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Last year I attended a conference forty miles east of Seattle. The venue was nestled in a wooded area with hiking trails and mountain climbing. Meals were provided and some of the best home cooking I’ve ever eaten. I was honored with an opportunity to speak at the conference and made several new friends and gained a few new clients. I’m headed back again this year with a new presentation ready to go.
I was one of the first speakers at the conference and word soon traveled that I had a pretty good offering. The only thing I can think of is I made taxes into an interesting subject. (Taxes are boring until you hear how much you can save on yours. Then taxes are the most interesting subject in the world. Go Figure.) More people wanted to be my client than I could handle. The rest of the day I was grilled non-stop with tax questions. There is a real hunger for good tax advice out there and only one me. Exhaustion set in by the end of the day.
After supper (we still call it supper back where I live) the group settled into a relaxing social gathering. Small groups shared laughs as people mingled back and forth between groups. After sundown a fire pit was started. One of the small groups was gaining more followers than most and I soon discovered why. One of the guys came into the dining area, followed by his eager group. They were looking for something to smoke a bud with. (Hope I am using correct terminology. I have never smoked, used or even touched marijuana so I will probably get some of the facts wrong on usage. Laugh if you want at my naiveté; I’m okay with it.)
I never saw a more excited group of people in my life. One of the guys decided they could use the head of a salt shaker to make an apple (did I get that right?). I had no idea how in the hell they were going to smoke or consume their find with a salt shaker head. I was curious as hell, but my self preservation instinct kicked in loud and clear; I stood back and watched. Once the guys decided they had what they needed to get the job done they headed out to the fire pit. One individual turned to me and asked if I wanted to go with. I said no. With a million dollar smile he said, “It’s legal here.” Without missing a beat, I replied, “So are cigarettes back home and I don’t do that either.”
It was one of my prouder moments. The quick comeback stopped the young man in his tracks. He gave me a smile and thumbs up as he followed his larger group to the fire pit. Fifteen or so stayed behind and migrated to a deck area, enjoying a beer and conversation.
This story is not about bragging I am better than anyone else. My choice of drug is only different. I prefer a drink now and again and would be lying if I told you I drink occasionally; I like a shot of whisky at night, you know, to relax. Seeing most of the people in the weed smoking camp did not surprise me either. I think more people have tried marijuana than have not and I am okay with that too.
Why I Don’t Use Marijuana
So why did I say ‘no’? There was zero risk I would get caught. No one at the conference would have thought less of me if I imbibed. Quite the opposite. I would have been part of the in crowd if I went along.
Normally I am insatiably curious. What inside of me squelches the curiosity when it comes to drugs? Sure, I drink a shot of whisky now and again; I even drink a beer in a social setting even though I don’t care for beer. You could not pay me enough to smoke a cigarette or use any illegal drug. The doctor resorts to threats and intimidation when it comes to getting me to take a prescribed medicine. I still rarely finish my dosage. I don’t like taking stuff that messes with my thinking. But I still drink! Oxymoron?
For me, saying “no” is not enough. I actually pull away when drugs are involved. I was not drawn to the bud in the room; I actually stood back and observed. What I was really doing is making sure the dirty substance was nowhere near me.
There is another reason I have no desire to try marijuana. It is a bit stupid of an excuse, but it is all I’ve got and I’m sticking to it. Back in the old days, when I was fresh out of high school I worked in my dad’s agricultural repair business. One day I was scheduled to perform regular maintenance on a Harvester unloader. The silo was empty with about a foot of feed covering the floor. The farmer was informed to open the silo before I came and start the blower to remove all the silo gas. The farmer forgot. Good employee that I was I refused to leave without finishing the job. I came up with an idea only the ignorance of youth can explain. So I could breathe in the silo I took the oxy acetylene torch from the service truck and pulled the oxygen tank. I opened the valve on the oxygen tank and blew it in my face as I crawled into the silo and finished the job. Unfortunately, silo gas was still in the silo and I breathed in too much. That night I started foaming at the mouth and medical treatment solved the immediate problem. Once again, unfortunately, once you have silo gas, you always have silo gas. I suffer sinus issues and a cough non-stop all year round as a result.
Smoke is the worst thing for me so I stay clear of smokers (all my employees smoke so I chase them outside when they do). I doubt marijuana smoke would be all that good for my lungs either. I know it is a BS excuse; truth is, I really don’t want to smoke weed and it is as good an excuse as any other.
Why I Don’t Care if You Smoke Marijuana
Well, if I don’t like marijuana, why don’t I advocate for the abolition of marijuana? There are several reasons for my attitude. The first goes back to my insatiable curiosity. Avoiding something does not mean I must remain stupid on the subject. Sure, I will never know what it feels like to be stoned and don’t care either. What I can know is the effects marijuana has on the mind and body. Research is thin on the subject because it is an illegal drug. We do know marijuana is less dangerous by most measures than alcohol, nicotine and many prescriptions drugs. Just examine the statistics on the incidence of overdose and addiction with these drugs and medications.
