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Monday, Sep 01, 2014
Tom Jackson Columns

Jackson: Rubio’s artless dodge fogs pot debate

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Getting the obligatory pun out of the way at the top, these are high times for marijuana, simultaneously the most praised and most vilified agricultural product on Planet Earth. Which is saying something at a moment in history when kudzu — creeping curse or unrealized blessing? — carpets much of Dixie.

Pot is legal for recreational use in the states of Colorado (where shops opened Jan. 1) and Washington (shops open July 1). Voters in Alaska will choose whether to join them in an Aug. 19 election that also will identify the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate. In November, Florida voters will decide whether to join 21 other states, plus the District of Columbia, in making marijuana legal for certain medical conditions. Recent polls, reflecting a national trend, suggest it’ll be a cakewalk.

Seattle-based marijuana advocate-author Roger Roffman describes the phenomenon as Americans “moving rapidly to a place of tolerance.” Maybe. Then again maybe it’s just familiarity, or laziness, a whatever culture succumbing — like a north Georgia hillside — to some creeping inevitability.

I doubt in their heart of hearts pot’s promoters care one way or the other which sentiment of acceptance voters take with them to the ballot booth, so long as they apply it to the desired outcome.

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One thing I’ll grant them: For a bunch whose ambition is legal access to unrestricted mellowness, marijuana activists respond to the slightest threat with bursts of energy utterly unassociated with their preferred state. Accordingly, they have been busy the past couple of days denouncing Marco Rubio, the Miami Republican and Florida’s junior U.S. Senator, in his role as the artless dodger.

Rubio’s opposition to legalizing marijuana for recreational use is well-established and unwavering, which is more than sufficient to earn the scorn of America’s unofficial pot lobby. I mean, you can’t very well say there’s “no responsible way to recreationally use” pot, or that legalization of “yet another mind-altering substance ... is not good for the country” without triggering an avalanche of knife-edged complaint.

Turning coy when asked whether he ever used the drug, as in the interview aired Monday with ABC News political reporter Jonathan Karl, only sharpens the criticism. On this, at least, I would add: Rightly so.

Rubio’s dodge is too wordy, too complicated and too self-serving. If he says he did it and still turned out OK, he’s giving license to kids. On the other hand, if he says he didn’t, who’s going to believe him?

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The one part of this he gets right is that his personal experience — whatever it is — is irrelevant to his duty as an investigator, policymaker, opinion leader and possible candidate for president.

This, I concede, leans into the prevailing wind that claims without membership in one group or another — woman, minority, inner-city survivor, gunshot victim, LGBT, high-functioning stoner and so on — your opinion on their special concerns is invalid. It’s also preposterously fallacious. It makes as much sense to say only those who have played quarterback in the NFL should comment on who should start for the Buccaneers.

But if Rubio’s experience with pot is irrelevant, so are questions about that experience. Accordingly, the best, and, frankly, only proper response is, “That’s none of your business, and none of the public’s business.”

Just now, we can talk endlessly about marijuana’s apparent short- and long-term effects; its ability to influence (or not) the part of the brain that controls motivation among users both heavy and casual; and what happens to the IQs of those who pick up the habit in adolescence, all the while knowing there are plenty of conflicting studies about pot that tend to achieve conclusions sought by those supplying the grant money.

But there is a body of experience building in Colorado, soon to be expanded in Washington. And those results will be added to what researchers are learning in states with long-standing medical marijuana programs, providing rich material for political commercials.

Yes, it’s a high season for marijuana. And with a constitutional amendment to settle in November, it’s just getting started. Here’s hoping, like Marco Rubio, we bring more than personal anecdotes to the polls.

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