Sharpe to the Point: Blunt Talk

Written by Jim Sharpe Category: Valley News Issue: June 2018
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I’m not going to make any promises, but over the next 700 words or so, I’ll try to keep the jokes and puns to a minimum as I discuss a topic – and a substance – that makes some people giggle: marijuana.

The folks who aren’t giggling are members of the Safer Arizona Cannabis Legalization Political Action Committee. They’re stone(d)-faced serious about making pot legal for all Arizona adults – not just the sick ones. And they’re seriously persistent.

Despite a similar initiative failing in 2016, PAC chairman Alex Gentry recently told KTAR News that they are well on their way to gathering somewhere around 235,000 signatures to get recreational marijuana back on the ballot. It certainly could be big business for Arizona.

While not entirely scientific, I took Colorado’s 2017 average per-resident spending on recreational marijuana and projected that number onto Arizona’s population. We could be talking about an almost $1.4 billion annual retail marijuana market here.

That’s serious green. (Sorry.)

In some ways, I feel uniquely suited to discuss the subject of marijuana legalization in Arizona – and why I support the idea. First, I grew up in the Grand Canyon State, which has an interesting history with marijuana decriminalization. In 1996, the same year California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, 65 percent of Arizona voters said “yes” to medical marijuana. However, that voter initiative was struck down on a technicality.

Second, I’m the son of a Jamaican immigrant. That means that even if I never touched the stuff, ganja is in my DNA, right?

Third, as a recovering alcoholic, I refuse to introduce any intoxicating substance into my system without careful contemplation, at the insistence of a doctor and under their close supervision. So I’m not for legalization because I want to smoke up.

That’s not to say I didn’t inhale. C’mon!
I lived in Flagstaff from ages 18 to 21. Nowadays, however, ingesting pot – in any of the assorted 300 or so ways you can now – is not an option for me.

Yet, I support legalization. For increased tax revenue, yes, but mainly for increased freedom. Unfortunately, a lot of other people who like talking about freedom – mainly socially conservative Republicans – also think that your freedom should end at your mouth. You have politicians’ permission to drink alcohol, but that devil weed is gonna take you down hard, son!

It’s all a little hypocritical, I think. Political fundraisers feature open bars. You’ll probably also find some folks out back smoking cigarettes. So, you can get inebriated and you can smoke. You just can’t smoke anything that will get you inebriated.

The sad truth is, thousands of people died last year in the U.S. of alcohol poisoning (an average of six every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) but no one died of a marijuana overdose. Yes, some potheads do kill their ambition to do much of anything besides contemplate the orange Cheetos dust on their fingers, but no one has died of a weed OD.

Factor in all the people who have died of diseases and conditions that alcohol either causes and/or exacerbates (88,000 annually, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) and you start to understand that pot actually might be safer than alcohol.

Some advocates propose using marijuana tax revenue to fix school funding. Failing that, legalization would certainly save tax dollars. According to the FBI, an American is arrested every 30 seconds for violating cannabis laws – 300,000 this year already. Those arrests account for more than half of all drug arrests in the U.S.

Catching all those potheads is chronically expensive for taxpayers. (Sorry, again.)

The failed experiment of alcohol prohibition gave organized crime a foothold in this country. Today’s drug-running gangsters don’t dress as cool, but they are every bit as dangerous – and successful – as their booze-running predecessors. Let’s give up on marijuana prohibition, too.

There, I think I got through that with a minimal amount of snickering about pot. And, because I don’t touch the weed, I didn’t consume a single Snickers, either.

Jim Sharpe is the host of Arizona’s Morning News on KTAR-FM 92.3 (weekdays 5-9 a.m.). Visit ktar.com to find more information about his on-air work.