It has been a month and two days since State Representative Jeff Wood was arrested for drunk driving and possession of marijuana. Just yesterday, he was officially charged with his 3rd OWI and the drug charges. At the time of his arrest, I had a little fun at Wood’s expense, although I now admit I probably went a little overboard.
Needless to say, Wood picked the wrong time to get busted drinking and driving. Newspapers across the state have declared a fatwa against drunk driving, publishing story after story in an attempt to get lawmakers to toughen up Wisconsin’s OWI laws.
But what’s most interesting to me isn’t necessarily the fact that Wood was finally charged – I’m more interested in why we still care about what he did. It’s not like legislators driving drunk is a new phenomenon – one seems to get popped every couple of months. Yet those cases disappear in the public’s consciousness within days. (Except, most notably, in the case of the state’s top cop, former Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager.)
It’s not even as if Wood’s urinating on the side of the road is unprecedented. Former State Assemblyman Frank Boyle famously ran his car into a concrete barrier and urinated in his pants before cops picked him up. Boyle went on to be re-elected twice more by his constituents – a fate that currently seems out of Wood’s reach.
This brings us to what I’d call “The Wood Paradox,” which is this: The reason Wood’s case is so titillating to the public happens to be due to the least dangerous and offensive thing he actually did. I am referring, of course, to the charge of marijuana possession.
As I mentioned, elected official drunk driving arrests come and go, and usually elicit yawns. But Wood’s became statewide news because he had marijuana – an illegal drug – on his person. Suddenly, this arrest was outside of the mold we have set for elected official arrests, which made it exponentially more newsworthy.
But honestly, what’s really the most dangerous thing he did that night? It was climbing into his car and trying to make a 4 hour drive home while drunk. But somehow, that’s just boring to us now. We need a little sizzle to our legislative arrests.
Which brings me, mercifully, to my main point. Who really cares if a 39 year old guy has marijuana on him? It impacts my life exactly zero percent if a guy decides to go home, smoke up, and watch reruns of The Jeffersons all night. If you’re working the counter at a gas station all day, go ahead – what do I care? Dying of cancer? I’ll buy you a bong. (Naturally, it would be an issue if Wood were high and driving around – but it appears in this instance, alcohol was the drug of choice.)
Normally, when people are compelled to write columns about marijuana use, they have strong opinions about whether the law should either be strengthened or weakened. I, on the other hand, have a different perspective – I’d strenuously argue that the law is pretty much fine the way it is. (When I eventually run for office, my signs will say “Vote Schneider for a stronger status quo!”) It’s just tough enough to scare high school kids wanting to go to college away from trying it, but lenient enough that the people who really want to smoke up don’t really treat it like it’s illegal. It really takes minimal effort to skirt the law.
Marijuana opponents would say that weed makes people stupid and lazy. Perhaps this is true. But in the event these people are already dumb, a good argument could be made that marijuana actually keeps them at home and out of my grocery lines. And that could be a potential benefit. A friend of mine warned that marijuana also makes people think they can play the guitar – and one day, a terrible, high guitar player might attempt to woo my daughter. So, basically, this column could be ruining her life.
What Jeff Wood did was terrible. The fact that he has now been pinched three times for it is even worse. But the fact that he had marijuana on his person really means nothing. It didn’t make a single person in this state either more or less safe – so we should stop feigning indignance at his newfound status as a drug offender. We shouldn’t be saying “oooh, drugs!” instead of “you know… he really could have killed someone.” Drunk driving should never be more socially acceptable than carrying around a dime bag.