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Listen to be Heard

Rose Ann Fuhrman, High Times, April 1994

Inhale deeply and often? Never smoke the stuff? Worried about the environment? Can't stand hypocrisy? Just wanna get high?

Motives vary among legalization proponents but our concerns overlap. Similarly, we have goals in common with the most vehement "lock `em up and throw away the key" anti-drug crusaders.

"No way!" you say?

Way! Although we would butt heads with the right-wingers on personal freedom issues, very few people want their taxes squandered on policies that increase their chances of being robbed or shot and diminish their rights while doing nothing to reduce drug use. We don't have to agree upon the merits or evils of hemp to agree that prohibition is a waste of taxes, hurts innocent people and virtually eliminates all uses of the plant except the one most Drug Warriors object to--recreational use.

Usual approaches to the argument for legalization prompt stock answers from opponents--answers borrowed from rhetoric repeated so often over the decades it has attained mythological power. Although the mythology is based on fabrications, blatant untruths and disproved assumptions, most believers have sincerely felt there are valid concerns that we should not ignore.

By resisting temptations to stereotype people who disagree with us (just as we wish not to be stereotyped) we can learn what the concerns are and respond with information that makes a difference. Listening is one of the best ways to ensure we will be heard.

We don't have to hit them first thing with a challenge to their whole belief system about marijuana. We can commiserate with law-and-order fans about big-time smugglers who make huge bucks while respect for law enforcement takes another dive every time someone's grandma is dragged off to jail for growing herbal medicine. (So what if she happens to enjoy a little buzz too?)

By focusing first on shared concerns and building from there, I have convinced Reagan fans who are just as antidrug as he is (or pretends to be) to lobby for legalization. My favorite convert is in her 70s, an organic gardener and fiscal conservative who still loves Reagan (who we have learned not to discuss in order to preserve our friendship), and she's a real hempster. When traveling, she points out places hemp should be planted for paper and erosion control.

Legalization is not the product of pie-in-the-sky liberals. It is not the exclusive property of the tie-dye set; it is the sensible thing to do.

Prohibition is not a long-held tradition in this country--it is a half- century-long aberration that serves no one's long-term best interest. The choice is not between legalization and a drug-free society. The choice is between legalization and a level of violence and disrespect for law that would make Al Capone weep and Elliot Ness go on a bender.

It's hard for me to get used to the fact that I have anything in common with William F. Buckley Jr., but I do. We don't agree on much, but we agree that prohibition is a futile and destructive policy. It is not necessary for us to have the same reasons for our opinion, it is enough that we are on the same side of the legalization issue.

Diversity within the legalization movement makes agreement over strategy difficult, but it strengthens us. We are a cross-section of society. There is someone in our ranks who can speak to just about any part of the population. If you ever doubt it, just picture the director of NORML in his three-piece suit.

We include fiercely independent conservatives who don't want government messing with them or spending their money, bleeding-heart liberals out to save the world, daily tokers, nontokers, defenders of the Constitution, veterans, pacifists, judges, police chiefs, environmentalists, and on and on.

I fall into several categories including nontoker, environmentalist, bleeding-heart defender of the Constitution, and over the past few years I have found myself in a surreal situation: I try to convince long-time marijuana users to support the movement.

"Do you really think you're gonna legalize it?" (whaddya mean me?) "What's gonna happen to me if I sign that initiative?" These are frustrating, though understandable, responses from citizens who contribute to society and are afraid to voice an opinion in the land of the free.

I suggest you tokers recruit more nontoking, justice-loving, pragmatic, bleeding-heart people like me to speak up and make it safe for the frightened (not paranoid) hempsters out there who enjoy a joint or a bong instead of a Bud or a Burgundy.

By the way, if someone is going to abuse a substance, which I don't recommend, I'd choose a giddy visitor to an unseen planet over a sloppy or violent drunk any day.

Now that I've finished this piece, I think I'll have a beer.

Rose Ann Fuhrman's columns appear frequently in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.