The Pa. House Republicans last week launched an ironic Twitter hashtag: #freeourboozePA. With it comes a promise of lower prices and greater availability for alcohol by releasing it from direct state-controlled sales.
This week, Senators Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) and Larry Farnese (D-Phila.) quietly re-introduced a bill to fully legalize cannabis.
Booze is having an active debate on the House floor in Harrisburg. Meanwhile, marijuana legalization -- the likes of which came to Washington D.C. on Thursday morning -- remains a non-starter in the GOP-controlled General Assembly.
More than 17,000 adults will be arrested this year in Pennsylvania for simply possessing cannabis. More than 5,000 will be arrested for growing or selling marijuana in the non-taxed, unregulated underground market.
Everyone knows that booze kills. It kills swiftly with drunk driving and alcohol poisoning. It kills more insidiously and slowly with domestic abuse, sexual assaults and long term heath impacts. The cumulative negative consequences of drinking affects hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania residents every year. But that is weighed against the more than $500 million it earns the state annually in taxes and fees.
We should never prohibit alcohol again. But should we make it more pervasively attainable to be drunk without an alternative?
Adding to both debates, a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports calculated the mortality risk for all drugs. Alcohol beat methamphetamine, cocaine and heroin. Beer, wine and whiskey even beat tobacco on the risk scale.
The same study found that marijuana is exponentially safer than any of those substances.
Voters have stood up to end cannabis prohibition in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Colombia via the ballot. Pennsylvanians have not been given that option.
Many of our politicians keep saying "wait and see" on Colorado's year-old experience with regulated cannabis. While those politicians remain skeptical of pot, we are happy to accept all the problems contained inside every bottle of craft micro-brew, fine wine or distilled spirits.
Deeper issues lie with the abuse of prescription pharmaceuticals. These fully legal, FDA approved and professionally marketed substances have turned medicine inside out. Transforming vulnerable people into dependents of the local pharmacy or worse; the streets.
States like Pennsylvania, mired in complex politics and entangled money interests, seem incapable of addressing the most pressing substance issues.
So, perhaps the ultimate answer does not lie in Harrisburg. The problem is truly bigger than one state. The solution can only come from tremendous courage at the White House.
President Obama has a critical decision to make before his term expires. Will he allow the hard working people of America to continue to be sold lies along with liquor? Or will the domestic legacy of this president come by granting real and tangible freedom?
Liberty over one's own body and mind without police or state agency intervention, that is what we're talking about with marijuana. Obama has a rare opportunity to make history and to demonstrate both bravery and benevolence as a leader.
There are bills now pending in Congress to tax and regulate marijuana. Another proposed law seeks to re-schedule cannabis in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Yet moving marijuana to Schedule II or below would effectively unravel the existing, local regulations already operating in half of the states.
Piecemeal measures are not enough. Freedom only ever emerges through bold, decisive measures not baby steps. The truth is that marijuana should not be in the CSA at all.
In 1972, a respected constitutional scholar and two-term Republican governor of Pennsylvania, Raymond P. Shafer, reached that very same conclusion. Shafer's blue-ribbon report for President Nixon, Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding, was a work of prophecy that hinted at the mire we have today.
Six years ago, President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This was in recognition for his "extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. "
He can exercise that same effort domestically. Obama can declare a peace for cannabis consumers. He can end the longest war we have ever waged against our own citizens and one we have forced other nations to wage against their own.
Given the option of a safer choice many people will consume cannabis instead of alcohol, instead of hard drugs and in place of dead-end pharmaceuticals. Granting this personal liberty can start to repair what has become an acute injustice in America.
All of this may sound impossible or improbable. So did every freedom ... before it was won.
How about a trade?
Free the leaf and cannabis users may support freeing the booze.