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Wednesday, April 19, 2006 

Happy 4/20

Let me be the first to wish you a very merry 20th of April. I hope this day treats you well, and is filled with relaxation, peaceful feelings, slices of pizza, some good reggae music, and maybe a showing or two of Super Troopers and Half Baked.

Living in Boulder, I'm well aware of the festivities that come along with this day. Every year students (and community members) hold a pro-marijuana rally at Farrand Field at 4:20 in the afternoon. The heat usually does little to stop it, noting that there are too many people, and they're not being overly disruptive.

For your enjoyment, here is one of my favorite articles written about my fair town. It was written a little under a year ago by Wayne Laugeson, a writer for the Boulder Weekly. Enjoy:



They don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee, but we smoke it by the bushel in Boulder. And here's a statistic anyone can believe: Boulder County ranks second in the nation for per capita pot smoking, falling in just behind Boston.

Who, with a straight face, can challenge the high believability factor of this new statistic? If anything, the survey's in error for ranking us second rather than first. Yet, here's what the lead paragraph in the Rocky Mountain News said:

"Boulder County showed the second-highest rate of marijuana use in a federal report that left some local officials scratching their heads Thursday."

They scratched their heads? We have hydroponics stores that thrive, and it's not so people can grow tomatoes in the basement. We have citizens getting wealthy blowing glass pipes and crafting colorful bongs. We have unemployed hippies in million-dollar homes equipped with grow lights—people who scratch their heads when asked: "So what do you do for a living?"

We're a pot-smoking party town, and the only shame is in ranking second rather than first.

The report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that 10.33 percent of Boulder County respondents admitted to pot use in the past month. Boston was at 12.16 percent. Locations with the least pot smoking are likely suspects: Northwest Iowa, at 2.28 percent; northeast Iowa, at 2.53 percent; southeast Texas, at 2.59 percent; and central Iowa at 2.63 percent. The Muskogee area came in just below average, with 3.46 percent of respondents admitting to recent marijuana use.

If Boulder Mayor Mark Ruzzin really scratched his head in response to the drug report, he did so skillfully. He told News reporter Berny Morson that the city and the University of Colorado probably have a better idea of actual drug use in our community than the feds do. It was a comment that allowed readers to believe that the federal report may be wrong, whether ranking us high or low.

I asked the mayor if he truly questioned the validity of the report.

"My real point was that between Boulder County, CU and the school district we have a pretty good sense of what's going on in terms of alcohol and drug abuse," Mayor Ruzzin said.

I told him that despite my frequent criticism of Boulder, it's an enviable place that attracts visitors and new residents from all over the world. I said property values and prosperity are high, our streets are clean and we're not overrun with crime.

"If Boston and Boulder—two very well-educated, enviable locations—are number one and two, then perhaps this survey tells us that pot isn't so bad," I argued.

"I wouldn't disagree with you at all," Mayor Ruzzin said. "We're not likely to form a task force or a committee to address the marijuana issue."

I called former Mayor Paul Danish, who moved to Boulder in 1960 and spearheaded our slow-growth and open-space initiatives. I told Danish, who's also a former county commissioner, that local officials reportedly "scratched their heads" upon hearing that Boulder ranks second in pot smoking.

"Give me a break," Danish said. "We're number two because we try harder."

"Do you have a history of using marijuana?" I asked.

"I have smoked marijuana, and I've smoked enough of it that I can comment intelligently about it, and that's as far as I care to go on that subject."

Danish has a long history of fighting an intelligent and articulate battle against the drug war. I told him that perhaps this new government survey will be a good thing in his efforts, as some of the most productive and enviable places on earth seem to have the highest percentage of pot smoking.

"Yes, we're number two, and we seem to be producing a lot of wealth in this community by our own creativity," Danish said. "If you drive on the east side of 47th street and knock on any door, you'll see the 21st century being invented. That's not bad for a town that's number two in marijuana use. It makes you wonder: How would we be doing if we weren't high on pot? Probably not as well."

