We seldom deal with public policy issues at this weblog, but sports and politics sometimes intersect. It is impossible to discuss the history of desegregation in the South without addressing the role intercollegiate athletics played in changing attitudes on race relations; just this year, Georgia’s policies on undocumented aliens affected the Bulldogs’ recruiting; overzealous Athens law enforcement officials occasionally remind us of the absurdity of telling 20-year-olds they may vote, marry, and die for their country, but not buy a beer.
So it is with the policy that has been described as "insanely stupid behavior on the part of the Georgia football program," that "simply holds up one of the stupidest laws on the books," that ignores the way that "public opinion has shifted on marijuana usage in the last five to ten years," and that "makes the Bulldogs the butt of jokes and could cost the football team wins." I am referring, of course, to the anti-drug policy promoted by Michael Adams, who doesn’t like cocktail parties unless someone else is paying for them, and whose retirement prompted Georgia fans to celebrate with a drink and a cigar. Unfortunately, Senator Blutarsky is right that a uniform policy on this issue will not happen, so there is another solution.
I would fix the problem of pot the same way I would fix the problem of secondary recruiting violations. We should legalize marijuana.
Yes, I can hear the Hive howling already, assailing a “thUGA” fan for the obvious hypocrisy of advocating decriminalization solely for the purpose of keeping ganja-smoking Bulldog athletes eligible. Frankly, such people don’t concern me; at the end of the day, I am just Machiavellian enough not to care what mixed motives spur public policymakers to action, so long as they produce the proper result where the rubber meets the road. No one ever mistook the General Assembly for the Forum Romanum, much less the College of Cardinals, so let us dispense with fretting over the avenues by which individual actors arrived at rectitude; if there are Georgia fans who stopped being segregationists because of freshman split end Gene Washington’s 97-yard kickoff return in his first collegiate start against Clemson in 1973, well, good for them for getting where they needed to go, and better late than never.
Besides, Gallup reported last fall that, for the first time in my lifetime, more Americans favor marijuana legalization than oppose it, and even televangelist Pat Robertson says, “It's time we stop locking up people for possession of marijuana,” so it’s safe to say the drumbeat for decriminalization is being sounded by elements of our society more diverse than those on display at the average NORML rally in the Tate Center plaza.
As a matter of fact, the Red Cross has taken a stand against criminalization, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, given its role as an international health organization. Medically, marijuana is no more harmful than the alcohol and tobacco you saw me using in the video linked to above---maybe even less harmful, in fact---and decriminalization efforts have proven fiscally prudent without adversely affecting crime in places from Philadelphia to Portugal. Meanwhile, the FBI’s 2010 report on crime in the United States showed that, instead of ridding the streets of drug dealers, the “War on Drugs” is focusing on the purchasers, rather than on the purveyors: 81.9 per cent of that year’s drug-related arrests were for simple possession, not distribution, with 45.8 per cent of those arrests being for possession of marijuana. Might decriminalization of grass enable us to use our scarce law enforcement resources more prudently and effectively in these fiscally austere times? Some knowledgeable officers sure seem to think so, and legalization might even enable us to turn cannabis, hailed by Popular Mechanics in 1938 as the “new billion dollar crop,” into a cash crop with multiple socially acceptable uses.
Finally, at the risk of getting too philosophical, this is America; the burden isn’t on the people to prove why we ought to be allowed to do something, it’s on the government to prove why it ought to be authorized to stop us. There are plenty of Constitutional prerogatives and personal liberties I would defend vehemently, despite my ironclad intention to avoid exercising them myself, and this is one of them. Besides, there’s an important legal principle at stake here: Prohibition required a Constitutional amendment because our charter of government limits the powers of the national government through enumeration and reserves all powers not expressly surrendered by the states or by the people. Have you noticed a Constitutional amendment authorizing the outlawing of marijuana? Neither have I, so this issue affords the states the opportunity metaphorically to stick a Constitutional finger in the eye of the national government, and I am all about the states doing so.
Nothing in the foregoing should be misconstrued as advocacy of student-athletes doing stupid things; I reserve the right to criticize Georgia players for doing things they ought to be allowed to do, but ought to know better than to do. However, I am not going to mistake my personal preference that the Bulldogs behave better for an argument justifying the propriety of prohibitions which are supported neither by medical science nor fiscal prudence nor sound reason nor Constitutional law. The General Assembly should decriminalize the purchase, possession, and use of marijuana by legal adults in Georgia.
If doing so would allow the Red and Black to keep a few more defensive backs and running backs eligible for a full football season, well, hey, I’m prepared to accept that as a happy fringe benefit of doing the right thing. Given the comparative laxity of our SEC sister schools concerning similar transgressions by football players enrolled at their institutions, it would appear that the rest of the league agrees that we should ban artificial turf, but legalize grass.