The stupidity of legalizing pot

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “By seeking and blundering we learn.” That is true, of course; some of life’s most painful–and most valuable–lessons come as a result of blundering and failure. Still, it is not necessary to experience everything for ones’ self in order to learn. In other words, it is quite possible to learn from the experiences–and the mistakes, in particular–of others. Being willing to do that is a demonstration of wisdom. There are two other quotes I have heard before in varying forms, and I have not been able to determine the originator of either, that demonstrate this truth. First: “Wise men learn from their mistakes, but wiser men learn from the mistakes of others.” Second: “A wise man learn from the mistakes of others while fools learn from their own mistakes.” Similarly, according to Forbes contributor Vitaliy Katsenelson, there is a Russian expression that says this: “The wise man learns from someone else’s mistakes, the smart man learns from his own, and the stupid one never learns.” I am afraid we have a lot of stupid people in the United States and next week–apologies to my friends who live there–we are going to find out exactly how many of them live in Ohio.

Next Tuesday, Ohio voters will weigh in on whether or not to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. According to some reports I have seen, polls are indicating that as many as 56% of Ohioans are in support of the idea. On September 15, Toledo voted to change its city ordinances to decriminalize marijuana, “abolishing jail terms and penalties for possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana” according to the Toledo Blade. The measure passed by a margin of more than 2 to 1. Only 9% of eligible voters turned out to vote on the question, called the “Sensible Marijuana Ordinance.” Sensible? Yeah right. Very effective spin by someone, though. It is not as if Toledo specifically, or Ohio in general, have a monopoly on stupidity, though. Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington already allow the recreational use of marijuana. President Obama is on record supporting the idea. The National Organization for Women and the ACLU have been lending their support for legalizing marijuana in the upcoming Ohio vote.

Why am I saying that if projections hold it means the majority of Ohioans are stupid? The Russian expression says the stupid man never learns. Taking even the most cursory look at the impact of legalized marijuana in those states where it is permitted, though, reveals exactly how bad an idea it is. It is surely tempting on many fronts. After all, people have been saying for years that marijuana does not cause the problems that other illegal drugs do. Those places where it has been legalized enjoy tremendous tax revenues as a result of its sale. A recent WORLD article reports that Manitou Springs, Colorado is expected to have $25 million in marijuana sales this year. That translates into $1.2 million in tax revenue for the city. The state of Colorado is projected to take in over $100 million this year in marijuana revenue. In the month of May alone there was more than $11 million in “marijuana-related taxes, licenses, and fees” according to the WORLD piece. And those are just state-level numbers; they do not even include local taxes like the $1.2 million for Manitou Springs. If someone says, “hey, this doesn’t hurt anyone and it will bring in lots of money for the city and state, too?” who wouldn’t be tempted? Only the stupid, though, refuse to look beyond the sales pitch and investigate the darker reality. The financial windfall is legit, but so are the costs that will eventually result. And I do not mean only financial costs, either.

Oklahoma, Nebraska, Wyoming and Kansas have all filed lawsuits against Colorado, seeking compensation for the additional costs they have as a result of marijuana purchased legally in Colorado. Sheriffs in Colorado counties that do not allow marijuana sales–and fewer than one-third of the state’s towns and cities do–have sued the state in an effort to get back the additional costs they have as a result of the problems caused by marijuana. What kinds of problems? John Suthers, the mayor of Colorado Springs–which does not allow marijuana–says, “Marijuana has become pervasive in our schools. Most of our suspensions are from marijuana. Legalization has lessened the perception of risk among young people, and when the perception of risk goes down, use goes up.” That quote is from the WORLD article. A September 22 report on RT addressed a 166-page report released after a federal government study. The study revealed “increases in marijuana-related traffic deaths, hospital visits, school suspensions, lab explosions, and pet poisonings.” Furthermore, the report stated “that the number of drivers testing positive for marijuana increased 100 percent from 2007 to 2012, with marijuana-related fatalities doubling….” Oh, and as for the suggestion that legalizing marijuana will actually make it safer by eliminating the illegal sale, or black market, for pot? Forget about it. In a February article in Newsweek Ben Smith quoted William Bennett saying, in response to a questioner asking if pot was worse than underage drinking and abuse of prescription drugs, “It’s not worse than alcohol. We know we have a problem, and we have not managed to keep those things from kids. Colorado was supposed to eliminate the marijuana black market, but it did not.” On May 18 Dion Rabouin reported in the International Business Times about the face that legal pot dealers have incredible amounts of oversight and red tape to deal with whereas the illegal dealers do not, creating the problem of “the competing black market dealers who have none of the costs of operating a lawful business and often have access to product of similar quality. Marijuana advocates long suggested that legalization would be the key to wiping out the black market for marijuana, but almost a year and a half into the experiment, that hasn’t been the case.”

