- - Thursday, June 30, 2016


It’s difficult to hold a state fair when the District of Columbia is not even a state and is unlikely to become one, but a fair is always fun, with displays of pigs and cows and the bounty of the field, usually with a Ferris wheel and a midway offering unlikely freaks and games where the customer is never always right.

The District’s “State” Fair, to be held Aug. 28, a Sunday, at Storey Park on First Street NE, won’t have a lot of agricultural exhibits because truth to tell there are not many amber waves of grain on a fruited plain between the Anacostia and the Potomac Rivers. But what the District does have, more or less, is something 46 states don’t have. Marijuana is to the District what rice is to Arkansas, corn to Nebraska, wheat to North Dakota, cotton and catfish to Mississippi and blackberries to Oregon.

In November 2014 voters approved Initiative 71, which legalized the limited possession and cultivation of marijuana by adults age 21 or older. The following August, fairgoers could attend the first state fair to watch a Pet Parade, visit Ben’s Chili Bowl and participate in the first “Kush” contest with 64 entries of marijuana plants judged on the basis of appearance, odor, touch and “the story behind it.” But it’s still touch but don’t puff, since lighting up in public — even if merely for an assessment drag — is still against the law. The pot-judging, to nobody’s surprise, drew the largest crowds, with fairgoers showing a preference for cannabis over macrame and macaroni salad.

But what happens when legal marijuana, the goal of a small but powerful lobby as well as the hope of scruffy millennials — becomes commonplace at fair grounds as well as backyard stoops and block parties? Does legalization remove the stigma and rein in abuse? Proponents for Initiative 71 say it will, citing legalization as an end to targeted arrests for drug possession. Others cite federal regulation and taxation of the substance when the tax man cometh, as he surely will, for a source of revenue. Despite such high hopes, the effects of legalization have been problematical, and as evident as the skunklike stink that overpowers everybody who has not lighted up.

The Washington Regional Alcohol Program found in its recent survey “How Safe Are Our Roads” that traffic fatalities caused by alcohol or drugs are on the rise — a 6 percent annual increase. While numbers have yet to be apportioned, sober officials say the increase is likely the result of “drugged” rather than “drunk” driving. These findings reflect similarly grim national trends.

The pothead persona, synonymous with kumbaya and passing of the peace pipe, often infringes the security of others. There’s an assumption that the inevitable stupid decisions made while under the influence will not harm others. Alas, it’s rare that personal responsibility is a high priority, especially when judgment goes up in a cloud of smoke.

When a body comes down from a high, the reality can shock. The greatest danger is the changing public perception of marijuana, of what it does, and how. Society has not only waved the white flag in the war against drugs, but now invites new dangers into factories, public buildings and even schools. Marijuana, whatever else it is, is a gateway drug. If the use of it becomes normal, what else will follow? The federal Centers for Disease Control estimates that 62 percent of those who smoke marijuana before age 15 will go on to indulge other drugs. That won’t make much of an exhibit at the fair, and there’s no blue ribbon for it.

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