The Pot Legalization Debate

Author’s note:
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.

I can’t even explain how amazing this song is.

(Source: Spotify)

Tags: music spotify

Above is an interesting article that I looked up after I heard the book’s author being interviewed on a local radio station a couple of days ago.

For anyone that doesn’t know my background story, I am approaching eight years sober as a recovering alcoholic and addict. The majority of my recovery has been outside of the 12-step program, but I have also participated off and on in the AA program throughout my sobriety. Only in the last year or so did I come to a complete conclusion that I do not feel the 12-step program is my program of recovery.
So then, when you read this article, you will see how it hits very close to home for me. It is edifying in an after-the-fact sort of manner, as a lot of the issues that Dodes brought up in his radio interview echo problems I have had with the 12-step. Yet, similarly, I find some of his assessments to not match the empirical evidence of my personal experience of recovery and AA. But I would like to talk on the points I agree with him on first.

The religious nature of AA was always a challenge for me, and to this day I would not enjoy the need to restructure the syntax of the steps and literature to fit my understanding of the universe. To save the long explanation, it is better to simply state that the program was started in 1935 in a Christian nation and is heavily based on tradition, so it makes sense why a step like, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him” exists and has not been changed. I don’t see a problem with such things for folks that believe in God or are religious, but I am most certainly not the only alcoholic that has found the religious accoutrements of AA to be absolutely irrelevant to my recovery. Perhaps one can only truly understand how significant this is if they are actually atheist or agnostic; these types of issues can present very serious hindrances to working with a program.

As far as the process of recovery goes, I disappointingly found a very xenophobic response with a lot of my friends and acquaintances when I was not actively participating in the program. There is a term used which is “dry drunk,” which essentially describes an alcoholic that is sober but not recovering, to one extent or another. I found in many instances that I was regarded by some as a dry drunk purely on the basis of not participating in the program, and over time experienced a significant social anxiety with alcoholics in the program because I simply didn’t want to be judged in this way. Now, there were far more people in the program that were not judgemental of me. This is very important to understand. I found the majority of the community to be supportive, regardless of my participation. But I think the fundamental underlying issue is that a significant number of people in the program have an outlook and utilize language that isolates and alienates people like myself that don’t involve themselves in the program to their standard.

There are other traditions I found disparaging as well. I remember one time a friend (in the program) admonishing me for not altering my sober date after I an occasion that I used psychedelic mushrooms. I had been about four years sober, and decided to try mushrooms to see if it was an appropriate thing for me any longer. I have always felt that the psychedelic experience had a profoundly different effect on me than alcohol, pot, and cocaine- to the extent that I was genuinely unconvinced that they are associated with the condition of alcoholism. So, I tried them and concluded two things: 1) they are not associated with my alcoholism, and 2) I’m not interested in using them anymore. I am 100% happy with living my life sober and have no desire to use psychedelics. Even though that was my perspective, my friend felt that, based on the rules of the program, I needed to reset my sober date back to the day I used this drug, and I was essentially lying to the community by keeping my old date. From my perspective, a sober date does not simply document the last time you used a drug. It is part of the narrative of one’s life, and depending on your story, the date can reflect a moment when everything in your life changed- The day you made a choice to put your feet on a path toward learning to love yourself again, to giving up alcohol, or any other positive association that can give you hope and strength. I would never give that date up, because it is one of the most important dates of my life. I think if you psychologically consider the punishment mentality of resetting one’s sober date based on relapsing, it is actually very detrimental.


Those are some of my criticisms of my experience in the 12-step program. But I also feel a lot of positivity about the program and have personally witnessed an uncountable number of people who have been helped by it. Yes, perhaps this is “correlation not causation” at work. I don’t actually really care to address that, but am simply willing to offer that it is a possibility. Fact of the matter is though, I know a lot of healthy and happy recovering alcoholics and addicts that attribute the positive state of their condition to the program.
As a result of my personal experiences, when I listened to Dodes’ scathing and unrelenting criticism of AA, I found myself quite skeptical of many of his claims against the program. I have no need to go into them, as you can follow the link I’ve provided or read his book. While I don’t think that criticizing AA’s shortcomings is a problem, it seems almost as if he would rather see it dismantled. That’s nonsense anyway, it’s a program that operates purely on the basis of volunteers. I also think that the problems he points out are not because AA exists, but because addiction and alcoholism exist in a society that does not try to solve it. I would like to offer my own perspective on why I think the United States has such low recovery rates in alcoholics and drug addicts.

