Since I was a teenager and college student in the Sixties, I’m familiar, as everyone was, with the prevalence of drug use. People often took psychedelic drugs for “spiritual” experiences, but the social drug of choice was marijuana. Everyone I knew, with very few exceptions, used it, nobody was harmed by it, and, at least in my observation, it wasn’t a gateway to “harder” drugs like heroin. None of my friends have become addicted to those “harder” drugs.
Research has borne out the relative harmlessness of marijuana: it is far less damaging to society, and to one’s health, than are tobacco and alcohol—both legal drugs. There are now no good reasons to make alcohol legal for adults but prohibit marijuana. Indeed, marijuana, unlike alcohol and tobacco, has positive health effects, and its medicinal uses are sanctioned in several states.
Nevertheless, I’ve watched my friends, as they’ve grown older and become parents themselves, become more dubious about pot. Often they’ve stopped smoking it themselves, and, almost without exception, they warn their children against it, speaking darkly of its inimical effects. Yet these are the very children who used pot themselves, and have become respectable pillars of society: doctors, lawyers, teachers, professors, and military officers.
Many public figures have also “admitted” to pot use, including Bill Clinton (though he “didn’t inhale’), Oprah Winfrey, Clarence Thomas (!), John Kerry, Bill Gates, George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh, Ted Turner, David Letterman, Martha Stewart (“of course I know how to roll a joint”), Andrew Sullivan, Sarah Palin (!), Oliver Stone, Rick Steves, and, of course, Snoop Dogg (or Lion, whatever he calls himself now).
I’ve learned not to argue with my old friends about their anti-dope stand. It has something to do, I suppose, with “protecting” their children, although when they were young adults they would have scoffed at the idea of needing protection from pot. I accept their views as irrational, like being religious. Let’s face it: pot is fun. It doesn’t hurt you—unless it leads to overconsumption of chocolate-chip cookies. (I once watched one of my stoned friends, now a famous biologist who will remain unnamed, consume an entire one-pound box of brown sugar with a spoon.)
It’s time to legalize marijana and hashish for adults. As a side note, I’d argue that we should legalize every drug that doesn’t cause its user to hurt other people, and that is most drugs. (We already know that legalizing alcohol will cause deaths from drunken drivers.) Besides producing tax revenues, as marijuana has in Colorado and Washington—the states where it’s legal—legalizing psychedelic drugs for adults would give them the possibility of wonderful mental experiences now barred to them. (See Sam Harris’s upcoming book, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion). Legalizing heroin use, as Switzerland has, would allow states to make sure usage was safer, and get rid of most of the criminal activity involved in purveying these drugs. (I’m not so sure abut methamphetimine, as its regular usage causes addiction and substantial physical damage.) And thousands of people in jail for using or selling marijuana simply wouldn’t be there; that’s an enormous savings to the state and federal government.
One can argue about some drugs, but I see no sensible argument for banning marijuana use, and big advantages for governments via tax revenue and the elimination of criminal activity, not to mention increased pleasure of our citizens. One can also argue about the age of usage. In a new editorial, “Repeal Prohibition, Again”, the New York Times says that the age of use should be set at 21 (they claim concerns about the “development of adolescent brains; see below), while I’d provisionally favor 18, the age at which most countries allow legal consumption of alcohol (it’s 19 in Canada).
I’m glad the Times is taking the lead on this. Like gay marriage, I think the legalization of marijuana and hashish for both medical and recreational use in the U.S. is inevitable, for—also like gay marriage—there is no down side save the ire of those ignorant of its effects. And yay! for the Times:
It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.
The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.
We reached that conclusion after a great deal of discussion among the members of The Times’s Editorial Board, inspired by a rapidly growing movement among the states to reform marijuana laws. . .
. . . The social costs of the marijuana laws are vast. There were 658,000 arrests for marijuana possession in 2012, according to F.B.I. figures, compared with 256,000 for cocaine, heroin and their derivatives. Even worse, the result is racist, falling disproportionately on young black men, ruining their lives and creating new generations of career criminals.
There is honest debate among scientists about the health effects of marijuana, but we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco. Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults. Claims that marijuana is a gateway to more dangerous drugs are as fanciful as the “Reefer Madness” images of murder, rape and suicide.
Creating systems for regulating manufacture, sale and marketing will be complex. But those problems are solvable, and would have long been dealt with had we as a nation not clung to the decision to make marijuana production and use a federal crime.
. . . We recognize that this Congress is as unlikely to take action on marijuana as it has been on other big issues. But it is long past time to repeal this version of Prohibition.
Finally, if you’re going to carp about the health effects of pot, read an ancillary article in the Times: “What science says about marijuana,” by Philip M Boffey. Boffey notes that the stronger strains of dope may have minor health risks, but risks that are much smaller than those of alcohol and tobacco. And the chance of “addiction” to marijuana is vastly overrated (and without severe health effects anyway); the Times gives this graph:
If you’re a user, you’re just as likely to be addicted to Xanax as you are to marijuana.
Boffey counters many arguments against dope, asserting that these can be minimized with a system of government regulation like we have against alcohol. There is little danger, based on other studies, that legalization will lead to a public health epidemic.
As with other recreational substances, marijuana’s health effects depend on the frequency of use, the potency and amount of marijuana consumed, and the age of the consumer. Casual use by adults poses little or no risk for healthy people. Its effects are mostly euphoric and mild, whereas alcohol turns some drinkers into barroom brawlers, domestic abusers or maniacs behind the wheel.
How bad is pot for you? Read this:
While tobacco causes cancer, and alcohol abuse can lead to cirrhosis, no clear causal connection between marijuana and a deadly disease has been made. Experts at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the scientific arm of the federal anti-drug campaign, published a review of the adverse health effects of marijuana in June that pointed to a few disease risks but was remarkably frank in acknowledging widespread uncertainties. Though the authors believed that legalization would expose more people to health hazards, they said the link to lung cancer is “unclear,” and that it is lower than the risk of smoking tobacco.
The very heaviest users can experience symptoms of bronchitis, such as wheezing and coughing, but moderate smoking poses little risk. A 2012 study found that smoking a joint a day for seven years was not associated with adverse effects on pulmonary function. Experts say that marijuana increases the heart rate and the volume of blood pumped by the heart, but that poses a risk mostly to older users who already have cardiac or other health problems.
Nevertheless, Boffey cites two studies that heavy dope usage when young might erode IQ, though that’s not the final word:
A long-term study based in New Zealand, published in 2012, found that people who began smoking heavily in their teens and continued into adulthood lost an average of eight I.Q. points by age 38 that could not be fully restored. A Canadian study published in 2002 also found an I.Q. loss among heavy school-age users who smoked at least five joints a week.
The case is not completely settled. The New Zealand study was challenged by a Norwegian researcher who said socio-economic factors may have played a role in the I.Q. loss.
But of course alcohol and tobacco are far more harmful: young kids who drink and smoke are likely to continue to do so when they get older, posing serious problems to their own health and leading to larger public-health problems.
If we’re going to ban pot, let’s first ban tobacco and alcohol. Fat chance! If we allow people to have the pleasurable uses of alcohol, but control its abuse by taxation and restriction of sales to adults, then there is no credible argument against treating marijuana the same way.
If cats can have their catnip, why can’t we have ours?