For the co-chair of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, Chuck Grassley has some really antiquated beliefs about Marijuana. In a recent hearing to determine if the justice department is doing their job with enforcing federal marijuana laws in the states, Grassley proclaimed “bad people smoke marijuana”. He is correct, bad people do smoke it, so do good people, fat people, mediocre people, and just about the entire bouquet of humanity. If you’re one to believe research, Marijuana use crosses all demographic lines. The statement made by Grassley shows just how out of touch he is with current trends and research relying on “just say no” culture to inform his leadership in a really important arena. To be fair, the senator is from a different generation and he is a republican from Iowa, so it stands to reason the Marijuana use wouldn’t be his thing but he doesn’t have to use it, he does have a responsibility to govern based on fact, not his opinion or desire for a weed free Iowa.
Here’s where this gets really sticky for Grassley and company. As much as he hates Marijuana, he loves booze, maybe not on a personal level but certainly on a policy level. Emails and calls to the senators press office with the simple question “does the senator drink alcohol?” went unreturned, so I cannot confirm or deny the senators personal habits with intoxicants but we can find out certain things. Iowa, by state law, can not tax alcohol more than 1% (tax.iowa.gov). The last change in taxes on alcohol in the state was in 1986. To put that into context I was drinking at beer parties with Madonna blaring trying to talk to girls in neon mini skirts. Iowa taxes beer .19 cents a gallon. Effectively, all of this means a few things, alcohol gets to preserve its low tax monopoly on legal intoxication and amass wealth while the tax payer gets to clean up the metaphorical broken glass and puke. One thing is for sure, Iowa wants Iowans to be able to get drunk on the cheap. Additionally, it’s worth noting that Iowa grows corn. Lots and lots of corn and corn is critical to distilling many kinds of spirits. Take a step further and Grassley takes contributions from beer, distilled spirits, and wine, not to mention presiding on the agriculture subcommittee (again, think corn).
Alcohol is sloppy stuff. It contributes to violence between partners, families, and communities. Alcohol is cause for many uninsured ER visits, loss of life, and the erosion of family life. Marijuana, while not without risk, doesn’t come with the collateral damage of alcohol. For one, there is no known lethal dose of the stuff. That alone is a vast improvement considering the numbers of people who drink themselves to death, many of them 18-25 years olds. Marijuana is way less likely to produce the damage that alcohol does. The senator’s policy doesn’t allow for choice in the matter and it supports people drinking. What gives, senator? Often times, this type of policy is steeped in the disproven fantasy of a “drug free America”. Americans aren’t going to give up intoxication any more than they are going to give up guns so why not be honest about it and let them choose a safer form? The great hypocrisy of all of this is that often this moral posturing is pontificated at a cocktail party, scotch in hand.
I’m with the senator. I wish people, especially young people with developing minds and bodies would avoid intoxication in any form altogether. Given, that seems as likely as regaining my wash board abs, the question becomes reducing harm and managing risk. Maybe he doesn’t even know it but the message from Grassley to Iowans and any other policy geeks who pay attention is “drink up, kids!” And that, quite simply, is bad policy.