There appears to be evidence that marijuana is not a totally free ride either. There are health effects associated with marijuana use, especially in younger people. THC, the active drug in marijuana (you already knew that), can cause mental impairment (even long after use), breathing problems and increased heart rate. You can read more at drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana. Since I am referring you to a government website I also add the following disclaimer. Never trust anything the government says. They have an agenda to promote marijuana as an illegal substance. It is possible they are making marijuana use seem worse than it really is, a modern day Reefer Madness.
The Real Cost of Marijuana
Here is where the tire meets the pavement. The cost to society for illegal marijuana is massive. Exactly like prohibition in the 1920s United States, taking an essentially benign drug and making it illegal has led to massive levels of crime, organized crime and punishment. As with everything on The Wealthy Accountant, we get back to the tax and cost consequences.
In Wisconsin we spent (according to a recent estimated budget; I don’t have actual numbers yet) $1.2 billion on prisons in 2015. Millions more were spent on district attorneys ($50 million), courts ($102 million) and law enforcement (amount unknown since so much is paid from local taxes). The state of Wisconsin is broke, can’t fund its colleges and schools and has some of the highest taxes in the country. Why would any large business want to relocate to Wisconsin with a population less educated (education spending was cut), taxes high and prisons as a growth industry?
We hurt our self in Wisconsin by spending so much on criminal activity which should not be criminal! I did a recent survey of a local county court docket and found 212 hearings for the week (this is in a very low population county). If you removed marijuana and disorderly conduct (a fancy way of saying you did not sacrifice your freedom to the police on command) half the hearings disappear. There is a strong incentive for the system to keep the low level crimes flowing to justify their paychecks and budget requests.
The worst cost is the damage to families. A recent University of Wisconsin research project found Wisconsin has the highest rate of incarceration for black males anywhere in the United States. We actually beat the number two state by over 100%. One in eight black males in Wisconsin is currently in prison and most of them are there for drug possession related crimes. One in eight! The damage to the black community is beyond reprehensible. As a correlation, white and black people tend to use drugs at similar rates. The type of drugs consumed may be different, but drug use is not a black-only problem.
If marijuana is no more dangerous than cigarettes, why do we spend so much money locking people up for using it? The cost to the taxpayers is unreal. The only explanation is politics. An intelligent adult would prefer spending some of the money on treatment for people with a drug problem and using the remainder to cut taxes.
Before you run out and light up, let me be clear. I don’t want you to smoke weed; I think it is unhealthy. However, marijuana is a drug that can help some people with certain medical problems. I never used marijuana, but if were suffering from cancer and marijuana eased the pain and gave me dignity of life I would smoke it in a heartbeat regardless of the law. I am a little more concerned over recreational use of the stuff. Don’t run out and try marijuana because Keith said he was okay with it. If you already smoke the stuff, don’t worry about me; I’m fine with it. I’m not calling the police.
As a business owner, drugs are always a concern. In my office I have a policy: don’t bring marijuana on my property, it is grounds for immediate dismissal. Same applies for alcohol. Don’t come to work stoned, intoxicated or hung-over. If you smoked weed or went out drinking over the weekend, I hope you had fun. I do not judge people on how they unwind with friends. You don’t have to whisper in my office about your drug use. If you have a problem we can help you get help. If you drink, smoke or use weed responsibly, good for you. I will not fire you or call the cops. Just remember, no drugs on my property.
In my office I do not drug test, I performance test. If drugs are a problem you must get help or you must get out. Same applies to clients. No drugs on the property or you will be asked to leave. I strongly encourage clients to visit sober. We are working on your finances and a clear mind is important.
I think my policies and attitudes toward marijuana are healthy and balanced. Non-users have legitimate reasons to want marijuana legalized. But we are a personal finance blog. Do you really want to spend your hard-earned money on smoking a weed? Yeah, I get it. That bottle of Jack I’m holding was not free either. Maybe we should both cut back and enjoy a more wealthy (and healthy) lifestyle.
Around my house (and office) I have a large number of rules I come up with for living life better. These are small lessons on living right. So, I will start sharing some of Keith’s rules periodically when a lesson is to be learned from a story presented here. Here is the start of Keith’s rules.
Keith’s Rule #1: Free is not always a good deal.
Hey, they offered me free weed! I still say, “No, thank you.”
Keith’s Rule #2: The lowest price is not always the lowest cost.
Keith’s Rule #3: Following the crowd means you give up your personal freedom and individuality.
Look at rule #1. Free, or any other argument, is no reason to sacrifice your individuality. Follow your own path to wherever it leads.
Keith’s Rule #4: Just because you can do something does not mean you should.
Keith’s Rule #5: Don’t believe anything the government tells you. Verify first.
Keith’s Rule #6: You rarely save money by spending it.
Spend your money on whisky or weed? It does not save money or help you on your way to financial independence. Make sure you change the oil in the car though; not doing so will cost much more in the end.