Legalize Pot, Help the Uninsured

Could Weed Be the Answer to Our Healthcare Woes?

Make Pot Legal?: I confess. The other night I visited a group of people, some of whom I knew, sitting around a backyard, smoking (gasp!) a joint.

Not just one joint, but two. Actually, the pot was gone by the time I got there. This spared me the necessity of passing a joint right along without inhaling any of the wacky tabacky.

I haven’t even seen a marijuana cigarette since Richard Nixon was President.

On the Beat

If I had taken a puff or two, I know as sure as Tim Leary that my speech would have immediately gone mumbly and I would have sat, dazed and dumb as a stone, until Sue dragged me home. (She, for the record, passed on the pot.)

I was a bit shocked. These were professionals in their late 30s and 40s. I naively thought that people like that had given up smoking dope decades ago, choosing instead to become part of the “Wine Generation” – chatting for hours and hours about vintages, varietals, and vats, etc.

The only parties I go to are full of toddlers and teens, children of the people who didn’t mind a toke back in the 1970s.

But I digress. I didn’t bring this up because I ventured into a small circle of people who interjected two joints into their backyard barbecue. It’s because I read a column by L.A. Times writer David Lazarus, who proposed legalizing pot in order to finance healthcare for the 7 million Californians who aren’t covered.

This is a sore point with me, because the New York Times’ insurance company is resisting paying my doctor bills. (It’s a long, maddening story I won’t bore you with, but it does illustrate what a tangled mess our country’s healthcare system is in.) And no, I don’t expect the people of the Great State of California to legalize pot so that I can pay my bills. Somehow, I’ll muddle through.

But Lazarus’s argument intrigued me. We legalize gambling and send a share of the lottery slush fund to the schools. We legalize booze despite the fact that it’s responsible for more mayhem on the highways and more crime and domestic violence than pot ever did.

I just heard from a friend that a cop acquaintance says that he’d much prefer to deal with someone zoned out on marijuana than break up a nasty fight between drunks. It’s a scandal that an estimated 47 million Americans are uninsured and that we’re the only “advanced” industrialized democracy without a national healthcare program.

Lazarus trots out some interesting statistics: In California, where pot is the state’s largest cash crop, Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economist, estimates that at least $1 billion could be saved in enforcement costs – and more than $100 million could be generated in annual tax revenue – “so long as dope is taxed as aggressively as alcohol and tobacco, which it should be.”

I’m not advocating legalizing marijuana in order to pay for health care. It’s not necessary. After all, if Congress can scrape up the $150 billion or so President Bush wants in order to run the war in 2008, it ought to be able to finance a health plan to keep Americans alive, right?

Bush will get his billions, but the chances of us getting a healthcare program by 2008 are about as good as the Rams coming back to L.A. Lazarus says he found zero public interest in his pot-for-medicine plan in Sacramento. Well, surprise, surprise. That would be a tough issue to run on for re-election. Politicians tend to be savvy about such things; that is, except for President Bush.

For politicos, insuring kids is motherhood and apple pie. But this guy just vetoed a bill expanding a children’s health insurance program that now serves about six million kids – 800,000 of who live in California. Yet an estimated nine million children remain uninsured nationwide.

Scrooge had a change of heart, but Bush hasn’t got a heart.

$$$ for Nuns: It’s official. The three Sisters of Bethany are allowed to stay in Santa Barbara, although they must vacate their convent next to Our Lady of Guadalupe Church by Monday, December 31. But curiously, the mother general of the Catholic order says they shouldn’t relocate “near” the existing convent, which the L.A Archdiocese plans to sell to help cover the settlements of claims made by the victims of sexual abuse by priests. What “near” means remains to be seen. The Support the Sisters of Bethany in Santa Barbara committee is seeking donations to buy or rent a new home for them so that the women can continue their work. “We have less than three months to find a solution to the housing problem,” said committee chairman Anthony Dal Bello. “Time is of the essence.”

“I was born a block and a half from this location and attended Our Lady of Guadalupe School,” he said at a press conference held on Thursday outside the convent. The three nuns, who have been silenced by the mother general, did not attend.

Ernie Salomon, committee spokesman, lauded columnist Laura Schlessinger for making a sizeable donation. Mail donations to the Sisters of Bethany, 215 N. Nopal St., 93103, or contact Salomon at 565-3025. “Does anybody know any angels?” he asked.

Santa Barbaran Denise d’Sant Angelo, president of the USC Latino Parents Association, said students there are pledging their help and developing a website.

Barney Brantingham can be reached at or 805-965-5205. He writes an online column on Tuesdays and Fridays and a print column on Thursdays.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.