Commentary: The kind of world that results from the legalization of marijuana

(The Salt Lake Tribune | Kathy Stephenson) Utahns who support Proposition 2 picked up their lawn signs and T-shirt during a rally Saturday.

My mother was the first person I knew with a prescription for medical marijuana — in 1983, for relief from the effects of chemotherapy.

Though clearly exhausted from nausea, a few minutes after taking a THC-infused pill her attitude remarkably transformed. Instead of being depressed and withdrawn, she seemed happy and talked of plans for next year, though she well knew she was unlikely to live that long.

More recently, I have known people with prescriptions for medical marijuana in Montana, New Mexico, and Washington. All of these were for the old-fashioned kind of cannabis medicine that, besides relieving pain, has the side effect of getting the user high. Some shared their stash and I can testify to it’s potency and effectiveness.

Living in Utah, I don’t know anyone who smokes pot, because that would be illegal. Unless you found it growing in somebody’s backyard, or on a ditch bank. Why do you think they call it weed?

The only alternative for Utahns is to buy pot on the street from criminals smuggling it in from drug cartels in South America. Or from citizens of Colorado, California, Nevada, Oregon, Alaska, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Washington and the District of Columbia. It’s legal in Canada, too.

The War on Drugs is over. Drugs won.

Not as dramatic as the end of Prohibition, but the trend is clear. Who knows how many people have been sent to for-profit prisons in a bootless effort to combat this imaginary enemy?

When I retired six months ago, I had the opportunity to find out for myself what kind of world results from the legalization of marijuana, while doing something else I have frequently dreamed of: to live on an island.

My brother Franc owns 10 acres of second growth forest surrounded by similar properties on Whidbey Island, Wash.

“Park your trailer anywhere you like,” he said.

Whidbey Island is 168 square miles of wonderfulness. A naval air station anchors the north end of the island while most everything south of it is farmland, forests and historically preserved villages. Public access beaches all around and five state parks. Weekend tourists and lack of parking are the greatest problems.

And marijuana, medical and otherwise, is socially acceptable. Four little pot shops supply the trade. I only visited two, and only one regularly — because the people who work there were fun, yet professional, dealing with stoners.

While my brother doesn’t use marijuana at all, for me, it’s a reliable attitude adjuster and energizer. But I soon discovered my limit. It’s true what they say about marijuana being potentially addictive — especially those 10 milligram apple caramel candies — 15 percent off on Medical Mondays. Drop one of those in your coffee mug in the morning and you’ll motor all day.

But when the rainy dark days of October came, I was glad to return to sunny Utah. Imagine my surprise to discover that a proposal to legalize medical marijuana was on the ballot. And it passed.

Now legislators have a year to hash out details of the Utah Medical Cannabis Act — keeping iron-fisted control over a weed anyone can grow — while turning it into a cash machine.

Whatever they come up with for the state dispensaries, I can’t imagine it will ever be as fun as the pot shops of Whidbey.

How many Utah legislators have ever tried marijuana? Would they even know anyone with an Illegal Smile? Would stern-visaged legislators dare to ask what all this smiling is about?

Bob Sawatzki

Bob Sawatzki lives in Ogden, Utah, and on Whidbey Island, Wash.