In My Own Words: Mixed feelings by Rabbi Rachel Esserman

I have mixed feeling about New York state’s legalization of marijuana. Before I write about those feelings I should make a few things clear:

1) I have never used marijuana in any form.
2) I have many friends who have used it with no harmful effects. 
3) I have long supported the medical use of marijuana since it’s been helpful in controlling pain and nausea.
4) I’ve thought that harsh punishments for using/owning marijuana are unnecessary and harmful. They are about as helpful as Prohibition, which didn’t decrease alcohol consumption as much as increase crime. 

Since I seem to be generally supportive of marijuana use (although I still have no plans to ever try it), why do I say that I have mixed feelings? There are two main reasons. One is a worry about people driving while being high. This is really no different than drunk driving, but I’m not sure there are ways yet to truly determine if one is driving under the influence. It’s bad enough that we have to worry about people using their phones and other electronic devices while behind the wheel, in addition to driving while drunk or buzzed. Distracted driving, drunk driving and driving while high just make everyone’s lives more dangerous.

My other concern is less of a problem as long as New York state continues to include marijuana in its smoking laws. As someone who ended up with paramedics at the Broome County Arena during a concert years ago because there was so much cigarette smoke in the non-smoking seating area, I get nervous around any type of smoke, whether coming from a cigarette, cigar, pipe, incense, scented candle or marijuana. I don’t know if my reaction to all of them would be the same, but people who have seen me having trouble breathing are usually very protective afterward. If asked to describe the feeling, I would suggest you put a pillow over your face and push until you can’t breathe. So, I am really hoping that people will obey the no smoking rules when it comes to marijuana. 

However, that is not the reason I’ve never tried marijuana. In fact, in college, I had a very serious conversation with a friend who had just started using it. She actually suggested that I not use it: I was already have difficulty coping with my tinnitus (AKA awful ear ringing/buzzing/static) and she thought that if I was high, I might find myself focusing on that, something that would make it sound worse. But my original decision not to use marijuana and other types of drugs was based on something else: my fear about something changing my brain chemistry. I don’t know if that’s because the anti-drug education from my childhood really worked or if it’s connected to the fact that I don’t even like taking prescription medicine unless it’s really necessary. I also worry about having an addictive personality: I don’t actually know if that’s true because I try to avoid things to which I might become addicted. 

In the end, I’m generally supportive of the legislation. I hope the money raised from a tax on marijuana will help the state coffers. But, even if it doesn’t, the punishment for marijuana never fit the crime. Prisons are not the place for those who use marijuana, any more than they were for people who drank during Prohibition, or for people who smoke cigarettes – all of which have adverse effects if overused. Yes, we need to help those addicted to serious drugs, but offer a pass to one that generally does no harm.