Prop 19: The ‘Okie from Muskogee’ Got It Wrong
In 1969, one of Shasta County's more famous residents, Merle Haggard, released a song that since has become something of a signature for him. "Okie from Muskogee" was an overnight hit and remains a staple of country music to this day. It was, if you will, a protest against a protest in that it derided those who were regarded as unpatriotic, anti-war hippies, and praised so-called red blooded Americans for, as the song said, "Livin' right and bein' free."
Everyone is entitled to his opinions, but I believe that history is telling us that the anti-war people were right and Mr. Haggard was wrong, at least so far as Vietnam is concerned. But that dispute is not where the real problem with "Okie from Muskogee" lies.
The song starts out with this: "We don't smoke marijuana in Muskogee" and the chorus ends with "And white lightnin's still the biggest thrill of all." The message is, of course, that smoking marijuana is bad, while good, red blooded Americans drink hard liquor, even illegal hard liquor, with pride. In point of fact, those red blooded Americans would have been a lot better off smoking marijuana than drinking alcohol. Many, many people have died of alcohol poisoning, including some that are even more famous than Mr. Haggard. Hank Williams, Truman Capote, Billie Holiday, W.C. Fields and Errol Flynn, just to name a few. Nobody has ever died of marijuana poisoning. In fact, taking aspirin is much more dangerous than using marijuana. Further, while there is fighting whiskey, I have never seen or heard of fighting marijuana. In fact, according to Mayor LaGuardia of New York, when marijuana was legal, the police were often called to bars where people drank, but essentially never called to tea houses where people smoked marijuana.
Granted, people have been injured or killed because they did stupid things like drive cars or operate machinery while they were high. But doing any of those things while impaired is extremely dangerous, whether the impairment is due to alcohol, marijuana, prescription drugs, fatigue or illness. The fatal error is attempting these activities while impaired. The source of impairment is irrelevant.
I do not use marijuana. I like to wind down with a drink or glass of wine at the end of the day. But the fact that I don't choose to use marijuana does not make keeping it illegal sensible. In fact, making the use or possession of marijuana illegal has never made a lick of sense from the moment Congress did it nearly 80 years ago. In addition, my usual position is that everyone should vote against every initiative on every ballot in every election. Initiative measures either have unintended adverse consequences because they have not been carefully thought through, or they have been carefully thought through by people who are concealing the real purpose of the initiative so they can make lots of money once the new law is passed.
Proposition 19 is an exception. Its purpose is to undo something really, really stupid that Congress did decades ago. (I suppose that we can all take some kind of comfort in the idea that stupidity in Congress is not a modern development - it has always been there.) By legalizing marijuana, proposition 19 will do a bunch of things, all of them good, for our society. It will:
- Stop making criminals out of perfectly good citizens whose only fault (if you can call it that) is preferring to relax with a puff rather than a drink.
- Take a major source of revenue away from organized crime.
- Stop the damage that is being done to our forests by growers who tear up the landscape and kill plant-eating deer so they can grow their crop away from the prying eyes of the police.
- Remove the burden of prowling the forests rooting out illegal marijuana plantations from our police. Do you have any idea about what it costs to operate just one of the helicopters that are flown around looking for marijuana on a daily basis? Trust me. It is VERY expensive.
- By passing this initiative, we take at least one step toward getting the government out of the lives of our citizens. There are lots of areas where government interference with the desires of individuals is necessary (especially laws protecting children and elders), but we do not need government sticking its nose where it is not needed.
If you want to strike a blow for freedom, do enormous damage to organized crime, save tax money, take some of the burden off of our police and stop throwing people into jail unnecessarily, VOTE YES ON PROPOSITION 19.
Dugan Barr has practiced law in Redding since 1967. He has tried more than 200 civil jury cases to verdict. He is married and has five children. The offices of Barr and Mudford, LLP, are at 1824 Court St. in Redding and can be reached at 243-8008.
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