Elise Patkotak: Legalize drugs, but not the crimes linked to them

Elise Patkotak

One of the reasons given for the switch in popular opinion from negative to positive on the legalization of pot comes from the fact that more and more senior citizens are using it. Now that the kids are grown and (mostly) out of the house, many are reverting to an amusement from our youth that we felt compelled to abandon when the kids were at home.

This change finally answers a question that has long troubled me. If all the people in my generation who condemned pot and swore they never used it were telling the truth, then who were all those people sitting in smoke filled rooms with me?

Americans can be very hypocritical on issues such as condemning fast foods while voluntarily consuming vast amounts. But the ultimate in hypocrisy has to be our War on Drugs that has cost an untold number of lives and billions of wasted dollars. Quite frankly, I've never understood why the Mexican government didn't just legalize drugs decades ago, tax the product to make up for lost American aid, and enjoy the peace that came when drug lords no longer ruled their land.

I sometimes wonder how long the war on drugs would have lasted had the carnage visited on Mexico happened in America? I'm betting we would have long since decided that a war with so many casualties and so few positive results was hardly worth the billions thrown at it.

I know a lot of people who have used pot their entire adult life while living fully productive and good lives. I know people who have a drink every night but are not considered alcoholics and who, in fact, also live full and productive lives. I've know people who have used cocaine and walked away from it totally voluntarily, simply because they no longer wanted to use it.

Conversely, I've known people with such pot addictions that they can't get up in the morning without a puff to get them going. I've know people who put a shot of alcohol into their morning coffee and keep it going all day so they never have to be totally sober. And I've known people for whom cocaine was the first step on the road to hell.

The common thread here is addiction. And addiction, as sad and destructive as it is, should not be a crime. It is a medical problem. Granted it is a very intractable medical problem that frequently takes multiple attempts to finally put in abeyance, but failing at treatment should not be a crime.

What should be, and is, a crime is driving under the influence of anything that impairs your ability to safely handle a large machine going at a fast rate on a public street. What should be, and is, a crime is giving any intoxicant to a minor. What should be, and is, a crime is trying to use any level of intoxication as an excuse for behavior that should be criminal under all circumstances.

What shouldn't be a crime, and isn't, is having a drink with dinner. Or, for that matter, having a drink with breakfast or getting flat out drunk if that's what you want to do. That behavior is no one's business but your own unless you negatively affect those around you because of it. If you want to sit in your living room and smoke pot until your lungs burst, you should not have to worry about morality police breaking down your door and making you a criminal. If you want to drink until your liver hoists a white flag of surrender that is no one's business but yours unless you inflict your behavior on society.

If you're diabetic and eat sugar every night, you will die sooner rather than later. While friends and family might have the right to tell you that you should stop, whether you do or not is a personal choice. And when you make yourself so sick that you need to go to the hospital to have your legs amputated, a truly compassionate society provides the care you need, not a jail cell and a morality lecture.

A drug, be it alcohol (legal), tobacco (legal), sugar (legal) or pot (illegal) is just a thing. Criminalizing its use is not good public policy.


Elise Patkotak is an Alaska writer of author of "Parallel Logic," a memoir of her 28 years in Barrow. Web site, www.elisepatkotak.com.