There are numerous more reports, articles and studies that could be quoted to support the case against marijuana. None of that gets much attention on the ground, though, when the vote is looming. In the last Republican presidential debate Chris Christie had the courage to say what few others have said, which is that the federal government needs to enforce the law. It was established long ago that when there is a conflict federal law trumps state law. The sale and use of recreational marijuana is still a federal crime. Funny, isn’t it, how the federal government has been happy to allow states to do their own thing on the issue of pot but would not let them make their own laws regarding marriage. Sadly, they have their role exactly reversed. Marriage is not a federal government responsibility, and, per the Tenth Amendment, should be left to the states. Drug use, though, can easily be substantiated as a public security and health risk, making it an appropriate responsibility of the federal government.

I shudder to think of yet another state voting to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. My hope is that there are enough people in Ohio who are not stupid that will show up next Tuesday and vote to keep it illegal. And the state then needs to do to Toledo what the federal government needs to do to Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. The last thing we need is more stupidity.

Don’t Cheer for Stupid

A few evenings ago I was watching a baseball game on television. Not being a big fan of commercials I decided during a break to see what else was on. Scrolling through the guide I saw that America’s Got Talent was on. I could not remember the last time I had seen the show, and I do not think I have ever seen a full episode, but I thought, “Maybe there will be some decent talent on there.” So I pushed the button and switched the channel. The first thing I saw was an older woman–I think she said she was 78–about to do some power lifting. I think she lifted 185 pounds or so. That was impressive, but not particularly exciting. I have never seen a senior citizen lift that kind of weight so, sure, it got my attention. The judges had a similar reaction; they were impressed, and told her so, but they did not vote to move her on.

Next came another older man. I do not remember how old he was but he said he was a grandfather. He was a former real estate agent who said he decided a few years ago that he was tired of selling real estate and wanted to do what he was really passionate about–extreme stunts. Whether he had ever done any extreme stunts before quitting real estate I do not know for sure, but I got the impression he had not. Now he does things that most people with common sense would never attempt. So foolish, in fact, are his shenanigans that he said his wife will not watch him perform. He strode onto the stage carrying a chain saw. When Howie Mandel asked him how long he had been doing extreme stunts he did not really answer; he just said, “For this one, this will be the first time.” “How dangerous is it?” Madel asked him. “I could die,” came the response. Thus, before he had even done a single thing, he had everyone’s attention.

He proceeded to start the chain saw, set it on the ground, and then walk on his hands directly over top of the chain saw–meaning, of course, that his face was just a few inches from the whirring blade. This got some gasps and looks of astonishment, but the dude was nowhere near finished. Next he picked up an apple, bit into it so that it was mostly protruding from his mouth and put on a blindfold. He then picked up the chainsaw and proceeded to cut the apple in half with the chain saw–again, obviously, bringing the moving blade within a coupe of inches of his face. Heidi Klum was aghast. Mel B almost immediately said no, he was not getting her vote. But Howard Stern and Howie Mandel both said yes, they were intrigued and wanted to see more. With the crowd cheering wildly and Mandel and Stern pressuring her, Klum yielded and gave her assent. The man who called himself The Grandpa Show was moving on past the audition round. As I flipped back to the baseball game I thought, “How incredibly stupid!”

