So you will perhaps forgive me if I note a hat trick of issues now getting attention that we started working on four decades ago:
- In 1970, the Review (then the DC Gazette) ran the first article calling for DC statehood. People thought it really a nutty idea but in a few years we had a DC Statehood Party that would have a member on the DC city council and/or school board for 25 years. And a recent poll finds that 70% of the capital's residents now support DC statehood.
- We were a lonely voice in the 1970s criticizing DC's new subway system. Our concerns included the extraordinary expense of a system compared to sensible alternatives such as bus routes with dedicated lanes. We noted that the existing bus system was being distorted by changing routes in order to add passengers to the Metro. That Metro would cause hotels to move out of town. That because of our colonial status we couldn't charge a commuter tax for the new people Metro brought to town. And that Metro would actually increase street traffic because only a minor percentage of the new development it encouraged would come by subway. Recently the NY Times reported:
[Jack] Evans, 62, is the chairman of the transit agency that oversees Metro — perhaps the city’s least enviable job. Last week, at a conference examining Metro on its 40th birthday, he said out loud what Washingtonians had known for years: The capital’s once-glorious subway system, the nation’s second busiest, is short on cash and a terrible mess.
“It’s a system that’s maybe safe, somewhat unreliable, and that is being complained about by everybody,” declared Mr. Evans, who estimates that Metro could face a $100 million budget shortfall next fiscal year.
Then he dropped a bombshell. He warned that whole lines may have to be closed for months for repairs, adding, “If we do nothing, 10 years from now the system won’t be running.”
- And by 1970, we were already taking on the war on marijuana and other drugs, which the DEA has just announced it will be taking another look at. WE were not alone as revealed in a DC city council hearing reported in 1970 by Erbin Crowell for the DC Gazette:
Nobody can prove that the Father of our Country was a pot-head, but old George's diary shows evidence that he was well aware that only the flowering female cannabis sativa had uses other than rope — the male and female marijuana plants were meticulously separated at Mt. Vernon. Now, a couple of centuries later, near Washington's old homestead, the appointed overseers of the Congressional plantation carved out some of George's vast land holdings are publicly examining the medical, psychological, social and legal aspects of marijuana.
The hardy plant seems to have yielded not only miles of hemp rope and volumes of literature on its other proper- ties, it is now eliciting opinion from everyone — from City Council Chairman Gilbert Hahn and the Surgeon General of the United States to Joseph Alsop and Petey Greene's grandmother. The Public Safety Committee of the City Council held two days of hearings this month to hear scientific and public testimony about marijuana. Most what it heard was expectable. Marijuana, scientifically, is a mild consciousness altering drug; it is not addictive, Nor does it lead to the use of addicting drugs; it has been known and used and studied for literally thousands of years, and no physiological damage whatsoever has been discovered; instances of adverse mental effects resulting from its use are extremely rare..
Most significant to the Council's hearing — and to a good number of kids who are in prison on pot convictions — was the fact, reiterated by Surgeon General Jesse L. Steinfeld, that "in the case of marijuana, legal penalties were originally assigned with total disregard for medical and scientific evidence of the properties of the drug or its effects."
"I know of no clearer instance in which the punishment for infraction of the law is more harmful than the crime, " Steinfeld concluded. That touches on the ostensible reason the Council is so concerned, but Catfish Turner probably got closer to the reality of the matter when he noted that no one in the white establishment was concerned when the use of pot was limited to Mexican Americans, ghetto blacks and a few musicians. "It's only when it gets into your suburbia and your white middle class colleges that you begin to get at all concerned," Turner said.
And Petey Greene, who testified alongside Turner agreed: "See, you people are just conning (What? Councilman Daugherty asked) Faking, man, just faking. You're showing all this concern not for the community but just because some congressmen's kids got busted. "
Marijuana smoking is now so widespread among the white middle and upper classes, said Greene, that "probably some of you up there got a little nickel (5-dollar) bag you go back to when this is over. " The government has never worried about lying to the ghetto, but now, Catfish said, it is realizing that it "has got to stop telling these youngsters all these lies 'cause they know you're lying and you know they do." Greene "testified" on behalf of his grandmother, whose opinions on marijuana are based on practical experience. She once told her grandson to quit: "Petey, you gotta stop smoking those reefers, because they make you too hungry, and I can't buy all that extra food. " Later, on comparing its effects with those of alcohol, "She said she'd rather me smoke reefers and just sit and smile at people than drink that old wine and come in throwing chairs around."
While Council Chairman Hahn [a Republican] admitted that the Council has no power to make the use and possession of marijuana legal, "it may have the power by regulation to create an alternate lighter penalty for the use and possession of marijuana."
Harvard's director of psychiatric research, Dr. Lester Grinspoon, called for immediate legalization under controls similar to those now on alcohol. Grinspoon recommended continued study, but said under questioning that there is already rnore than' sufficient scientific knowledge to conclude that "no amount of research will ever find marijuana as dangerous as alcohol or tobacco. " ...
And there were few surprises in the public testimony from about thirty individuals and organizations. Judge Charles Halleck recommended more realistic penalties, since present laws tend to cause the community "to lose faith in the entire system of justice. " James H. Heller of the National Capital Area Civil Liberties Union called for legalization of pot. He said he saw no reason that it should be treated any different from alcohol. (He admitted to having tried grass once, "but it didn't have any effect. " "Maybe you just didn't know how to smoke it, " Councilwoman Polly Shackleton consoled him.)
That hearing was held 46 years ago.Chaiman Hahn hoped there was ample opportunity for "educating the public. " And Hahn made sure there was a full and accurate record. Noting that Surgeon General Steinfeld had referred to the famous Alice B. Toklas marijuana or hash brownies but claimed the recipe was not to be found in Alice's cookbook, Hahn opened the second day of hearings by setting the record straight. You will find the recipe on page 273 of Alice B. Toklas, announced Hahn, and having fulfilled his public responsibility, he ordered the proceedings to proceed.