Sandra Bullock reminisces…

By JEREMY D. MAYER | 3/29/09 7:25 AM EDT

Smoking pot doesn’t cause schizophrenia, but marijuana as an issue sure gives our political system the symptoms. We have just elected our third president in a row who at least tried marijuana in early adulthood, yet it remains illegal.

As we discovered again this week, President Obama, like his two predecessors, supports imprisoning people for making the same choices he made.

Beyond imprisonment, one of my policy students, who was honest on a security clearance about her one time use of pot, could lose her job for doing what Clinton, Bush and Obama did.

On television, leading comedian Jon Stewart and America’s sweetheart, Sandra Bullock, swap pot smoking stories with lighthearted abandon, laughing along with their audience, who, like most Americans, end up voting for politicians who support draconian punishments for pot users and dealers.

Year after year, major Hollywood films like Pineapple Express show potsmoking in a positive light, yet legalization remains unmentionable to both our political parties. And America’s most popular Olympian, Michael Phelps, like the majority of people his age, has tried pot, but loses millions in sponsorship when it is revealed that he has done what most of his fans have done.

Several states have legalized medical marijuana, and a few are contemplating decriminalization, and yet, other states are about to prevent those whose urine tests positive for marijuana from receiving desperately needed benefits to which they would otherwise be legally entitled.

At least eight states, including Kansas, Oklahoma, and West Virginia, are actively considering making drug tests mandatory for food stamps, welfare, or unemployment. In a classic demonstration of how America has always had one drug law for the rich and one for the poor, no one has suggested drug testing recipients of billions in bailout cash. We could probably save a lot of money by testing Wall Street financiers for pot (or cocaine, for that matter).

Perhaps these accumulated paradoxes have finally become large enough for the nation to begin reconsidering its position on pot. For an issue that has been in stasis for decades, marijuana is suddenly hot, one might even say, smoking.

By jamming up the White House’s “Open for Questions” website with votes for questions about their favorite substance, advocates for the legalization of marijuana managed to force President Obama to address the issue.

This is success in Washington, even when the president chuckled derisively and came down against legalization. Of the thousands of issues in the competitive policy environment, only a few get this kind of attention.

Some think the economic crisis will help the legalization cause.

California state legislator Tom Ammiano argues that marijuana, by far the most lucrative crop with an estimated $14 billion in sales, could provide over a billion dollars of tax revenue in California alone.

There are, however, a few problems with these numbers. First, it is always tough to estimate what total sales are for any illegal substance. Good data just doesn’t exist in this area. Second, even if $14 billion is accurate, that’s the California sales total when pot is illegal. When a pothead scores a dimebag in Los Angeles, the high price is mostly a function of the illegality. He’s paying for the risks taken by the grower, the importers, and the dealers at each step of the marijuana process.

Currently, dealers risk not only jail, confiscation of property, and the burden of a criminal record, but they also face violence from other rival dealers. That’s why the markup on pot is so extreme.

Legalize pot, and perhaps 80% of its price vanishes. And since marijuana requires very little processing, unlike cocaine or heroin, the supply of pot could skyrocket if it were legalized, further driving the price down. Why pay for it when you can grow your own, tax-free?

It is also possible, though, that legalization would result in a surge in demand, since potential users who avoided it due to fear of incarceration or its high price might now indulge.

Advocates of decriminalization or legalization have reason to take cheer from many recent developments. Tax revenues, although not as high as some dreamers would wish, would certainly be substantial, and would replace the billions spent interdicting and confiscating marijuana, as well as imprisoning users and small time dealers. Legalizing marijuana would immediately remove millions of dollars in income from the international drug cartels that are making life hell in Mexico.

The tide of public opinion is slowly moving towards decriminalization. As polling expert Nate Silver recently pointed out, only 10% supported legalization in 1969, while at least 40% do so today. The younger you are, the more likely you are to have tried marijuana, and to support its legalization. NORML doesn’t have to persuade anyone to win; if they just wait for the anti-pot geezers to die, most Americans will favor legalization within a decade.

Or, they could wait for Obama to go back to the position he had when he was an obscure Illinois state legislator, just four years ago.

I don’t use pot, but I do believe that the tide of history is moving against our ridiculous and counterproductive ban on this relatively harmless substance. The question is not will we decriminalize, but when?

Jeremy D. Mayer is the author of “American Media Politics in Transition” (McGraw Hill, 2007) and an associate professor and director of the master’s program in public policy at George Mason University in Arlington, Va.