I believe our society lacks genuine concern for and understanding of alcoholics and addicts. It would be an exercise in futility to count the number of conversations I have had with non-alcoholic/addicts that begun with a complete non-understanding of what actually constitutes the condition and/or how recovery can even be approached. Many people I have met are dumbfounded as to why addicts don’t simply just quit. Similarly, many addicts and alcoholics lie at the bottom rungs of society, and unless you happen to be the family member of one, most people dismiss or avoid the issue. I have even watched friends of addicts and alcoholics shake their heads and shrug their shoulders as they distance themselves from them, without even trying to help them find a solution.
As I read this paragraph back to myself, I realize that this is the case with many other issues that are just as important. I’m not sure what the solution is here, but I think that we have to care more about solving the issue as a society. I think that educating ourselves about it is truly important.

Another fundamental issue in my mind is that our drug laws do not reflect reality. Russell Brand speaks of this issue in relation to addiction and the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman better than I ever could here, but I will say that the illegality of drugs causes punishments and incarceration in instances where the absolute most rational course is treatment.
Similarly, our system fails to make any practical evaluation of whether or not people actually are addicts or alcoholics. California’s DUI law is a fascinating example. Getting a DUI actually has nothing to do with whether or not someone is an alcoholic, so by-and-large I consider this is a useless requirement. If we evaluated and accordingly treated individuals guilty of crimes such as DUI’s, petty theft, burglary, domestic violence, and other issues related to drinking and drugs, the system could potentially help usher more people back from the fringes of society into a healthier place, meanwhile meting out appropriate punishments for people that are simply stupid or sociopathic just because.

Finally, I believe that there should be more available options for treatment beyond 12-step programs and rehabs. I really would love to have been introduced to an alternate recovery program that focuses more on solutions based on the science of addiction and doesn’t include the god-nonsense! I’m happy with my life at this point, but AA truly was the only visible option for my recovery, and I have heard of other options but never seen or experienced one. I’m certain that AA and the 12-step in general are not a good fit for everyone. I don’t think it does Dodes any good to trash AA, but I think he could do a lot of good by advocating and making more available an alternative and effective program to treat addicts and alcoholics. There’s nothing but positivity in the latter situation.

Ah, it’s 2am and I’m fried. That’s enough rambling on for now. You know, at the end of a lot of meetings they say, “it works if you work it.” That may or may not be true, but I say, “work it if it works.”

Goodnight.

Shredding Repis all day. (at Greenbush Haus)

Peas and broccoli starting to mature from a late fall seeding. Southern California year-round gardening.  (at Greenbush Haus)

Peas and broccoli starting to mature from a late fall seeding. Southern California year-round gardening. (at Greenbush Haus)

The Thinker and The Dreamer

I feared that I had somehow lost my ability and inspiration to write, some time ago. Part of it certainly was a particular brand of apathy towards writing, but on the other hand has been a lot of change and growth in how I think of and experience the world. I’m not sure if I could really pin it down in a single blog post, though. So I’ll simply choose a topic.

I find myself often navigating a strange combination of beliefs in my personal life. Fundamentally, I have been for quite a long time a non-theist. If non-theism were to be an umbrella descriptor for a part of my psyche, it would be the humanist, the rationalist, the lover of math and science, the one who thinks critically about life and probably even thinks a little too much. This is one side of a particular dualism that I mean to take note of here, which I shall label the thinker.
The other side of this pair of opposites is the part of my beliefs that defy our current scientific understanding of the universe. This is the me that studies Tarot, Magick, and Kabbalah, the part that considers the possibilities of ghosts and the astral realm, and who considers conspiracy theories’ possibilities. These beliefs are also connected to the parts of me that are the dreamer, the artist, the one who acts upon instinct without second thoughts, who is unafraid to imagine the possibility of anything and even pursue it. We’ll call this the dreamer.

