Opinion

Why legalize pot and ban tobacco?

Photo of Theodore J. King
Theodore J. King
Author, The War on Smokers
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      Theodore J. King

      Theodore J. King is the author of the book The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books a Million. He has been a columnist for the conservative quarterly The Oklahoma Constitution newspaper since 2000.

In November, voters in Colorado and Washington State voted to legalize marijuana.

Now, I’m not against legalizing marijuana. It’s a natural product and it has a calming effect on those who use it. A law enforcement officer once told me that he had less trouble dealing with people who were high on pot than he did dealing with people who were drunk on alcohol. And as a reporter for a small-town paper in Oklahoma, I cover arraignments on a daily basis and see people facing jail time and huge court costs for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. The state’s resources would be better spent dealing with Oklahoma’s meth problem.

But I find it strange that the states most intent on legalizing pot are the ones that are moving most aggressively toward banning tobacco. In Colorado and Washington State, for instance, it’s illegal to smoke in public places like bars and restaurants. The same is true in many of the states where medical marijuana is legal, like California, Oregon and Hawaii.

People who support marijuana legalization but oppose tobacco often say that marijuana is less dangerous than tobacco. That’s questionable. Smoking marijuana can lead to bronchitis, emphysema and general difficulty breathing. The psychoactive element in marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), distorts perception and leads to problems with memory, learning and concentration. Long-term use of marijuana can lead to memory loss and respiratory illness. While it’s unclear whether smoking marijuana can lead to lung cancer, marijuana smoke contains three times as much tar and one and a half times as much carcinogen as tobacco smoke. Plus, pot smokers hold the smoke in their lungs longer than cigarette smokers. And while you can operate heavy machinery with a cigarette in your mouth, you would be ill advised to attempt that while smoking a joint.

In many ways, marijuana and tobacco are a lot alike — they’re both recreational drugs with relatively minor side effects. The growing momentum behind the marijuana legalization movement is an opportunity for tobacco supporters to remind Americans of these similarities.

Earlier this year, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced that Denver International Airport would be closing its four smoking lounges. It would be ironic, but not altogether surprising, if they reopened them as marijuana smoking lounges.

Theodore J. King is the author of the book “The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State,” available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble and Books a Million. He is a reporter for The Pryor Times in Pryor, Oklahoma.