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It’s Not About the High, It’s About the Civil Liberty

Russ Belville

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“Patients that don’t grow for themselves [now must] obtain their medicine from state licensed recreational shops that allow any of up to 200 pesticides in that product! Now that may be okay for a recreational consumer that may be healthy—I don’t know what the levels are. But I’m here to tell you, pesticides are not medicine for any sick person!”

That was said by Washington medical marijuana activist Don Skakie, who is fighting to place Referendum 76 on the ballot to repeal the new changes to Washington’s medical marijuana law. I applaud Skakie for the effort, as I always do, and wish him much success. But the way he phrased that point just stuck in my craw.

Why does he think a healthy recreational consumer like me wants or should be subjected to any of 200 pesticides in our product?

It’s a phenomenon I’ve come to call the “Medical High Horse.” Among some reformers on the medical marijuana issue, it seems they elevate medical use and patients to a morally superior position to those of us who either smoke pot for fun or care not to publicly label our medical use as such.

“We’re patients, not criminals” is the perfect bumper-sticker summation of that classism—if you’re not a patient, then what are you?

I get a lot of flack from medical reformers for what they perceive as my “hatred” of medical marijuana. Nothing could be further from the truth; medical marijuana has saved the lives of my friends and family and kept me free from arrest in Oregon for a decade. What they perceive is that I treat medical marijuana consumers and recreational marijuana consumers as equals deserving of the same civil liberty. Yes, accommodations should be made in law and practice to provide for people’s medical needs but not to the point where those accommodations subsume the civil rights of healthy consumers.

For example, of course I support the addition of handicapped parking spaces, powered carts and larger restroom stalls to accommodate people in wheelchairs at Walgreen’s. What I don’t support is building an entirely separate Walgreen’s just for handicapped people where healthy people are forbidden to shop, and then forcing me instead to a CVS three miles away where both handicapped and healthy people can shop, but the products cost twice as much. (Sure, don’t tax the patient’s marijuana purchase. I’m with Skakie on that, but the base price of the marijuana should be the same for all consumers.)

“You know what’s going to happen,” Skakie continued, “[the patient] is going to find out that Johnny’s got a party tonight, and he bought up all that supply of that very strain that he needs to be well, simply so Johnny and his buddies can get high.”

See how Johnny, the healthy consumer, is such an asshole for wanting to (pause and put a sneer on your face while saying) get high? This is just fear mongering that ignores the fact that if Johnny and the patient are using the very same strain, how has this scenario not unfolded in the existing medical shops, where far lower prices exist than in the legal pot shops? It’s demonstrably easy for at least one of Johnny’s crew to get a recommendation, and there’s no way 300+ allegedly medical-only shops have stayed in business in Seattle without selling to Johnny and his buddies already.

For me, this isn’t a battle about getting high or feeling well. It’s a battle about cognitive liberty and bodily sovereignty. Smoking pot is a civil liberty along with free speech, free religion, free association, bearing arms, reproductive choice and so on. Whether you’re a stereotypical tie-dyed, wake’n’bake stoner or a patient with Lou Gehrig’s disease, your rights are equal.

No authority has the right to deny your civil rights, no matter the morality in question. We honor the right of Westboro Baptist Church to protest “God Hates Fags” just as we honor recent “Black Lives Matter” protests. You are allowed to worship Satan, Jesus, Mohammed, Cthulhu or nothing as you see fit. Both the Elks’ Lodge and the Illinois Nazis are allowed to meet. Women who seek self-protection and men who seek ego-inflation are both allowed to possess firearms. Abortions are available to both faithful married women and promiscuous single ladies.

In other words, what we do with our minds and bodies is for us to decide, as long as we are not harming others. And as long as we maintain the fiction that our excuse for smoking pot is the determinant of our right to smoke pot, we maintain a false medical/recreational division that only denies the rights of the healthy, as well as infringes on the rights of the sick by forcing them to prove which side of the arrest/don’t arrest line they stand on.

Medical marijuana was a necessary step in achieving our liberty when legislators and the public held a super-majority in opposition to legalization. But now that majority support for legalization is five-for-five in 2015 national polls (and 8 for 10 in 2014) and legislatures are warming up to legalization. It is time for medical advocates to realize fighting for all of us is the only way to achieve lasting and true civil liberty.

Or at least time for medical advocates to stop sneering at us for merely “getting high”.

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