In 1982, the late Gov. William Donald Schaefer was running for his last term as mayor. He held one of those big dinners that politicians are famous for at P.J. Crickets on Pratt St. All the political leaders were there. I was the chef that evening and can honestly tell you this: When I arrived at the restaurant that afternoon, I climbed in to the back of my blue VW Mini-Camper and smoked a bowl of marijuana. That evening many of the attendees stuck their heads into the kitchen to thank the chef for the wonderful meal they had enjoyed.
On Tuesday, I'm submitting testimony to the Maryland Judicial Proceedings Committee in favor of SB 658, the Marijuana Taxation and Regulation Act, which would essentially legalize marijuana in the state.
For too many years, our efforts to criminalize drugs have led to more corruption. We are approaching the 100th anniversary of the Volstead Act, which provided for enforcement of the 18th Amendment establishing the prohibition of alcoholic beverages — and gave a huge boost to organized crime in America, kickstarting the careers of various mobsters. The outlawing of other intoxicants has fueled the gangs of today, including the Crips, the Bloods, Dead Man Incorporated and The Black Guerrilla Family.
We know addiction is a terrible health problem. Haven't enough conservative Republicans gone into detox that we can at least agree on that? The rampant alcohol addiction that inspired Prohibition was just as horrible as the addictions we have today to methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin and far too many prescription drugs to list here. Yet we have turned over control of an illegal supply of all these intoxicants to human beings who are so violent we feel we have to train our Drug Enforcement Administration to behave like Seal Team Six.
Have we not seen enough senseless violence? The carnage of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre at the Clark Street garage in 1929, carried out to eliminate the last challenge to Al Capone, continues today on the streets of every U.S. city, including Baltimore.
The honorable men and women who make up our police forces know that addicts are not the problem; it is the violent criminals to whom we have given over control of the addict's life. It is time to give control over their lives to the doctors and nurses and counselors who can actually make a difference.
It is time to take the first step. As someone who functioned while living a successful, and productive life in America's drug sub-culture I can assure you this. Whether it was pot and LSD in the '60s, or the Black Beauty speed and Quaaludes of the '70s or the cocaine of the '80s, the one constant was marijuana.
When you live in that sub-culture, unfortunately from time to time you do meet hardcore junkies. Everyone I have ever met has had the same sad story. "I went to buy some weed one night and my guy was out. He convinced me it would be cool to use heroin this time, and I can come back tomorrow to buy weed." There it is: your gateway. But we have cast that gate in gold, encrusted it in diamonds and handed they keys to the most violent criminals the world has ever known.
It is time to throw a bucket of cold water on this long suffering nightmare that has been drug prohibition. We can begin that by passing a sensible tax-and-regulate marijuana bill. In recent years I have worked with Del. Dan Morhaim to pass a workable medical marijuana bill. Delegate Morhaim, who is a physician, is fond of saying "it is time to get the sick and dying off the battlefield of the war on drugs." I say to you it is time to get all the victims of the war on drugs off the battlefield, and we can begin doing that by ending the war on weed.
Barry Considine is a Halethorpe resident who says he smokes marijuana daily to ease the pain and muscle spasms associated with post-polio syndrome. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. To respond to this commentary, send an email to email@example.com. Please include your name and contact information.