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On Jan. 1, 2014, Colorado became the first state to authorize the sale of marijuana for pure fun.

John Crisp mug

John Crisp | Tribune News Service

At least 18 pot shops were open for business in Denver that week, each permitted to sell an ounce of weed to Colorado residents over 21; out-of-staters were limited to a quarter-ounce.

The state of Washington wasn’t far behind, and signatures were being collected to put the issue on the ballot in Alaska, Oregon and six other states.

Financially, the Colorado experiment was a success. In 2014, state officials anticipated annual sales of $200 million and tax revenue of $70 million. But in 2017 sales exceeded $1.5 billion, and the state’s Department of Revenue reported tax income of $250 million from pot sales.

Other states took notice. At present, 33 states permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and 10 have legalized recreational use.

In October, Canada began permitting sales of recreational marijuana, and Mexico’s Supreme Justice Court ruled that Mexican citizens have a right to possess pot for personal use.

These two events prompted Houston Chronicle reporter Olivia Tallet to note in December that Texas is now surrounded by states and a large country that permit some form of marijuana use.

And even in Texas, she reports, fewer than 20 percent of registered voters object to the legalization of marijuana, according to a recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.

The trend is clear, and it’s easy to see why. Certainly, governments are attracted to the tax revenue from marijuana sales. Further, marijuana decriminalization expresses a sensible desire to reduce the discrepancy between how we treat it and how we treat other addictive and probably more harmful substances, such as alcohol and tobacco.

In Mexico, the party of the new president introduced in November a bill that would legalize the commercial cultivation of marijuana, a measure supported, according to reporter Tallet, because of its potential “to decimate the power of drug cartels and their violent criminal enterprises.”

And in Texas, one rationalization for decriminalization is expressed by Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, who says that the $25 million that the county spends prosecuting and incarcerating low-level pot offenders reflects wasteful policy. The money could be better spent fighting other crimes and protecting public safety.

So what’s not to like about marijuana legalization?

Last week in the New York Times Alex Berenson argued that much of the “unstoppable march” toward legalization is driven by persistent lobbying by for-profit cannabis interests, who have managed to “recast marijuana as a medicine rather than an intoxicant.”

Part of their strategy is to minimize marijuana’s negative health effects, ignoring, for example, a 2017 study by the National Academy of Medicine that concludes that “Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of schizophrenia and other psychoses.”

So the jury may still be out on the health effects of marijuana use, though, negative effects alone do not necessarily undercut the reasons for legalization.

One more caveat: I wrote a column on this subject five years ago, just as Colorado’s pot shops were opening their doors. I raised the question of “stupefaction,” a quaint term that I borrow from Leo Tolstoy, the Russian writer known for his enormous novels such as “War and Peace.” He also wrote a short essay in 1890 entitled “Why Does Man Stupefy Himself?”

Tolstoy opposed all sources of stupefaction, which he defined as anything that causes a man to lose touch with his conscience. He deeply lamented the excessive use of drugs and alcohol and even tobacco in 19th-century Russia. His answer was total abstinence.

One wonders what Tolstoy would think of our culture’s unrelenting attraction to stupefaction, which we find in alcohol and drugs, legal and illegal, but also in social media, video games, food, sports and video, which often reach all-consuming, addictive levels. There’s a reason we call it binge-watching.

In this unrelenting mix of diversion and distraction, the conscience that Tolstoy is concerned about has to struggle for attention. Of course, stupefaction in moderation is fun — it feels good.

Unfortunately, Americans’ aptitude for moderation is, well, limited.

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Tribune News Service columnist John M. Crisp can be reached at jcrispcolumns@gmail.com.

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(11) comments

oldhomey

Is that what happened to you, Climate? Were you a stoner from age 14 to 26? You sound like you have ambiguous feelings about legalizing pot.

Climatehoax

The jury is not out, these experts are as credible as the climate change scientists

Climatehoax

Liberals claim to be SO concerned about others, but they’ll take the tax money when it’s been proven to be harmful.
You’re emotional growth stops if you use pot before you’re brain is fully developed, age 26.

So the jury may still be out on the health effects of marijuana use, though, negative effects alone do not necessarily undercut the reasons for legalization.

martian2

the jury has been out a long time when it comes to the most abused and harmful drug in this country---alcohol. Marijuana isn't as addictive or as harmful as alcohol, not by a long shot. And we can learn from history what happened when we tried to ban alcohol. This country seems like it needs a big joint to relax, and a big enema to get rid of all the hype and misinformation that keeps spewing from the mouths of liars.

Climatehoax

Prove alcohol is more harmful to the brain than pot. I don’t know of anyone who changed significantly after drinking beer once, but one use of pot can affect your brain, but as the user you don’t notice it.

oldhomey

Dang! That Climate always has this huge fund of dead to nuts accurate scientific evidence that he uses to shoot down all the stuff us liberals rely on as factual!

martian2

prove alcohol s more harmful, are you crazy. Look at the drunk driver deaths each year. Then look at the marijuana deaths each year, not even close. Look at the deaths from alcohol abuse on the liver and other organs. Look at the overdose deaths from alcohol, then look at the marijuana overdose deaths each year, not a one from marijuana. Alcohol is by far much worse than marijuana. In fact marijuana doesn't even make the top five most destructive drugs. Read for yourself hoaxer and become informed. https://www.verywellmind.com/alcohol-is-the-most-harmful-drug-3969483

oldhomey

Oh give Climate a break, martian. Given time, I am sure he can find some site that will show how marijuana has cause countless cases of cirrhosis of the liver, destroyed kidneys, and damages hearts. Climate is a font of surprising scientific data. You should know that just by his choice of his screen name.

martian2

yes you are right homey, give hoaxer time. Trouble is hoaxer doesn't deal in facts, just gibberish from the far right. Give him/her enough time and he/she always shows how wrong he/she is.

capedcrusader

Climatehoax, are you speaking from experience? More people die from alcohol than pot right? What about all those dead bodies you seem so concerned about? 88,000 people a year die from alcohol related causes. It's the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. The first is tobacco. You better be careful, drinking too many martini's might be creeping up the list.

martian2

I guess we put hoaxer to rest again. Not a peep from him. Perhaps he learned something, perhaps not. One thing we do know he will show up again somewhere, and without a clue.

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