This is not a profound article. Many stronger articles on intelligent approaches to legalization have been authored. Still, I need to keep myself writing and this was a topic I chose.
The debate on the legalization of pot is interesting to me. The most rational positions on this topic seem to get lost in the contest between sides that are most often radicalized around hypothetical outcomes, imposing moralities, and self-interested agendas.
I have been sober for almost eight years, and prior to this was quite an accomplished pothead (I used to hold a somewhat olympian competition involving a five-foot bong, and watched more than one person get KO’d by it). The nature of my sobriety is that of a recovering alcoholic and drug abuser. Naturally, pot is part of that equation, and my abstinence from it is as important to my sobriety as alcohol or any other drug. In evaluating the debate through the lens of my personal set of experiences, I sometimes find a certain degree of falseness and inaccuracy in regards to the addictive nature of marijuana, from both sides of the argument.
Before I speak on addiction, it is important to make a designation between physiological and psychological addictiveness. There is no scientific evidence that demonstrates a physiological addictiveness with cannabinoids, so if this claim is made by anti-legalization advocates, it is scientifically baseless and built purely upon conjecture (“Have you ever sucked dick for weed?!”). A clear difference can be drawn between the physiological effects of alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or meth abuse and that of marijuana. Even nicotine and caffeine are more problematic in this respect.
In terms of the psychological addictiveness of pot, I find that legalization advocates seem to downplay its potential. That being said, it is important to make clear that psychological addiction can be attained in many realms, including drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, food, video games, etc. Further, even regular or heavy use of pot does not guarantee that one will develop a psychological addiction to it. The issue is much more complicated and has much to do with the individual. But this does not eliminate the importance of recognizing and properly dealing with the reality of abuse and unhealthy behaviors. To pretend that there is no possibility of pot having negative behavioral effects on anyone is ignorant and irresponsible. Pointing out that other substances are more problematic is fine in relativistic terms, but the potential for abuse still exists. It is important to see that there are both good and bad relationships with the substance that can be formed. If a pot user does not cultivate a healthy relationship with its use, they may more easily cultivate negative behaviors that are supported and/or furthered by abusing it. Anecdotally, this was absolutely the case with my situation. As an alcoholic, I found pot’s effects to be tantamount to alcohol in their effect- simply put, that I could get high and check out from life. Pot was just as much a problem for me as alcohol was in this respect. There are others I have known that suffer from different negative side effects, ie. anxiety, loss of motivation, depression, and/or a dwindling of self-accountability or responsibility. That being said, there are more people I know that smoke pot and don’t suffer from any of these issues than do. Also, these issues do not necessarily come into existence as a result of pot use, but may be aggravated by it. Conversely, there are numerous and medically applicable benefits of marijuana use, and we could talk about all the positives, but that’s not the point. My point here is to simply illustrate that the potential for abuse and negative effects does exist to some degree. This perspective is supported by twelve years of smoking weed and eight years sober, many in a twelve-step program of recovery.
There is a fundamental point to be underscored in the attitude towards marijuana that has been prevalent in American society. I think that cultivating a healthy relationship with the usage of marijuana has been hard for many people because of how society addresses pot and treats the people that use it (perhaps less now, since it is gradually becoming more accepted by both society and [somewhat grudgingly] the government). A good example of the problem of how marijuana use in my time was addressed lies in the defunct DARE program, which presented a great deal of false and misleading information to middle-school students. From this paradigm, the only two options presented to me were to either be a good stand up kid that didn’t use drugs and told adults when we caught other kids using them, or to be a druggie looser bad kid that was a trouble maker. Pot was treated equivalently with drugs that have far more harmful and devastating effects. This is ridiculous. I understand that many people often simplify life’s issues into black and white categories when teaching children the basics about complex issues, but I find the approach to be short-sighted and causing more problems than it helps solve. It is not even worth your or my time to discuss this aspect of the issue, as it has been written about so thoroughly by psychologists, philosophers, and others far more knowledgeable than I.