Stupid is something that has always irritated me. When I was a rookie teacher the student council at the school where I taught asked each teacher to complete a questionnaire for some activity they had planned. One of the questions was, “What irritates you more than anything else?” Truth be told, there are quite a few things that irritate me. Once I heard myself saying, “Nothing irritates me more than…” and then realized that, whatever it was that came next was probably at least the fifth or sixth thing I had inserted into that blank. Hmmm… To this question, though, I responded, “Stupidity – which I define as refusing to use the intelligence that you have.” That has been my answer ever since whenever I am asked that question. I just find it irritating, aggravating and frustrating when someone knows better and chooses to do something stupid anyway. Something like passing a running chain saw within a couple of inches of one’s face while blindfolded. Thinking about it a bit more I was struck by how many times people will cheer for stupidity. The crowd was going wild for the chainsaw wielding grandpa, after all. No doubt you can think of examples, too, of when you saw others–or you yourself–cheered for something that was just plan inexcusable. I remember attending a professional baseball game once when some idiot climbed up the foul pole. We was probably drunk, and I am sure he spent the night in jail, but dozens, if not hundreds, of people were cheering him on. Once in while someone will go too far and we will, collectively, call them on it–think Michael Jackson holding his child over the railing of a hotel balcony–but more often than not many of us are more than happy to cheer on stupidity.

Further thought brought to a few more conclusions, too. First, we tend to cheer on behavior that we ourselves would never engage in. Perhaps that is why it excites us. Second, we tend to blur the line between stupidity and skill, or stupidity and courage, by classifying them based on the results. Had The Grandpa Show miscalculated and sliced the front of his face off I doubt anyone would have been cheering. “What an idiot!” would have been the more likely result. “What was he thinking?” would no doubt have been uttered frequently. And, no doubt, “Why would they even let him do that?” would have been asked of America’s Got Talent by more than a few people. Yet, since he pulled it off, the majority of the crowd and three-fourths of the judges said they want to see him do more stupid stuff–and you know he will have to continually up the stakes. Using a chain saw to slice an apple you are holding in your mouth, by the way, is not talent. When performed successfully it may demonstrate a certain amount of skill and precision, but it is not talent. It is not a natural ability or an aptitude grandpa was born with. (Neither, by the way, was grandma’s power lifting).

Most of us are bright enough to use the intelligence we have and refrain from doing things as stupid as slicing apples in our mouths with chain saws. Many of us, however, do like to walk that fine line in other areas of our lives. Convincing us that we won’t get hurt is one of Satan’s great strategies. We like the thrill and the rush that comes from doing things we know we probably should not do when we actually pull them off or get away with them. We know the risks are real, but we choose to think they do not apply to us. If grandpa slices apples with chainsaws every day and never gets hurt does that mean it is a good idea? No. Does it mean we should all try it? Certainly not. No doubt, however, many people will continue to cheer loud and long for such stupidity.

Believe it or not, the Bible has a a fair amount to say about stupidity. Depending on your translation, the word “stupid” may not appear, or not appear much, but the principles are there. Stupid people are those, biblically speaking, who resist instruction. Those who seem to know everything themselves, have it all figured out not need any advice or direction from anyone else. These are the people who only learn, if ever, the “hard way.” Job 11:12, after all, says, “But a stupid man will get understanding when a wild donkey’s colt is born a man!” (ESV). This of course, will never happen; rather like the Job-era equivalent of saying “when pigs fly.” Proverbs 12:1 says, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” This one is tricky. None of us want to be called stupid, but few of us like reproof. Why? More than likely because we are proud. Reproof, however, when properly motivated and delivered, is for our own good. Reproof, by the way, is telling someone who is slicing apples in their mouth with a chainsaw that it’s really not a good idea, not cheering for them.

Those of us who tend to frown on stupidity can be ostracized at times. We may be called sticks in the mud, party poopers, old fashioned or even puritanical. Don’t worry about it. There is an adage that fits here quite well: “Better safe than sorry.” Yes, maybe some of us need to lighten up sometimes and get a little silly, but there is a still a definite line we must not cross. Fun and silliness must never become stupidity. And when you do see it on display, for goodness sake, don’t cheer for stupid!

“It’s just criminal behavior”

As a native of Maryland and someone who has enjoyed many days in the city of Baltimore, I feel I have a closer feel for the violence and idiocy on display there over the past few days than I have had to other violent protests like the one that took place in Ferguson, Missouri. Knowing the city provides a more real appreciation for what is happening, even if it makes no less sense. Rarely have I ever taken to this space to point out something on which Barack Obama and I agree, but in this instance we do. In a report on CNN Wednesday the president was quoted as saying that police officers and police departments need to be held accountable–and that is true. He said police departments need to build up trust in the communities they serve, and that it true, too. (I would add that it is equally true that we need to teach young people to respect those in law enforcement, not to fear or disrespect them). More importantly, though, President Obama said that the rioting in Baltimore is “counterproductive.” He went on to say, “The kind of violence, looting, destruction that we saw from a handful of individuals in Baltimore, there’s no excuse for that. That’s not a statement, that’s not politics, that’s not activism, it’s just criminal behavior.” Quite right.