Talk Host Tokers

Talk host tokers
By Dana Larsen – Sunday, May 29 2005

Late night talk show hosts tend to be pot friendly
Talk show icon Johnny Carson died in January, and his death was mourned by fans around the world. But what many did not know was that, like virtually every major talk show host that followed him, Johnny Carson was a fan of the forbidden herb.
In a 1982 documentary called Johnny Goes Home, Carson took his viewers on a tour of his hometown Norfolk, Nebraska. He rode in his old High School’s homecoming parade, and also took viewers inside the local movie theater, where he explained how he and his friends had first seen the classic anti-pot propaganda film Reefer Madness.

“As a kid I did grow up in what was called an innocent age…” said Carson. “We had heard about marijuana, we weren’t very sure what it was, but we found out because one day, right up on that screen, a picture played here in the late 30’s called Reefer Madness. We didn’t know what “reefer madness” meant either, but it had to do with the evils of marijuana smoking. Wayward girls would have terrible, wanton behavior. We didn’t know what that meant, but we wanted some of that.”

Carson had previously explained his marijuana views in a 1967 interview with Playboy, when Carson was asked his thoughts on pot and LSD.

“I don’t put marijuana in the same bag with LSD or any of the hard narcotics,” said Carson. “People are wrong when they say marijuana isn’t addicting, though. I’ve known people who use it, known them all my adult life, and I know they are at least psychologically addicted. But it’s just a mild stimulant, actually. And I think that the laws against its use are repressive out of all proportion.”

Although Carson avoided openly discussing his own personal political views on his show, saying “I just don’t feel that Johnny Carson should become a social commentator,” he occasionally let his open-minded fondness for toking slip through.

Carson liked to imply that his band leader, Doc Severinsen, was a heavy pot smoker. One classic quip came when President Carter recommended in 1977 that possessing under an ounce of bud shouldn’t be illegal. “The trouble is that nobody in our band knows what an ounce or less means,” joked Carson. To which Doc replied, “It means you’re about out.”

Jay Leno

Jay Leno took over hosting The Tonight Show in 1992, and he has made pot-friendly jokes a regular part of his monologue, continuing Carson’s tradition by implying that bandleader Kevin Eubanks is a toker.

Although we have no evidence that Leno himself partakes of the herb, he has made a point of promoting pot culture on his show. Pot icon Tommy Chong also made his first post-prison appearance on The Tonight Show, with Leno complaining about the injustice of the anti-bong laws.

David Letterman

David Letterman also went through a phatty phase in his younger years. In a pair of interviews with Playboy magazine, he described his pot experiences.

“I went through one period when I smoked a surprising, a really breath-taking, amount of grass almost every night,” Letterman told Playboy. “One night I smoked down a big joint and then went downstairs and ate two pints of Haagen-Dazs ice cream and then went back to bed. An hour later I woke up and thought my heart had stopped. And the next day I went to a cardiologist and he said, ‘Well, no, it didn’t stop. Everything’s fine.’ And that was the end of my pot experiences.”

Jon Stewart

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart is a popular show among counterculture news junkies.

According to right-wing pundit Bill O’Reilly, 87% of those who watch The Daily Show are “stoned slackers.” Yet O’Reilly was forced to apologize after research by Comedy Central found that Daily Show viewers are more likely to have college degrees than those who watch The O’Reilly Factor.

Nevertheless, stoners will find favor with Stewart’s unabashedly pro-pot jokes and performances. Stewart had a cameo in Dave Chappelle’s pot-comedy Half Baked, playing the Enhancement Smoker. “You ever seen the back of a twenty on weed?” asked Stewart. “Oh, there’s some weird shit in there man. There’s a dude sitting in the bushes. Does he have a gun? I don’t know man, I don’t know. What? Red team go! Red team go!”

Conan O’Brien

Conan O’Brien has always been the talk-show host most willing to educate and have fun with pot humor. One of the very first episodes of Conan’s show featured a comedian riffing off hemp humor, jokes about how hemp could be used to make paper four times more efficiently than trees.

One classic cannabis character from Conan O’Brien’s show was “Tokey the Anti-Drug Bong.” Tokey would spew anti-pot propaganda, while also spewing smoke from out of his chamber. When Conan asked Tokey what the fumes were, Tokey replied “That’s my sweet, sweet marijuana smoke. I mean I’m a bong, it happens, it’s natural. I might be giving the kids a mixed message, but man, it does smell good.”

Steve Allen

The first host of The Tonight Show was Steve Allen, who has been an outspoken opponent of America’s drug war for many years.

In 1955, Steve Allen interviewed stoner comedian Lord Buckley (CC#53, Dead Funny). Interestingly, Lord Buckley had another unlikely friend in the TV industry.

Buckley was busted for pot possession in 1943, but the charges were dismissed thanks to intervention from Buckley’s friend,

Ed Sullivan. The multi-talented Steve Allen has another fun cannabis connection. His jazz Christmas album, Cool Yule, was recorded by ganja icon Louis Armstrong.