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Olson: Gay marriage now, legal pot later?

Published: Friday, March 14, 2014 10:54 p.m. CST • Updated: Monday, April 7, 2014 12:40 p.m. CST

The way we define freedom is, in some ways, becoming more expansive.

This week, we saw the first same-sex marriage license issued in DeKalb County, after Darla Cook and her soon-to-be-legal wife, Jaelyn Paulsen, sued County Clerk and Recorder Doug Johnson.

Some people came down on Johnson for not just going with it after top state officials urged clerks around the state to just issue marriage licenses already in the wake of a court ruling that applied only to Cook County. Others wondered why the couple couldn’t have just waited until June 1 to get their license.

But in reality, both parties handled the situation well.

Johnson said he wouldn’t do it without a court order because he didn’t want to leave Cook and Paulsen’s marriage open to a legal challenge.

Same-sex marriage wasn’t going to become legal under state law until June 1 – that was a function of state constitutional guidelines when the law was approved.

But Cook and Paulsen wanted to be married sooner to coincide with the anniversary of their commitment ceremony, which is Monday. They filed their own petition to obtain a marriage license, and when the issue came before Judge Ron Matekaitis, Johnson didn’t fight it. Now, any same-sex couple that wants a marriage license can march down to the county government center in Sycamore and apply for one. 

Johnson had a valid point – regardless of one’s views on same-sex marriage, the law says it’s legal June 1. The judge who ruled Cook County’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional was very specific in saying it only applied to Cook County.

Until someone ordered Johnson to act otherwise, that was the law. On Thursday, Johnson was ordered to do otherwise after he mounted no defense to a court challenge.

Anyone in Illinois who can’t wait until June 1 to receive a marriage license should follow Paulsen and Cook’s example. And any clerk who finds themselves challenged in court ought to follow Johnson’s.

Congratulations to the couple on their impending marriage.

What about pot?: Is marijuana more dangerous as an illegal drug, or a legal one?

Most people today think it ought to be legal.

Recent opinion polls by groups including the Gallup Organization, CBS News and Pew Research, have shown that a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Support for the idea has grown by double-digits since 2010, according to Pew.

If this is a country where democracy really reigns, then barring a change in the trend, it’s a matter of time before marijuana becomes a legal, regulated product in more places. Colorado and Washington state have been the trailblazers on this so far; ballot initiatives are planned in several other states – mostly in the west – between now and 2016.

The federal government seems interested in seeing where the experiment goes, too.

After all, they could have shut the whole thing down had they wanted to. Pot remains a controlled substance under federal law.

Instead, they’re letting it play out. People are booking trips to Denver in record numbers. News reports said the state expects to collect $150 million in tax revenue this year from marijuana sales. On Friday morning, a national TV news program had a story on a marijuana job fair that showed people lined up around the block.

Regardless what you think about government spending, or even the drug itself, those are cases where profits are being taken out of the hands of drug cartels and street gangs, and given to government and private businesses.

The more stories like this we see, the more likely it becomes that Illinois will want a piece of the action.

After all, in a state where the finances are a wreck and you can play slot machines for cash at most every corner bar, legal pot isn’t that great a leap.

By the time Illinois gets to it, it probably won’t seem so bizarre. Even with pot being illegal, people are smuggling, selling and smoking it – just read the police reports.

Defending the pusher: Unfortunately, some marijuana enthusiasts let their belief that the drug is “harmless” or that it’s no worse than alcohol cloud their judgment on all things pot-related.

It’s one thing to say you think marijuana should be regulated and taxed just like alcohol, which is at least as dangerous, if not more. (There is no disease called “marijuanaism,” after all.)

It’s something else to put down the police when they arrest someone on charges of having more than a pound of marijuana in their house.

That was the gist of the discussion on the Daily Chronicle’s Facebook page this week, where we posted a link to a story about a Sycamore man whose home was raided by multiple police officers this week.

Sycamore police said that they found about 20 ounces of pot in a safe inside the home of Eric A. Friedley, 38, along with multiple baggies, a scale, and some of the product packaged in multiple baggies.

As always in America, Friedley is presumed innocent.

Some online commenters said the police should solve a “real” crime, or that a pound of marijuana wasn’t all that much.

Puh-leeze.

Twenty ounces is 1¼ pounds, more than one person would want for personal use. It would be akin to having a couple of kegs on hand so you could have a beer after work. Every night. For four months.

Regardless of your views on marijuana, having a drug dealer with that size stash in the neighborhood poses a danger. It creates the potential for crime.

If someone has more than a pound of pot in their house, or 60 marijuana plants in their basement, or whatever the case may be, they’re probably selling a lot of it.

That can bring drug buyers to their unlicensed home-based enterprise in your neighborhood or apartment building, people who ordinarily wouldn’t visit and who you might not really want visiting. If the dealer is not particularly scrupulous – and why would you expect them to be? – they also might sell drugs to your child or their friends.

As a black market product, marijuana isn’t regulated by anyone. That makes it easier for a kid to buy pot from a drug dealer than for them to get a beer from a bartender or a six-pack from a liquor store.  

When the wrong people find out that a local dealer has a big stash, sometimes they decide to rob him. That can bring armed strangers to your neighborhood or apartment building.

Of course, people who keep large quantities of drugs in their homes often have guns themselves.

Does it sound like a little bit bigger deal yet?

Citizens want police to be proactive, to stop crimes before they happen rather than just showing up after they do. Taking large quantities of drugs off the street is a good way to do that.

Legalizing marijuana would shut down this segment of the black market and cut down on the number of drug arrests that police make every year, as well as the number of people incarcerated for drug trafficking.

It would also probably increase the number of people who choose to indulge.

We the people will have to decide if the trade-off is worth it. More of us are coming to the conclusion it is.

• Eric Olson is the editor of the Daily Chronicle. Reach him at 815-756-4841, ext. 2257, email eolson@shawmedia.com, or follow him on Twitter @DC_Editor.

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