In early June, just before the first-ever pot ranking was released, USA Today pointed out that Boulder-Longmont took first place on another list: We're the most educated metro area in the United States, with 52.4 percent of the population holding at least a bachelor's degree. Danish said knowledge and education may go hand-in-hand with our high number of pot smokers.

"We're a very tolerant, highly educated community, and it's a fairly widely held understanding in Boulder that the most dangerous thing about marijuana is the fact you might get arrested for it," Danish said.

"We know that 10 percent of those who use alcohol are clinically addicted, but the government has spent 60 years arguing the question of whether it's even possible to get addicted to marijuana," Danish said. "If we ask the question 'which drug is likely to lead to violent behavior?' we know that alcohol wins the gold medal. We know that alcohol figures into at least half the violent crime in this country, and more if you look only at the domestic-violence statistics. So why are we having this argument?"

The new pot report was intended to send shock waves through the communities that top the list, causing mayors and health directors to form committees and throw money at the problem. It'll backfire, because the top 10 comprise a who's who of America's most literate, functional and productive places.

But we do need a task force, Mayor Ruzzin. The task? How to beat Boston in 2006

f grand rapids.

This is going to end up being a huge comment, but I thought you might find this an interesting followup. I linked your posting somewhere else on the web and got a weed discussion going. The paste below is pretty applicable because that opinion is coming from a law professor of U of Colorado. Sorry if this eats up space, but submitted for your approval:

Of course there is hypocracy, but cultural inertia has to play a big part in a decision like this. While tobacco has been proven harmful, it has been legal for centuries, and whole industries (and powerful lobbies) are in existence because of it. In addition, there are millions of citizens that are addicted to it or enjoy casual use, so politically it is not feasible to make it illegal. The economic and social ramifications (as well as health concerns from people quitting cold turkey) would be enormous. It would be another prohibition era. The better method to curtail tobacco use and limit the effects on health is to make it socially unacceptable by eliminating it from any and all public places, which is a gradual process.

Obviously tobacco and alcohol have harmful effects on our society, but they have been a norm of our culture for a long time and are hard to remove. Does that mean the government should allow additional potentially harmful substances into circulation?"

I appreciate you posting this, because something that has genuinely puzzled me for a long time is how there can be such a strong political consensus to keep marijuana illegal -- a consensus that's so strong that it allows such things as what I consider to be the totally insane and deeply immoral policy of the federal government toward state medical marijuana laws.

I find the notion, implied in your post, that the government ought to try to keep any "potentially harmful substance" out of circulation to be just about the most mistaken political idea imaginable that doesn't involve swastikas or hammer and sickles.

What isn't a potentially harmful substance? The internet does an enormous amount of harm: should the government try to gradually put it out of circulation? Any and all drugs have both beneficial and harmful effects. That's what it means for something to be a drug. The U.S. governnment has done a very clever thing by pitching its current anti-marijuana campaign on the basis of the claim that marijuana isn't harmless. No drug can meet the standard of being harmless, including aspirin, coffee, tea, and MGOBLOG.

Furthermore, would you actually be in favor of banning, for example, alcohol, if it were practically possible to do so? Do you actually believe that the government ought to eliminate a drug that brings enormous amounts of pleasure to people, that has tremendous aesthetic value (think of the immensely complex culture surrounding the production and consumption of wine alone), and that's at the center of so many of our most important social and religious rituals?

That is a very, very disturbing idea, to say the least.

And when you consider that marijuana is a considerably less dangerous drug than alcohol by any reasonable measure, well, that just says a lot about some very powerful repressive political impulses and forces in this culture.

BTW, do you know why marijuana is called marijuana in this country? Because in the 1930s the federal government engaged in a successful propaganda campaign to get it called by its Spanish, and therefore Mexican, and therefore frighteningly foreign swarms of crime-ridden brown people name.

If it had been given a "classy" foreign name, like Pinot Grigio or something, you would be able to buy it in every Wal-Mart in the country.

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