In taking a Jungian point of view on things, I believe that the dreamer is truly important to embrace. The dreamer might believe things that are improbable, unprovable, or even a bit irrational. When I let the dreamer take hold of me, it becomes a great source of inspiration and happiness for me. The world becomes more vivid, its depth becomes unfathomably deep, and the richness of its context defies description.
Yet if I let it run wild, I tend to lose sight of the practical side of life, and I lose sight of my commitments and bigger goals in life. It becomes more difficult to remain stable. It is as if there is a threshold which upon crossing, the ecstasy and joy of embracing the dreamer begins to warp my reality out of shape so much that I start slipping away from the very things in this world that satisfy me most. It is like a story where one enters a mystical dream world full of wonder, and after some time in this place of fantasy, one falls under the spell of some sorcerer, pursued by a monster, or trapped in living vines or underwater… To escape is to return to the paradigm of reality. One cannot stay too long in the realm of dreams before getting lost.

The paradigm of the thinker has been my primary vehicle in this life. I more easily identify with it. Perhaps it is because it is fundamentally the conscious thinker, in the most literal sense, but perhaps also because for many years of my young adult life, my relationship with the other half was very weak.
Thinking is problem solving. I’ve typically been very good at this, in my life. In fact, more often than not I pleasurably find myself in a role working with someone who is more of a dreamer- someone with great ideas and big goals to create something- working with them as an assistant of sorts, to find a practical way to bring their dreams into reality. Kind of like a midwife for brain-babies.
If one were to pull an idea from the dreamer’s deck of Tarot cards, a mind is like the suit of swords. When sharp, it is able to cut through illusion. We cultivate our intellect and ability to reason so that we can navigate reality to a finite set of problems that are within our ability to solve. One step at a time, we are able to make progress and shape reality according to our perspective and intention. “Manifest Destiny,” said the American settler to the Wild West, and so does the rational mind to the unclaimed and infinite space of the unknown, until one day allegedly we will become know-it-all’s that know it all.
But I have experienced first-hand the thinker that spirals out of control. The allegorical sword is sharp to cut on both edges. What ability we have to slice through illusion may cut away at our own foundations of Self. For instance, as the alcoholic (Ha! I can’t blog without mentioning alcoholism!), the mind has doubled-back on oneself as we use reason to justify the most toxic behaviors and perspectives. The mind thinks so hard that it burns itself out on an endless feedback loop of chattering ego. The thinker has become so obsessed with himself that reality seems to warp into a static and lifeless desert, devoid of hope and without change. We become trapped in a frozen bubble of our own thinking and cease to see possibilities beyond our own unimaginitive conclusions. Self-fulfilling prophecies based upon fears and judgemental biases become our reality.
In C. Jung’s work, “Man and His Symbols,” he discusses very acutely the problem of suppressing the unconscious (synonymous with “the Dreamer”). This to me is reminiscent of the psychological disorder of alcoholism. But there is more to it than that; this is an oversimplification.

Both examples of the dreamer and the thinker overpowering the psyche are representations of imbalances, in one direction or the other. In Tarot and Kabbalah, we play with the idea of polarity. Take for instance the Major Arcana of the High Priestess. She sits between two pillars, one black, one white. In Kabbalah, there are three pillars on the Tree of Life. The center is balanced (As is the High Priestess), but the pillars of Mercy and Severity correlate respectively with passivity and activity. The passive, or receptive, mind (think of receptivity as like a container or vessel, which holds liquid; water is like the unconscious) is what I am referring to as the dreamer. The active mind (again, intellect/action, like a sword that cuts) is the thinker.
With either of these polarities out of balance, we have certain types of problems that arise. This is a very non-scientific way of approaching reality, and some people find distaste in it. Certainly, a modern doctor would much rather diagnose someone with ADHD or as bi-polar, etc., and offer a pharmaceutical or therapeutic solution. Yet, as I explore the writings of Jung more deeply, I see his reasoning in exploring the unconscious as a method of healing or interpreting the world. There are few to no absolutes or static archetypes within the unconscious and the unconscious mind is extremely individualistic and dynamic. Does this make the study of the unconscious mind somewhat unscientific?

