Filler: America should end its war on pot

Why isn't it a big deal that New

Why isn't it a big deal that New York City mayoral candidate John Liu called for legalizing marijuana? Because, says Lane Filler, "he's calling for the launch of a ship that's already sailed." (Credit: AP Photo)

Lane Filler

Portrait of Newsday editorial board member Lane Filler Lane Filler

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.

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In 1969, a Gallup poll showed 12 percent of Americans said marijuana should be legal in the United States.

In 2013, a man who first smoked marijuana in 1969 at the age of 21 would turn 65 and claim his Medicare. If our hypothetical friend is still toking, he's probably also bringing the line at a convenience store to a screeching halt daily, trying in vain to claim a senior discount on taquitos and cheese popcorn as those behind him grow mutinous, then murderous.

What else happened while our far-out friend aged, worked, bought a home, paid taxes, raised kids and, perhaps, got gently stoned before "Saturday Night Live"? The percentage of Americans in favor of legalizing the good herbs got as high as Americans themselves, reaching 52 this year, says a Pew Research Center study.

Pot has been much in the news of late, with a New York City mayoral candidate, John Liu, proposing to legalize marijuana in the city and a New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, getting into a fracas with a parent whose ill kid needs but cannot access pot. Medical marijuana has been legal in Jersey for three years, but the implementation has been painfully slow, and Christie hasn't done all he could to speed it up.

Christie's argument with a voter is certainly not news: In New Jersey they call that "Tuesday." But when a (sort of) legitimate mayoral candidate in our nation's most important city says we ought to allow the use of the dread weed, it ought to be big doings.

It isn't, though, because he's calling for the launch of a ship that's already sailed.

The war on weed, or the war on the 100 million Americans who've tried weed, just hasn't worked out, any more than the war on liquor from 1919 to 1933, or attempts to stop vices like gambling and prostitution.

That realization is sinking in, and things are changing. Medical use is now legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia, and at times the medical reasoning can be pretty . . . loose, along the lines of: "I have crippling anxiety when I run out of high-grade bud. Please treat me, immediately."

And more states are decriminalizing or out and out legalizing marijuana for admittedly nonmedical purposes: partying, relaxing and really, really digging into the deeper meaning underlying "Tosh 2.0."

In a strictly "land of liberty" sense, laws against marijuana were never justifiable. In a strictly real-world sense, they were never meaningfully, or at least not fairly, enforced. Unless he was dealing or smoking big spleefs in the middle of the street, and as long as he was white and not too noticeably poor, our 65-year-old far-out friend probably never had the law come down on his habit.

What anti-marijuana laws have done is empower a criminal element, create probably the largest tax-evading industry in the nation, prop up the price of what is truly a weed above reasonable levels and, by leaving it unregulated, made pot more easily available to minors than cigarettes and beer.

As passionate as I sound, I haven't had a dog in this fight for decades. Any time I used intoxicants of any kind, I turned up thousands of miles from home, in a cell, charged with lewd and lascivious behavior, disorderly conduct and, once, improper transportation of a water buffalo across state lines. Twenty years of that was as much fun as I could stand.

But I know we can't win a "war" against a pastime that 52 percent of Americans support legalizing. It's impossible to succeed. It's immoral to try.

Once the hippies turned into the AARPs, the war on marijuana was over. Even for die-hard anti-pot people, continuing this fight makes about as much sense as, well, "Tosh 2.0" does to a sober viewer.

Lane Filler is a member of the Newsday editorial board.