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O'Sullivan

Marijuana should stay illegal, because only the law saves some kidsfrom the grip of drugs

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Whoa. After my last column ("Americans Are Already Too Distracted ... and Now We're Talking About Legalizing Pot?!), I got lots of letters. Weekly readers be a pot-smokin' bunch.

One of them even called me a "chemical bigot," which is like calling someone a "political coffee table," but semantics aside, let me make something perfectly clear: Beyond annoyance, I don't give two shits if adults smoke pot. They can stick joints up their bums and light them up with their farts, and I'm, like, totally down with that. I'd laugh like hell if I saw it on YouTube.

Pot-smokers can be artists, poets, house painters, whatever they want to be. They should have the freedom to work in head shops and flower shops and even in the front offices of alternative-weekly newspapers, though they should probably stay out of the back, with all that pesky dangerous machinery. In addition, I'd appreciate them staying out of air-traffic control towers, nuclear power plants, the cabs of semis barreling down Interstate 10 at 80 mph, and hospital operating rooms. THC has a nasty tendency to build up and stick around in fatty body tissues (like the brain).

What I'm against is the legalization of pot for anything other than genuine medical use. Not because I'm worried about adults; I've got loads of friends who smoke the stuff and know well enough the difference between a bong full of cannabis and a syringe full of heroin. But the distinction isn't so clear for teenagers. The refusal to recognize this fact is just another disturbing aspect of the intense narcissism and immaturity of popular culture, which, in case anybody's missed it, is the only culture we've got left in this country.

It's a fact of the modern world that most people who have kids have to work to house, feed and educate them. This results in children relying on their own devices a lot of the time. Most of those devices are electronic, with a value that's neutral at best and soul-destroying at worst, including crap rife with violence, pornography, rage—both justified and not—nihilism and despair. There's also a lot of funny stuff—even I like South Park sometimes—but it's too friggin' jaded for developing sensibilities unable to discern what to keep and what to throw out. Young minds need guidance, and very few get that guidance these days. In this cauldron of cultural and material trash, there comes a time in which children begin to despair.

The availability of drugs soothes this despair, and whether it's pot, pills or black-tar heroin makes little difference to a desperate kid. And the only thing standing between many troubled adolescents and the wholesale cultural acceptance of yet another layer of poison is the criminal-justice system: The fact that drugs are illegal is the one thing that keeps many kids from doing them. Interestingly enough, the justice system is also one of the few things that helps them once they do.

The corollary of parents having too little time for their kids is denial. I can't count the number of times I've heard well-meaning parents say they chose not to immunize their teenage daughters against HPV—a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cancer—because doing so implies the daughters are, or soon will be, sexually active. It's much easier to slather on a layer of outdated and illusory morality.

The same kind of reasoning comes into play with drug use. The kid comes home smelling like Cheech and Chong's basement, and his parents don't pick up on it, not because they've lost their sense of smell, but because "my kid would never do that." I've sat through drug-treatment sessions in which a kid has been on the nod for days from black-tar heroin, and his parents explained it away as normal teenage fatigue.

It's not until said kid is arrested and forced into drug treatment that his parents are forced to face facts. The truth is that for many poor families, the only way to crack the mental-health/substance-abuse systems is through a court order. As a parent advocate for a local drug-treatment facility, I've sat through more than 100 sessions in which the only reason the kids and their parents are there and on the same page is that the criminal-justice system forced them there.

Am I advocating a "nanny" state? You bet your ass I am. Until someone comes up with something better, it's all we've got.

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