Saturday, February 7, 2009

America the Hypocritical

Ask me if I was outraged by Olympic gold metal swimmer, Michael Phelps, taking a hit off a bong? Do I think yesterday's hero become a depraved villain overnight because of indulging in a marijuana buzz? No, I don't think so but society must. He's reaped a ton of negative publicity and I read that he lost his sponsorship from Kellogg's in spite of his obligatory expression of remorse. (He probably is remorseful - for not realizing his picture was being taken, that is). Thank God for Phelps' sake that it was marijuana and not cigarettes. He'd never have been forgiven for that!

In the meantime, I watched the draw for positions in the NASCAR Budweiser Shootout on Thursday night on SPEED. It was so "cute" the way they did it (The quotations are to indicate sarcasm in case it isn't clear). There was a stage bar with 28 Budweiser bottles on it. Each driver came up to select a bottle, then took it to a pretty girl who opened it for him. After that, the driver pulled out a little flag with a number on it and that was his starting position in the Budweiser Shoot-out. Of course, they were careful about obeying the law. Joey Logano, who is only 18, had to have his crew chief present to select the bottle for him because, you know, it wouldn't do to have a teenager actually hold a fake beer bottle! It might imply something, like approval of underage drinking. We certainly couldn't allow that to happen in spite of all the ads our kids see glamourizing alcohol.

Yesterday was exciting for NASCAR fans because we actually got to see cars on the track for the first time since November. Incidentally, among the sponsors of those various cars are: Crown Royal, Jack Daniels, Budweiser, Jim Beam, Miller Lite and some I'm probably forgetting. (Do you suppose any kids support any of the alcohol-sponsored drivers, like handsome, young Kasey Kahne?) Also, don't forget that the winner of any pole position gets his picture taken with the Coors banner because Coors sponsors the pole in every race (except again, if someone under 21 wins, then I guess, they edit out the Coors name).

Cigarette manufacturers made NASCAR what it is today but they were long ago banished from the sport when smoking became the most scorned of addictions. Since then, whole cities and even states have made the unacceptability of tobacco well-known. An example. There is an outside parking lot in the city where I work with a prominently placed sign - "smoke-free campus". Now I have to walk down to the alley instead of cutting across so I can smoke on my way back to work after lunch. Naturally, the restaurant where I usually eat, which is also a brewery, is a non-smoking facility (until 9:00 at night, if you can tell me what sense that makes).

But back to our fallen hero's inhalation of the dreaded marijuana. I was a child of the 60's when grass, pot, weed, whatever you want to call it, was commonly accepted. Most people I knew back then smoked to one degree or another, some only on social occasions and others every day. We are all in our late 50's and early 60's now. We became bankers, insurance agents and real estate brokers, car dealers and teachers, lawyers and secretaries. Most of us married and became parents. We did not give birth to monsters or end up living stoned on the streets. Possession of marijuana was technically criminal but rarely resulted in arrest or prosecution.

Then society took a turn for zero tolerance, as it is on its way to doing with cigarettes today. By the time, I started working in law enforcement, much of the population of our (vastly over-crowded) jail was there for charges involving marijuana. We didn't have enough cells for wife-beaters and child molestors because, don't you know, we had to keep those pot smokers behind bars.

As it turned out, a significant minority of our kids would end up with criminal records (unlike my generation) because of weed. Their arrests would result in overworked cops and overloaded court schedules and the need to increase the number of probation officers paid for by taxpayers and additional detention centers built. Multiple offenses could result in time at prisons or juvenile facilities where they'd learn more about criminal behavior (and harder substances) than they'd ever known before. We'd turn them into snitches by coercing them into buying from others in order to get a lighter sentence for themselves. And so the cycle rolled on.

I've known lots of marijuana smokers, cigarette smokers and drinkers. Neither of the first two cause as much damage to themselves, their families and society as the third. Interview a cross-section of battered women and ask them what substance contributed to their injuries. I guarantee you that of those three, alcohol is far and away the worst culprit. Ask any police officer which of those three substance were most likely to be involved in fatal accidents and you'll get the same answer. Question any bartender about his or her worst fear. Guess whether it would be a cigarette smoker who turns crazy violent and smashes up the place or a drunk?

But yet, here in hypocritical America, cigarettes and marijuana are treated with contempt while alcohol is plastered on the sides of race cars, as well as advertisements for other sporting events. Tobacco companies can't advertise but alcohol manufacturers can. Pretty soon us cigarette smokers will be relegated to dark alleys while the drinkers will be hoisting their glasses high in the bar, warmly accepted while we are shunned. Marijuana is illegal but an equally as dangerous substance, alcohol, isn't.

I have nothing against drinking, really. I wouldn't want to try to ban it again. We tried that once and it didn't work. Just like it isn't working with marijuana. We only turned lots of our fellow citizens into lawbreakers. I don't drink myself because I don't like the taste of it but lots of my friends do. I used marijuana only sparingly even in its heyday. I am addicted to cigarettes. I'd quit if I could. Maybe someday I will. I just think the difference in the attitudes about these three substances is hypocritical and irrational.