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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Legalized It

While I have never been into pot, its legal status has always affected me. I started out seeing the Grateful Dead in the “Just Say No” days of Nancy Reagan. Living in New York State also meant that I was subject to Rockefeller Laws. If I were driving someone who had as much as a seed, and they didn’t claim it as their own property, my car could be confiscated. While it’s questionable as to how frequent of an event this actually was, the police definitely promoted this as an idea in order to increase paranoia.

Even without the extra insane rules, this was an era of battles. At a Camper Van Beethoven show in Rensselaer, NY I was almost arrested for not smoking pot. A policeman didn’t believe my truthful instinctive statement that I didn’t smoke, and he threatened to run me in for lying. At a campground in Landover, MD during a Capitol Centre run, I was completely searched by a cop for the crime of eating a Pixy Stix. No, I was not in trouble for making such a horrid candy decision. Rather, the act of peeling apart the wrapper looked to a cop like I was rolling a joint, so that gave him his probable cause. I egged him on a bit; “Hey do you want me to take off my shoes so you can search between my toes?” It was a bit risky, but that’s what you could get away with when you never had anything illegal on you.

While it was fun being a bit of a designated decoy, ultimately it got old. Every time I crossed the border, my car got the secondary search. Cops would order me out of rest stops, forcing me out onto the road when I was tired and needed a break. Sure I dressed oddly and had the scruffy beard, but the reason I was always pulled aside was because of fears that I could actually have small amounts of a plant on me. As bizarre as this was, it seemed like a natural state of being. Hippies fight with cops over pot. Even if you don’t play the game, you’d still be playing the game.

Even though Bill Clinton claimed to have not inhaled, having a president who had admitted to smoking pot forced at least some change. The inherent evil of marijuana was harder to defend when one result from smoking would be to become the leader of the free world. With the more serious problem of the Bush years, the police had better things to worry about than catching smokers. That opened the door.

It started with dispensaries, which were a loophole in a loophole. States decided that they would allow patients to use marijuana for medical purposes – and while the medical claims are highly overstated by the pot advocates and people completely abused this law, don’t ever get so cynical as to not believe that there are medical benefits to smoking. There is real benefit there for a lot of people – and would let them grow pot. People could combine their allotment to form collective gardens. It was quickly discovered that that meant you could open up stores provided that all of your customers had medical cards. It never actually felt legal, especially since it led to a cottage industry of “doctors” who existed solely to give people medical cards. Still though, there was something amusing and cool at seeing the expansion of dispensaries. Green crossed storefronts are everywhere For a while it seemed like pot stores were singlehandedly saving retail in Seattle.

While MMJ is a fairly common legal situation in the 21st century United States, it was shocking to have both Colorado and Washington agree to legalize the substance for all adults. While Colorado was somewhat laid back in how they got their stores to work, Washington did what it always does. We argued. We created too many rules. We argued some more. We went slow and are being meticulous. It’ll be annoying in the process – right now the entire city of Seattle has one store open and it has trouble keeping supply in stock – but this isn’t a bad thing per se.

What this does is make radical change seem almost normal. Pot food is going to be treated and labeled like any other food. The status of what you’re buying is carefully explained. Right now we might still be in the growing pains stage of things, but that’s what fine-tuning is for. The fact is that in my lifetime, I’ve gone from being constantly harassed by police because they thought I might have this evil weed, to seeing a lone policeman outside a store that was publically selling pot, doing nothing more than keeping the line in order. It may not be perfect in the Evergreen State, but if anywhere can show that legalization can happen with little damage to the community, it will be here.


David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at and he’s on the board of directors for The Mockingbird Foundation. He occasionally posts at the blog and has a daily update on the Phish Stats Facebook page

His book This Has All Been Wonderful is available on Amazon, the Kindle Store, and his Create Space store.

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