Dad Would’ve Been High on the Idea

Regina Clarkin

I could hear my dad’s roar of laughter from his celestial home when the NYS Legislature voted last week to legalize marijuana. Vinnie Clarkin, who died three years ago today at the age of 88, often wondered why the plant known as weed wasn’t decriminalized.  
He spent decades teaching English, journalism and filmmaking to scores of high school students and was the embodiment of a visionary thinker. One of his favorite quotes belonged to Albert Einstein:  “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” 
In the summers between his years at Iona College, he worked at the General Motors plant in Tarrytown and it was there that he got his first whiff of pot. He couldn’t, for the life of him, see how criminalizing a plant was going to make society safer.  It only led to crowded courts and jail sentences that ruptured the future of young people and tore apart families.
Vinnie was a practical fellow who had little time for small talk and pleasantries. He had a creative mind and was intent on helping young people see beyond their surroundings, which is why he pioneered a film study and filmmaking curriculum at Peekskill High School in the 1970’s. He knew that his non-Regents students, who most likely weren’t going to attend college, needed to become visually literate if they were going to have any chance of success in a world where they would be media consumers. 
He used daily newspapers as his textbook to illustrate how the same story was interpreted differently. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times and the NY Daily News all had their own bias and he wanted his students to be critical thinkers and notice the perspectives from which stories were written.  He knew that students learn from doing, which is why he submitted what they wrote to the Peekskill Evening Star and filled a page every week with local school district news. Is it any wonder that his daughter is running a local newspaper? 
As a student of history, he knew that tobacco is what helped the United States sever its tie from England and contribute to the wealth that built this country. Tobacco and its derivative, cigarettes, were never criminalized. He thought it should be the same with marijauna, a plant that had been used by the ancients for centuries. It was a waste of money, resources and energy to legislate people’s behavior around what they wanted to ingest for relaxation. He saw the windfall that taxes on the product could bring to states.  
What I’m missing the most on this anniversary of his death is the inevitable conversations and debate the two of us would be having right now – around the societal implications of legalization. But from somewhere out there, I can hear his knowing laugh.