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Originally published Monday, August 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Jerry Large

Pulling the lid off pot

Marijuana has an image problem. That's not the only problem with it, but its image probably keeps it lurking in the shadows: People who...

Seattle Times staff columnist

Marijuana has an image problem.

That's not the only problem with it, but its image probably keeps it lurking in the shadows: People who smoke pot are unkempt, unruly, counterculture. Best just to drink scotch or pop OxyContin.

If marijuana had the ad agencies that cigarettes have had, it would be legal, too.

I'm not craving a joint. It's not my thing, but I noticed that Hempfest is coming up this weekend.

Speakers at the Seattle festival will try mightily to pull the weed from darkness.

I agree with them that it makes sense to decriminalize marijuana use.

Bring it out into the light, regulate it, tax it, put trafficking gangs out of business and let police and courts do more important work.

Rick Steves, the travel entrepreneur from Edmonds, will be one of the main speakers at Hempfest.

We had a story in our paper Friday about a television program he and the ACLU made to get people talking about marijuana laws (marijuanaconversation.org).

Some local television stations were not willing to air the TV show, though I can't think of a station that hasn't carried entertainment programs in which weed played a part.

I guess it's like sex, which you can display a bit, but not discuss seriously.

Outlawing grass doesn't seem to have the intended effect, assuming the intent is to keep people from using.

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According to the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, more than 83 million Americans older than 12 have used marijuana.

Marijuana production earns billions every year.

Think of what we could do with the taxes on legal marijuana. And we'd save the $7.5 billion a year the nation spends enforcing pot laws.

One of the big raps against pot is the idea that using it leads to using more dangerous drugs.

The other day, I asked a roomful of people about marijuana. One man, an educator, said that when he was in high school in 1972, he had a drug-education class.

The kids were told marijuana was the same as heroin.

The ones who experimented with it found out it wasn't, and some went on to try heroin figuring that since marijuana hadn't done them in and heroin was the same, it wouldn't hurt either. How's that for a gateway effect?

I'm sure arresting people for using pot has a gateway effect. A little time in jail gives a person the opportunity to learn more about other drugs and bigger crimes.

But if marijuana were legal, we could institute some controls and even have serious conversations about it.

I spoke with Steves, who is in Belgium. He said his interest started with "knowing so many people who were closet smokers but couldn't talk about it. I thought, 'What if everybody agreed [it should be decriminalized] but was too afraid to speak out.' "

He figured maybe people would listen to a straight-laced businessman.

Steves is pushing democracy, not pot. It bothers him that Americans shrink from discussing drug laws.

That's a truly sorry image.

Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Jerry Large
I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
jlarge@seattletimes.com | 206-464-3346

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