Roger Marolt: Pot has never been the problem; it’s always been the pushers | AspenTimes.com

Roger Marolt: Pot has never been the problem; it’s always been the pushers

Roger Marolt
Roger This

We are used to the ideal of legal booze. Aside from the almost 10,000 people who die at the hands of drunk drivers every year, the 80,000 more who croak from other alcohol-related causes, the $249 billion worth of lost work productivity annually due to alcohol consumption, the damage to 10 percent of the county's children who grow up in households headed by alcoholics, and the estimated 15 million adults and 37,000 youths in this country who are addicted to it, what's the big deal? It's fun!

We are also pretty much OK with smoking. It seems 480,000 Americans dying every year from cigarettes, including 41,000 who only inhale smoke from across a room from someone else's lungs, is a small price to pay. So, too, the $300 million of yearly medical costs for smoking related illness, the $156 billion lost in productivity at work because of it, or the fact that nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known. Smoking is soooo relaxing!

I guess it's time to get on board with legalized pot, too, since they tell us it's no worse than any other vice. Statistics seem to bear this out, so far. Things have not gotten noticeably worse since pot was legalized. But, they haven't gotten any better, either. Pot seems to be a neutral factor in the collective effort to keep ourselves all eff'ed up.

A guy recently wrote in a letter to the editor: "How is marijuana a direct conflict with fun, health, mind, body, spirit, integrity and living life to the fullest? Many users would say that is exactly what marijuana is about, and if mom and dad want to enjoy a joint once the kiddos go to sleep, why put an obstacle on their vacation?"

It's not the pot that's the problem. It's the advertising for pot that's the problem. As we reach the point where people believe that smoking dope is making them healthy, wealthy, wise, beautiful and brimming with integrity while living life to the fullest all from ingesting the psychedelic agents found in a plant, Madison Avenue has beat us to a pulp and stands over us with a fist in the air, claiming total victory with a sucker punch.

Let's erect a statue of Cheech and Chong at the Aspen Institute! It would be good for the joint. Both kinds. It would give the iconic Aspen think tank a little street cred and continue legitimizing pot as a harmless way to mess up the nervous system. It's OK to jump to that conclusion before the studies are all in, or even afterward. We aren't going to seriously consider reports and facts we don't want to believe anyway. The president is not the only one who gets to choose what news is fake.

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What do you think the odds are that the Institute would ever commission a statue to grace their hallowed grounds with the world's most famous stoners crawling out of their smoke-filled van? The odds are zero, because it would send the wrong message, right?

OK then, what is the message sent by advertising booze and pot in newspapers and magazines? I'll argue that beautiful, successful-looking people dressed up smoking pot at a fancy party or fishing with dad on the banks of a majestic river at sunset send a worse message than Cheech and Chong do. Caricatures of stoners are funny. Perfect-looking Madison Avenue fictional characters mess with our minds and cause us to buy things we might not otherwise. Yes, advertising really does work — on all of us!

So why don't we tax the advertising of pot, alcohol and tobacco instead of collecting a sales sin tax on them at the store? A tax on advertising wouldn't increase the amount of sin taxes imposed, it would just allow the government to collect them at a point before people are already convinced to make their purchases. A stiff tax on the cost of vice advertising should result in less marketing of them to our kids and everyone else.

It is a funny thing that, while it is illegal to actually sell tobacco, booze and pot to a kid, it is perfectly fine for adults to give them, free of charge, over and over again through advertising, the impression that all of these vices will make them happier, cooler, more fulfilled, better human beings if they partake. I'm not sure discussing the issue over the family dinner is enough to offset the bombardment with the opposite message they get the rest of the day.

The first part of educating people about the dangers of using these things excessively begins by trying to shut down professionally researched and designed marketing propaganda about how good and normal and wonderful our vices are. Most of us adults know this glamorization isn't true. The problem is that many of us didn't figure it out until after we got hooked.

Roger Marolt knows how easy his vices are to give up. He's quit most of them many times. Email at roger@maroltllp.com.