Smoking pot is not tantamount to any type of crime. It is a personal choice that one commits to freely. Beyond the instance of substance abuse, which is not criminal, I have never heard of or witnessed a case in which its use actually harmed anyone, or compels anyone to commit crimes that they would otherwise not.
I have met countless potheads that are no less responsible, kind, intelligent, or functional than their non-users. I have some friends that even excel at certain aspects of life when getting high. I again point to the reality that there is a very individual basis for marijuana’s effects. Would it not then be of societal benefit to delineate the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors/attitudes towards its use, in the same way we attempt to educate teens about drinking alcohol?
With alcohol, there are plenty of societal examples of “responsible drinking.” For instance, there has been a great increase in my lifetime of education in responsible drinking to curb DUI’s. We teach teens to make distinctions between healthy social drinking vs. binge drinking, and warn of the dangers of drinking too much. Parents may talk with kids about social drinking with friends at a show or party, or allow them to have a glass of wine with dinner. These are simple examples often cited of how to enjoy alcohol in a healthy and respectable manner. I find the lack of this perspective in our societal presentation of pot to pre-teens and teenagers to be a significant misstep in our education of youth. The reality is, legal or not, encouraged or not, some kids simply will try drugs. This is an unavoidable statistical reality that we cannot but marginally influence. Some who try drugs will like the effects enough to continue using them. Some in our society are missing the cue that you cannot stop kids from experimenting with drugs and sex. As a society I think our task is to teach our children how to make these choices for themselves, and if they choose to, to try them safely and responsibly.
I notice that the anti-drug folks tend to feel that education in these matters equates to permission to use drugs. This psychological interpretation has been debunked by good science- for instance, if one cares to research the differences in sexual promiscuity between sex-educated teens and uneducated teens, the data reaches an undeniable conclusion. Teaching kids at an appropriate age how to consider and approach life decisions, regardless of whether or not we like the decisions they make, is the only responsible way to educate children. To take the attitude of, “well I don’t want you to do this, so I’ll teach you nothing of it,” is a head-in-the-sand approach that leaves our children’s education of drugs up to the people that introduce them to it, the people they buy it from, and the people they use with. I learned more about coke from my Mexican Mafia connection than I did from the DARE program. This was not because he was an intellectual fellow that liked to educate his buyers. It was because the DARE program was useless shit.
So here is the unimpressive and obvious conclusion of my long-winded post. Please, fucking please, legalize drugs. All drugs. Fine, start with pot, but get around to legalizing all of them. There isn’t a drug user on earth that is dissuaded by their illegality, or if there is, I haven’t met them. And I have not met anyone that has thrown themselves into a marijuana frenzy as a result of it becoming legal, either. The negative data from alcohol prohibition in the 20’s and the positive data from Amsterdam’s full decriminalization is overwhelming as well.
But if we are going to legalize drugs, please, let’s be responsible adults about it. Regulation is a good idea. Frankly, I don’t want to see a pot shop on every street corner, and I don’t want assholes blowing pot smoke in my face or lighting up in front of schools. Nobody complains about open container laws, or the fact that you can’t advertise cigarettes on billboards (frankly, I think alcohol ads should be banned as well). Let’s keep it clean. It was never hard for me to find pot before, I don’t see why we need billboards for the shit.
Further, can we please promote optional and anonymous educational programs? I think that children should have a right to enroll in these programs without the consent of their parents. You think that’s fucked up? Guess what. My father made all kinds of threats against me when it came to drugs, and so I just lied and did everything behind his back. It would have been nice to have a place to go to get things straight, because I definitely didn’t get it at home.
Maybe these are half-baked ideas, maybe they’re good ones. They are very limited to my personal experience, and I am not a professional. I would rather have professionals come up with these solutions. But the two things I do not like are prohibition and un-regulated legalization. Neither of these ideas are in good standing with our scientific understanding of human society and psychology.