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McClellan: Taking the high road on pot

McClellan: Taking the high road on pot

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Potheads in St. Louis are confronting a difficult question now that marijuana is legal in Illinois. Is it morally wrong to cross the river? What I mean is, do we turn our backs on the dealers who have been supplying us for years?

I know we are advised by our civic leaders to “think regionally,” but loyalty means something, too. I am not criticizing those who choose to go the legal route — I am not judging, as the millennials would say — but I am taking the high road. I have opted to stay with my dealer.

Buy locally. I see that bumper sticker, and I honk in agreement.

I started smoking pot in my ill-spent youth. Great times, what I remember. Then circumstances forced me to feign a more responsible personage, and I put down my joint and picked up a drink. Great times, what I remember.

Now I am bi-coastal, so to speak.

I use pot for medicinal purposes, which means I am practically legal. There is no question I would qualify for my card — I get chemotherapy every other week — and Missouri voters have already approved medicinal marijuana, so I am within the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. There are plenty of people in my situation.

There are even more people who smoke pot for the fun of it. We don’t know who they are. Maybe a neighbor. Maybe a boss. Maybe the person in the next cubicle. We won’t know who they are until Missouri legalizes recreational marijuana and we run into them at the pot shop.

It’s coming. There’s too much money involved for it not to come. The question is how we handle it.

We’ll probably mess it up. We’re already botching medicinal pot. Tony Messenger has written about the political connections that seem to be involved in the issuance of cultivation licenses. Some of the people who got these sought-after licenses hired politically connected lobbyists.

You can expect the same with the dispensaries where medicinal pot is sold. Political insiders will get the licenses.

You know who should get the licenses to sell pot? The people who’ve been selling it. And who should get the licenses to grow pot? The people who’ve been growing it.

There are good old boys in Shannon and Dent counties who’ve been growing it for years. I know a fellow in Franklin County who grows excellent weed.

Imagine if we legalized pot — and we will — and made it easy to get cultivation licenses. No political connections needed. Just fill out some tax forms. What a godsend for rural Missouri. I’m envisioning boutique weederies, probably with barbecue stands attached.

That thought came to me last week when I was in Augusta and stopped at a winery for lunch. If it works for wine, why not pot?

The same principle applies to sellers. We already have them. Instead of giving licenses to people with political connections — some of these connected people probably have been against legalization! — we should give licenses to anybody who can prove that they’ve been selling pot.

Do-gooders of my acquaintance sometimes lament the state of urban youth. What can we do, they wonder, to help the young men selling drugs on the corner?

We’ll bring them into the system. That’s what we’ll do. Today’s gang could be tomorrow’s co-op.

This country has a long history of legalizing vice. When I was a kid, there was something called the “numbers game.” Lots of people played it. It was illegal, but popular. The mob ran it. Then government, looking for cash, took it over and renamed it the “lottery.” What happened to all the numbers runners? Did they become leg-breakers? Did they get “honest” work? As if anything is more honest than picking up and delivering money.

We made booze illegal and then legalized it again.

By the way, look at the way the beer industry has evolved. We’ve gone from megabreweries to microbreweries.

We should welcome the same kind of entrepreneurial spirit in our next legalized vice.

I remember when Missouri legalized gambling. This came not long after Illinois legalized gambling, and Missouri politicians noticed so many Missouri license plates in Illinois casino parking lots.

So we put our morals aside and legalized gambling. But we limited the number of casinos to 13. What was the point of that? If it’s legal, it’s legal. If a community wants a casino, and an entrepreneur is willing to build one, why should the state object?

The answer, of course, is that the politically connected people who got the licenses didn’t want competition.

The insiders always win. Wouldn’t it be cool — and somehow appropriate — if we flipped the script for pot, and gave outsiders an advantage? It would not only be cool, it would be far out, dude.

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Related to this story

Medical marijuana plants grow at the Curaleaf medical cannabis cultivation and processing facility in Ravena, N.Y. in this Associated Press photo

Saloonkeeper Leo J. Sullivan pours legal whiskey at his tavern at 226 Collinsville Avenue in East St. Louis shortly after national Prohibition…

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