One could say, “Okay Lucas, I get Jungian psychology, but how can a non-theist put serious stock in mysticism?”
I don’t know. I think about it often. I think it’s peculiar that, for my rational rejection of the concept of God, I still put stock in non-theistic yet mystical ideas. The no-bullshit answer is that if I believe it, it’s because, first and foremost, I want to, and I like the idea. But that’s insufficient.
I was listening to a podcast of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s (StarTalk), and he said something that I thought was wonderfully poignant, which is, “…people think that the criteria for believing something is whether or not it feels good.” This demonstrates a certain problem with my point of view, to an extent.

In looking at arts such as Tarot in the light of unconscious manifestation, one sees within the imagery, symbolism, and numerology, that these are tools of the unconscious. I tend to think it a bit different than, say, a group using an Ouija board to communicate with spirits. Of course with Tarot, the amount of stock one puts in the divinatory aspect of the cards can affect this line of questioning significantly. But it we utilize these cards as a method of navigating the unconscious mind, to explore our notions of self, our hopes and fears, and the relationships we hold with the objects and individuals in our lives, the mysticism begins to lend itself to an awakening of the aspect of our mind that is the dreamer.

Now, perhaps I’m just fooling myself and it’s another case of bias confirmation. I’m not really ever certain, but I try my best not to fool myself. There are plenty of conspiracy theories I’m inclined to believe that are certainly loaded with evidence of circumstance, which proves little to nothing, and is more or less fodder for the imagination. Yet, when I put stock in the belief of one of these theories, I force myself to acknowledge my bias. When I can admit that to myself openly, it allows me to retain the possibility that I am absolutely wrong, and this in turn allows me to keep an open mind to shift my beliefs if confronted with new evidence or the natural shift in my perspective on a given topic.

Regardless of the particular peculiarities of my individual set of beliefs, the underlying quality behind these beliefs I take the most stock in is how they shape my life. What do I create? Am I happy with myself? Do I have a positive outlook on my life and humanity? How are my relationships? These and many other questions like them are the ones that mean the most to me. These days, more than any I can remember in the past, I feel that the thinker and the dreamer in me get along pretty well. I know some of the things I believe don’t exactly match up with the best scientific evidence out there, but these quirky perspectives also have a wonderful effect on my creativity and perspective on life. That being said, the rational side of me functions pretty well, and I am not afraid to get to the root of my own mistakes or mistaken beliefs and work on cultivating a better understanding of myself and the world around me. I am always hungry for knowledge, and I love learning as much as much as I love dreaming- I love these as I love life itself.
The last thing I’ll say is that, I think it’s important to allow oneself to believe things that are not proven. To be clear, I don’t advocate believing things that have reasonably been disproven (ie. Creationism, the Bible was written by God, the Sun rotates around Earth, etc.), but am referring to realms of possibility that have yet to be fully or successfully explored. The search for Quantum Gravity is a great scientific example of this. The Astral Realm is an excellent example in metaphysics. Both of these are great examples of things I don’t know shit about but am really fascinated by.

I could write so much more, but this is already quite long. Cheers for reading to the end of this blog!

End of the year top ten!

Alright! It’s the end of the year and everyone’s got their end of the year lists! Here’s mine:

Top ten things I don’t give a fuck about:

1.

Tags: idgaf

Kale, kale, and more kale in our front yard raised-bed garden. #foodnotlawns

Kale, kale, and more kale in our front yard raised-bed garden. #foodnotlawns

Tags: foodnotlawns

Tumeric infused Brazil nut milk. Pretty much the most amazing drink on earth. Seriously. Mind, blown. #raw #rawfoods #juice #health

Tumeric infused Brazil nut milk. Pretty much the most amazing drink on earth. Seriously. Mind, blown. #raw #rawfoods #juice #health

Heirloom tomatoes tonight, oranges tomorrow. All fresh picked today! #urban #harvest (at Silver Lake)

Heirloom tomatoes tonight, oranges tomorrow. All fresh picked today! #urban #harvest (at Silver Lake)

Tags: urban harvest