Bringing the Reform Message to the Salem Rotary Club

On September 3 I spoke to 100-plus people—mostly White male businessmen—at their monthly meeting. The Club had asked LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition), for whom I am an occasional speaker, for someone to make the case for marijuana. They were gracious hosts, and allowed four other Virginia NORML people to attend and enjoy a free lunch, but it was only a one-hour meeting so there was no time for Q&A and no way to judge their reaction, but the mere fact that they were interested is a good sign.

Since I know from experience how hard it is to get people to accept the facts about marijuana, I started the PowerPoint presentation with pictures of some LEAP and NORML members, and said a few words about them, in an effort to create some rapport with the audience. I even flashed a photo of my St. Bernard pup carrying his marijuana keg before throwing out a lot of facts and figures.

I began by emphasizing weed’s relative safety—no known deaths vs 480,000 deaths annually from tobacco and 88,000 from alcohol; also noted that 150,000 Virginia kids are projected to die prematurely because of tobacco. From there, I went on to sketch marijuana’s many medical uses—some well-proven, others still being investigated—and then pointed out the huge racial disparity in marijuana law enforcement, which has made the NAACP our ally in this effort. I also mentioned the economic gains from legalization, but said I regarded them as a fringe benefit, even though I’m an economist.

Because of the universal concern about “protecting our kids” I spent several minutes on that. I pointed out that the “Gateway Theory” has been discredited, and that we have had much more success in reducing teen use of alcohol and cigarettes, than we’ve had with weed, without making those drugs illegal, and explained why making marijuana a regulated drug would actually help in reducing teen use.

This was just one small skirmish in a long fight against “Reefer Madness” but the facts are on our side and we are winning, so now is the time to step up our efforts!