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We want to read what you think: Should PA legalize marijuana for recreational use?

‘Morally and practically,’ yes, legalize it

Pennsylvania should legalize adult use of recreational marijuana, for both moral and practical reasons. And if a user does any careless harm to others, then they should be prosecuted for such harm just as we do with the much more dangerous use of alcohol.

The Declaration of Independence emphasizes our individual “inalienable” natural rights, including “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as long as we do not violate such equal rights of others. Government’s primary purpose is “to secure these rights,” not to restrict them like some nanny. Toleration of another’s unique peaceful pursuits is profoundly American. (Please forgive the history lesson, but this former teacher cannot resist.)

Two relevant examples of American toleration of individual rights:

Our Founders recognized that many once-persecuted refugees had found religious freedom in America, thus our diverse religious practices may offend and even horrify others. But so long as we are peaceful the government should leave each of us free to practice whatever heresies we choose – even (gasp!) the Quakers.

Americans also have a clear constitutional individual right to keep and bear firearms. In such cases when innocents are ever harmed, just laws and juries will find you guilty if you violate others’ rights by your careless or malicious use of guns.

The same moral rules of mutual toleration and individual responsibility should apply to the individual’s use of cannabis.

Americans’ use of marijuana is commonplace. In Vietnam in 1969-70 at our US Marine combat base at An Hoa, over 75 percent of us in my unit smoked grass whenever we got a safe chance to do so when not out in immediate combat danger. Returning home from Vietnam I smoked grass in moderation almost every day throughout the decade of the 1970s, and this, part of my own personal “pursuit of happiness,” helped me to get my life back together. I am grateful for its profound effects, both medicinal and inspirational, and I became a healthier, more motivated, and more optimistic person for it. I stopped smoking cannabis in the 1980s because I moved on to other pursuits. It was so easy to simply quit, although I did have a subsequent decline in health. In the 40 years since, it has been most extremely rare for me to ever use it at all.

Practical arguments for legalization are many. It would eclipse black markets where other truly dangerous drugs are available, so that consumers are not associating with such pushers of poisons. Cannabis is a safer “exit drug” substitute for them. And we will stop ruining countless human lives by making criminals of them.

Of course, drivers impaired by marijuana are a legitimate concern, although it is not nearly as deadly a problem as drivers on alcohol, not even in the same league. States that have legalized it are not seeing the horrors once feared. But we certainly need to keep impaired folks from endangering others on the road.

The problems here — moral, justice, and practical — are that cannabis-impaired driving is difficult to prove. Blood-draw evidence cannot prove actual intoxication as it does with alcohol, since THC traces can remain in the system for weeks even though any actual impairment might only have been for a few hours.

A better, and more just, solution seems to be roadside sobriety assessments by Drug Recognition Experts (DRE), a specialty of emerging importance. More DRE certifications are needed. Our law enforcement officers are intelligent and competent public service professionals, and they have a proven record of being easily trained in any such new methodologies. Legalization is the future, and law enforcement must be ahead of the curve and prepared on this.

Morally and practically, recreational cannabis should be legal for all adults, and nearly two-thirds of Americans agree in whole or part. Justice demands it. Pennsylvanians, recover America’s ideals of individual rights and personal freedom, and liberate marijuana!

Ross Barlow

Bangkok, Thailand, and Sugar Grove

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