in the eyes of the folks who brought you PNAC.  (Now thankfully dormant) We saw the rise of that creation of George W. Bush, ISIS, in Syria and Iraq, the suspension of talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Boko Haram kidnap and terrorize women up and down the continent of Africa, a coup in Thailand, a World Cup in Brazil complete with protests over the wasteful spending, three passenger airliners disappear over the southern seas, and the deaths of icons like Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall. Stephen Colbert ended his Comedy Central show.

And that barely scratches the surface.

For my money, the story that will affect America long after the confetti is swept up tonight is, well, pot. Two states implemented the legal recreational use of the drug, and many more signaled they would allow at least medical marijuana (including New York State). Quietly, the Federal government has agreed to allow Native American tribes to grow marijuana on their reservations, and the spending bill passed earlier this month blocks federal funds from being used to prosecute citizens who legally use pot (i.e. for medicinal purposes under their state laws, as well as recreational use). This despite the fact that the same bill tries to overturn a referendum that sought to legalize use in the DC area.

Maine is now set to become the third state to legalize marijuana, and Vermont has already begun a statewide dialogue on it. As we saw with marriage equality, the cascade begins shortly after a handful of states give it a go.

So why do I think this is the story that will have legs long after all the others?

Think about the economics of pot as an illegal drug. I don't mean drug cartels and all that. I mean, prisons.

Specifically, prisons and the populations of non-white males incarcerated for merely smoking a joint as a third strike offense. Think of how many of these men and women will no go free, but more, think about the numbers of them that will be protected going forward from having a criminal record due to overzealous policing -- yet another side effect of illegal pot.

There are kids out there who won't see the inside of a jail cell, have their lives ruined by a criminal record, and forced to work menial jobs because of a criminal record (never mind the drug testing that goes along with employment nowadays). Who can stay in school and get an education. Get a good job and support a family. Improve their lot in life the way conservatives always demand they do: working for a better life.

The economic benefits that will accrue to America from that are nearly unimaginable: the rise of a larger middle class of blacks and Latinos is a big one. Access to mortgages for houses and student loans means a more involved minority community. More minorities teaching classes in school and policing their own communities means more respect for both professions. More involvement and more respect means a bigger voice in the political process, and that means fewer successful attempts at abrogating democracy will be made by old white men.

Pot is not a cure-all for all of society's ills, no. For one thing, DUIs under pot are increasing and its hard to develop tests that determine a legal limit for ingesting grass. That's a problem that will have to be sorted out, one of many.

But it occurs to me that the influx of "new citizens" welcomed into society rather than shunned can't help but be a net good.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Thought Experiment

You work for the only business of any substance in town. You make a nice income.

Your boss decides he needs to build a spite fence around a store all the way across town because it threatens his supply of some widget he needs to keep the company going, and he's afraid, terrified, if the price of that widget rises, he'll have to work harder to keep prices in check. Also, employees of another store have been seen shopping in his store, and those guys play rough. He tells you that you have to take a pay cut, because he and his friends will need to spend a lot of money building this defense and putting up a new security system around the shop, and his friends don't work cheap.

Do you agree quietly, or do you argue and protest that you need the money to put your kid through college?

Now, let's say that same boss comes to you and tells you that the janitor, George, is in deep trouble: his family can't afford food or medical care, his wife works two jobs, as does George, but they still can't make ends meet. He tells you that he needs to slice a tiny fraction of everyone's salary to help him stay at this job, because he works hard.

Do you agree quietly, or do you argue and protest that you need the money to put your kid through college?

This is 21st Century America, in a nutshell.