Recreating with Pot Should Be Legal but I Can't Convince Myself to Vote Yes

Friday, July 1, 2016

In the summer of 1968, I was fortunate to land a job as a meat packer at Bolton & Smart, one of the many wholesalers then located in Boston’s Clinton Street Market, on what is now mainly the site of Christopher Columbus Park in the North End.  Bolton & Smart hired me because a friend of mine from Revere, Ronnie Tempesta, a meat cutter there, brought me to the boss one morning and said he wanted me to have the job.  They liked Ronnie because he worked so hard you’d think he owned the company.  Also, Ronnie was born likeable: he got people laughing all the time, which is a major virtue in a group of men working all day in a gigantic refrigerator.  There were many applicants for that meat packing job because it paid a union wage, $2.67 an hour.  The minimum wage at the time was about $1.40, I think.

The end of my first week, I was initiated into a custom cherished by most Bolton & Smart front-line employees: the mid-afternoon Friday drinking break.  We had 15 minutes off, starting at 3:00 o’clock. The company strictly enforced this limit by requiring us to punch the timeclock when we went on break and punch it again when we came back into the plant.
It took a minute to walk to the nearest dive, where the bartender was awaiting our arrival with about a dozen cold, unopened bottles of Budweiser and Schlitz atop the end of the bar facing the door.  (It’s hard today for folks to understand, but in those days, Bud and Schlitz were roughly even competitors in Massachusetts.  Prefiguring my lifelong attraction to the ill-fated, I myself was, at 17, already a Schlitz man.)  We had 13 minutes to drink.  The object, I quickly learned, was to consume at least two beers during that time.  Serious Friday guys aimed for three, a feat I accomplished only once; fittingly, I reached that pinnacle/pit on my last day on the job, in late August.    

I admit to these facts now only to draw attention to a timeless truth, i.e., the stupidity and recklessness of young men, and to make a connection between that truth and the position taken earlier this week by the Construction Industries of Massachusetts (CIM) against a referendum in November proposing to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
“Our members spend their days on worksites across the Commonwealth, and we believe increasing the availability of marijuana will undermine the safety of our workers,” said CIM Executive Director John Pourbaix in a written statement issued on Monday.

One of CIM’s “major concerns” is the “influx of legal edible products that would come with commercial legalization.”  The organization said, “Employees who test positive for marijuana have significantly higher rates of workplace accidents.”
CIM describes itself as “an association representing all aspects of the transportation and public works construction industry in Massachusetts.” Its membership includes general contractors, subcontractors, material suppliers, equipment dealers, engineers, consultants, insurance and bonding companies, law firms and accounting firms and “many other companies interested in furthering the progress of the (construction) industry.”

There’s a strong case to be made that using marijuana is not much different from using alcohol, and perhaps even less harmful.
Advocates for legalizing recreational pot are essentially telling persons like me, who have no problem with booze but do have a problem with recreational pot, that our opposition is grounded in our personalities, preferences, family histories and social strata, our age-related biases and fears, our unconscious affinity to cultural norms, etc., rather than in any objective evidence that pot may cause significant harm or societal disruption when people are able to buy it and consume it on any street corner, on any day or night. Given my blind spots, I have to concede this case to the advocates. 

The main reason I'm leaning against voting for recreational pot is I don't feel we need more ways for people to get stupid.  Based purely on that instinct, I am willing to deprive Massachusetts pot lovers of their natural human right to get a buzz on with a product that is maybe less harmful than booze -- at least in terms of typical physical effects on the average human. (No one can yet say how recreational pot for the masses will or will not alter our society.)
I'm pretty sure what we Bolton & Smartalecks would have done on a Friday afternoon if recreational marijuana had been legal in 1968. If someone had said to us then, “Bet you can’t eat six weed cookies,” we would have said, “Shut up and get me the milk.”


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