In November 2007, Eureka Springs voters passed an ordinance directing police and prosecutors to make possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a low law-enforcement priority. Under Arkansas law, such possession is a Class A misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
At that time this ordinance made the news everywhere, even though it had no effect in actual law or practice and was basically a symbolic gesture by the people of the city toward law enforcement -- a way of saying, "Enforcement of this law is not as important to us as many other things you might be spending your law-enforcement monies on. Please do those things instead."
In the ensuing years, both city and county law enforcement have gone on about their work against the evils of pot, on foot and by helicopter, busting those involved in the distribution and use of a plant that grows out of the ground like tomatoes or summer squash. Last weekend's sting operation that landed a number of our residents in jail is the most recent case.
There are those situations in life where one's vices are not worth the price they cost: Smoke cigarettes and you end up dying from cancer or emphysema, all in exchange for the pleasure of a smoke. Drink too much too often and your health is ruined, not to mention the rest of your life. Gamble, fornicate, cheat, lie -- it all catches up with you.
The medical statistics on marijuana use are readily available and will not be repeated here yet again. To be blunt, marijuana use is not in the same category as anything else mentioned in this editorial -- which is to say, it won't destroy your health. Only your finances and police record, if they catch you and put you into the System. It's a money-maker and not just for the people selling it.
The fact medical marijuana is on the November ballot is a good thing, a step in the right direction on the continuum of "weed as devil" to "weed as harmless recreation." But the November ballot won't help those who genuinely feel that use of this plant -- far less harmful than any of the other vices listed above (if at all) -- ought to be as accessible as anything else we buy every day at the corner store.
Nor will it help anybody who got busted this weekend.
A once-overheard metaphoric take on a cocaine habit went as follows: "First, rub the inside of your nose raw with sandpaper. Then take all your belongings out in the front yard and set them on fire. That's the result of a coke habit."
The same can be said of methamphetamine, the Great Southern Blight. We locally are as much in "Grapes of Meth" country as anybody else around the region, and yet again and again we have to deal with people we know and care about having their lives jacked up by marijuana busts. So why are police focusing on a harmless weed?
Marijuana, however, is a relatively cheap and healthy alternative not only to those who need it for medical reasons, but for those who would rather relax with it than with liquor or worse things.
Except it's against the law.
But, fair's fair: Nobody puts a gun to anybody's head and makes them break the laws and smoke pot. However, medical argument aside (and it is a good and true argument, and your vote counts in November, so vote!), there are good laws and bad laws, and prohibition does not work. It never has and it never will.
Here's to a better day and better laws. And to those who suffer wrongly in the interim.