The stars must have been in just the right alignment. Or it was, if you prefer, a perfect storm. New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta, a Republican, and the New Hampshire Union Leader (R-Confusion) were all on the same side of a smoking controversy. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, the sky was falling. Or the bottom was out of the universe. Whatever.
No doubt "The World Is Too Much With Us," as the great Willie Wordsworth wrote. The governor and the mayor both have seemingly intractable budget problems confronting them. And the Union Leader must cheerlead a losing war in Iraq, battle the menace of mandatory seat belt bills, beat back the broad-based taxers and spenders, make John McCain appear credible and protect the glory of the Son of God from the depravity of the "Dilbert" comic strip, all at the same time. So it is, perhaps, understandable that when the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted to decriminalize possession of a small amount of marijuana, the statewide daily joined the governor and the Queen City mayor in flipping their righteous, solemn and respectable, all-American lids.
The representatives on Planet Concord conspired to make the possession of a quarter of an ounce or less of marijuana a non-criminal offense. It would be a violation, punishable by a $200 fine. There would be no jail time and no criminal record for, say, an 18-year-old, found with a quarter of an ounce or less of the "wacky tobaccy" on his or her person. The youth would not lose eligibility for federal assistance for college loans, certain jobs and other benefits and opportunities forfeited by convicted criminals.
So what did the governor, the mayor and the righteous Republican newspaper have to say about that? Well, they said it was terrible. The representatives had obviously taken leave of their senses. "What were they smoking?" the Union Leader wanted to know. Marijuana is addictive, said the oracle at William Loeb Drive, where truth telling apparently is not. The paper, the "guv" and Hizzoner at City Hall all wailed that the vote sent "the wrong message" to our young people. Mayor Guinta even called upon Manchester School Department spokesman David Scannell, a state "rep" who voted for the decriminalization, to quit his job. Our leaders clearly demonstrated this was no time for panic in New Hampshire. It is always, however, time for paranoia.
For the record, marijuana is not addictive, though it can be habit-forming, like writing misleading editorials. The Union Leader, in this instance, spoke not from a desire not to deceive, but to preserve ignorance untrammeled by the trespass of reason. Indeed, if ignorance were truly bliss, the Union Leader would have died from joy long ago. But they are all sincere. The governor, mayor and the editors all want to save the youth of New Hampshire from the evils of marijuana. The representatives want to save the same youths from the excesses of marijuana laws defended by people who have for decades lived in fear of Haight-Ashbury, hippies, homosexuals, flower children and Hell’s Angels. For many of us, this writer included, marijuana is indelibly associated in our minds with the radical counter-culture of the 1960’s.
So what is the answer? More people, especially young, poor and black people in our jails and prisons? Gee, how is that for a winning platform? Perhaps the state Senate will kill the bill and Governor Lynch won’t have to. It’s too bad. I wanted to see the governor run for reelection on a plan to increase state revenues and balance the budget by putting more kids into Prison Industries, where they can all learn useful trades. That will provide the added advantage of decreasing the state’s college population and thus, possibly, relieving the increasing pressure for more state funding for higher education.
Since the United States already leads all nations in prison population, it sounds like an all-American idea. What better way to crush the weed and grow the economy, while encouraging prison-building, one of the fastest growing industries in America? Don’t go away, folks. Before it’s over, the 21st Century may see students studying American history to evaluate the theory of "devolution." Or as the young people of today might describe the law of entropy:
"The universe is, like, running down, man. Y’know?"
Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.