Legalizing pot is a bad idea. Take it from a recovering addict

Nevada Marijuana
A person buys marijuana at the Essence cannabis dispensary in Las Vegas. Nevada dispensaries were legally allowed to sell recreational marijuana starting Saturday.

Watching what looks like an inexorable march from medical to recreational marijuana legalization in state after state — New Jersey included — I find myself unexpectedly empathetic toward some of those who fought marriage equality.

I’m not talking about the haters or fanatics, but rather, those who warned against being swept up, up and away by the giddy momentum of legal, political, and cultural change.

So while I’m exhilarated by America’s official recognition of same-sex relationships, I’m nevertheless cautious about the possibility of artisanal weed becoming as ubiquitous as craft brew. And not merely because I’m blessed to have been in recovery from alcoholism and addiction for more than a decade.

Aha, some legalized pot proponents will say, “Unlike most of us, you couldn’t handle the stuff. So stop trying to spoil our party just because you go to those 12-Step meetings.”

But having reservations about increasing the availability of a powerful intoxicant in a society already loaded with them does not render one prudish, or unaware that millions of adults use marijuana without apparent harm. Or at least, without morphing into the piano-playing fiend that Reefer Madness made famous.

Reefer was surely the least pernicious among my many substances of abuse; the most pernicious of them all was alcohol, which is (and should remain) legal. I’m also as aware of Prohibition’s failures, and its role in encouraging the growth of organized crime, as I am aware of the soporific pleasure and chatty conviviality of having a buzz.

But marijuana’s impact on developing brains, including those of young adults, may be less than felicitous. Its anti-motivational effect is obvious — like, why bother? — as anyone who’s unintentionally ended up spending too much time in a haze/daze can attest.

Marijuana may not be addictive in the commonly understood sense. But it certainly is seductive. And legalization will lead not only to more buzzed music listening,  but to more buzzed (and potentially dangerous) driving as well.

Aha, some cannabis fans will say: “Weed makes a person less aggressive and more likely to slow down and go with the traffic flow. And we can focus much better stoned than drunk.”

Oh really?

I view notions like these with the same skepticism I bring to bear on other bromides about the purported benefits of recreational marijuana legalization — particularly, the enthusiasm in various state capitals for hundreds of millions of dollars in potential licensing and other fees, as well as tax receipts, supposedly lying just beyond the smoke on the horizon.

Anyone who believes such a revenue bonanza will be used only for the most noble of purposes, rather than for papering over deficits, financing pet projects, and rewarding key constituencies, really must be smoking something.

Same goes for those who hope that enabling people to get baked by patronizing organic hemp boutiques rather than dealers of illicit substances will somehow bring an end to racially biased arrests and sentences.

Would that it were that simple.

Listening the other day to one of those earnest NPR shows I can never remember the name of — Up and Down? In and Out? This and That? — I heard some expert insist, with what I could only assume was a straight face, that proceeds from legalized grass will help pay for, among other things, addiction treatment.

As a proud rehab graduate, I’m totally in favor of treatment.  So much so that I will once again give Gov. Christie credit for consistently calling for more of it.

But the bipartisan budget standoff in Trenton has less to do with treatment funding than with the size of certain male political egos. And the governor’s belligerently tone-deaf beach blanket bingo interlude Sunday — enjoying the governor’s official retreat in Island Beach State Park while the park was closed to regular folks by his state government shutdown — would be preposterous even in a Cheech and Chong movie.

Of course addiction treatment must be made more, not less, available and affordable in the midst of the ever-worsening opioid abuse epidemic.

Which, it’s worth remembering, arose at least in part from an overabundance of zealously marketed legal pharmaceuticals that promised freedom from pain without addiction.

Yeah, right.