What too few people seem to understand is that there is nothing even remotely synonymous about the riots, violence and destruction taking place in Baltimore and free speech or serious efforts to reform potentially dangerous practices in a police department. Breaking the law is no way to bring about reform within law enforcement. Destroying property accomplishes nothing, especially when it is the property of a business or private individual. Looting and robbing accomplishes nothing. Smashing police cars and attacking police officers accomplishes nothing. All this behavior does is demonstrate a stupidity on the part of the rioters. If these individuals are so easily whipped into a frenzy that they will shatter windows, run out of a store with stolen merchandise, light fires, throw rocks and more, these are individuals who have zero sense of self control or discipline. They behavior demonstrates exactly why law and order is needed. There are enough cameras going off in Baltimore these days–whether security cameras, cell phone cameras or honest-to-goodness cameras in the hands of both journalists and private citizens–that dozens of offenders should be able to be identified. Every one of them should be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This kind of behavior is ” counterproductive…it hurts communities that are already suffering,” Obama said.

Sadly, Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake served only to add fuel to the fire. She originally stated that those who wanted to destroy should be given space to do so, according to various reports. Fox News reports that a law enforcement source has informed them that Rawlings-Blake gave a stand-down order early on in the rioting. If that is true, she should be impeached at the earliest possible opportunity for violating her oath of office and acting counter to the responsibilities she holds as the mayor of the city. Oddly enough, she then called the rioters “thugs” in later statements…but has since backed down from that and apologized for using the term. On Tuesday she recanted that statement and said, “We don’t have thugs in Baltimore. We have a lot of kids that are acting out, a lot of people in our community that are acting out.” While that is true–people are acting out–the term “thug” fits. and Merriam-Webster both define thug as “ruffians”–and ruffians are bullies or brutal persons. People who start smashing windows, lighting fires and throwing rocks are absolutely bullies and ruffians.

Interestingly, multiple news sites are reporting that “thug” is the new “N-word.” That is ridiculous; groups cannot hijack the English language because they are offended by a word. If a word is an accurate descriptor of a person, a people group or behavior, we cannot allow that group to stand up and say “you cannot call me that, it is offensive.” How absurd is it that the same people who are smashing, lighting, throwing and screaming are also whining about the word being applied to their behavior? How stupid is it that people who are breaking the law are complaining about the label being put on their actions? We would laugh in derision if someone convicted of robbery were referred to as a “thief” and complained about it. There are many–of various racial backgrounds–who celebrate and promote the “thug” image in rap and hip-hop music. They have no ground to stand on when the word they are glorifying in their words and play acting is applied accurately to real behavior.

The comments of the mayor of Baltimore, the behavior of the thugs in the streets and the objections of those feigning offense at the word “thug” are not the only examples of stupidity on display in this mess, unfortunately. The dean of the University of the District of Columbia Law School, Shelley Broderick, apparently felt compelled to get her foolishness into the mix, too. She has informed the students at the law school that they can defer their exams if they go to Baltimore to work with those involved in the rioting because it will be good training for their futures and because it is essential to provide legal assistance to those involved in the “police accountability movement.” I am not making that up, either–that was her term for the rioting, thuggery and lawlessness on display in Baltimore. It is difficult to imagine how we will be able to move past the uncivilized and barbaric behavior that seems to be the initial reactions of those set on fanning the flames of racial unrest in the United States when those who are entrusted with training the next generation of lawyers are referring to criminal behavior as a “police accountability movement.”

I should point out that for each of the incredible examples of lunacy described above there are many other people demonstrating cooler heads, common sense and an appropriate grasp of reality. These are the people who need to be heard, who need to be followed and who need to be encouraged. If there was any police brutality or inappropriate treatment of Freddie Gray then that needs to be investigated and dealt with; those responsible, if anything happened that should not have, need to be held accountable. Sadly, dealing with that will have to be put in the back burner while the chaos in Baltimore is quelled and cleaned up. Stupidity itself is not a crime in the United States, for which we should all be grateful, but when that stupidity results in behavior that is actually criminal, we need to call it what it is and treat it accordingly.