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Legalize Marijuana—but Both Sides Are Full of It

Travis offers the real issues behind marijuana legalization.

To be honest, I’ve never much cared about the whole "legalize marijuana” argument. 

Sure, on some vague level I’m in favor of decriminalization, since it seems like prosecuting potheads is a misallocation of police resources. And I’ve never known anyone under the influence of cannabis to be dangerous—or particularly sharp, for that matter.

But when I read that Huntington Beach’s congressional representative Dana Rohrabacher recently spoke out in support of it caused me to think a little more deeply about the issue.

I still can’t say that I care all that much. Mostly I think there are quite a few other injustices that should rank higher on a national priority list. Of course, it’s possible my general indifference to legalization may be because California is a particularly lax state when it comes to marijuana enforcement.

The people I know who use the drug responsibly are, for the most part, able to do so without fear of severe consequence. Still, since  Rohrabacher brought it up, let’s talk about it.

I think the thing that has always struck me about the debate is the relative naïveté of both sides. Though regular users of the drug will often claim that there’s no evidence that cannabis has long-term consequences, there is a large body of scientific research that has shown strong correlations between long term use and the degradation of memory, and even IQ with continued use.

Usually, apologists will object that those studies are inconclusive or that there are other contradictory studies, which is fine, but if continued cannabis usage does not affect the body in adverse ways, it would be the first substance ever discovered to work without side effects—an unlikely possibility.

I’ve always thought, however, that this argument is precisely beside the point. We regularly use drugs and technologies that involve negative consequences: alcohol, fast food, automobiles, . Indeed, our willful ignorance of this reality follows a straight line to the various arguments for cannabis criminalization.

Namely, that there is no way to take these drugs responsibly. 

We, of course, know that this isn’t true. Drugs can be taken responsibly. It happens all the time. But our deeply ingrained fears of impurity and sin lead many of us to these erroneous conclusions. 

This is where the gateway-drug argument comes in—which there is almost no evidence to support. The gateway-drug argument is essentially a re-creation of the drama of original sin: eat this fruit and you’re damned forever—that is, unless you can be redeemed by some kind of savior (e.g., a daytime talk show host, or one of the many “anonymous” sponsors haunting multipurpose rooms all over America.)

The truth is that long-term marijuana use is harmful for most people, and it has retarding effects on our cognitive capacities in the short term. But, it’s also a lot of fun for the people that use it, serves genuine medical purposes and opens up alternative mental states that are a welcome respite from the accelerating industrialization of human behavior.

Marijuana is like every other substance or tool: The advantages gained come with a price. However, the people that use the drug and pay the price should be the ones to decide if the exchange is worth it. I regularly decide that an ultimately unhealthy choice is worth the short-term boost every time I drink too much, fail to exercise or order a Double-Double-Animal-Style-hold-the-pickles from In-N-Out.

I applaud Congressman Rohrabacher’s stand, even though in a country of sinners playing at saints, he’s fighting a losing battle.

Dan Avery September 14, 2011 at 02:38 AM
I completely agree that long-term use of Marijuana will lower your memory and I.Q. for quite a while I used it to level the playing field between me and most other people; then gave it up as hopeless. Now that I've been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, I would love to have the law clarified even as far as medical use. The state says it's legal for medical use and I have seen it give me some relief at times the handful of times I've tried it since the medical use law came into effect. However, they routinely close clinics, one has to travel to find the clinics, and the marijuana isn't really being regulated except by certain clinic owners or something. There's no way for the average person like me to know exactly what else is or isn't in the product on the shelves. I realize I could become a registered grower which isn't all that hard I've been told. But then the city where I live has a law against growing it even for medical reasons. Which is par for the course when it comes to the medical marijuana law's acceptance by governing bodies. Plus if grew it legally in Mission Viejo, the feds could then freely kick in my door in the dead of night, unlike now when they can freely kick in my door in the dead of night because I might have a terrorist here or something.
KC September 14, 2011 at 05:13 AM
The law is pretty clear for medical clinics, as long as you get an approved medical professional to sign off on it you can buy it for your treatment in the state of California. Also the Federal Government labels it as a crime to posess and will come after you. They are both abundantly clear and also conflicting. There was a special on the history channel a few weeks back about how the growers are getting stuff sent off to labs to ensure quality and so forth, but it's optional like a USDA grade. There was an argument I had heard towards the legalization that was, I suppose, quite moderate. To paraphrase, the spokesman said that the state cannot afford to enforce the law but will not stand in the way if the feds wish to enforce it.
Jillian Galloway September 14, 2011 at 03:37 PM
For the last forty years, we've kept marijuana illegal but it *hasn't* prevented millions of people from buying and using the stuff. Parents therefore have only two options - either we want drug dealers selling marijuana to kids or we want supermarkets selling marijuana to adults. "Nobody selling marijuana to nobody" is never going to happen. Regulating marijuana like wine allows supermarkets to sell it to adults at a price too low for drug dealers and the Mexican drug cartels to match - this will make our children far safer than what they are today. We don't see wine being illegally sold on the street today because it's legally available in stores at a price low enough to prevent illegal competition. The exact same thing will happen with marijuana when we put our children's safety first and regulate marijuana like wine.
Bretta September 14, 2011 at 06:03 PM
Cannabis gives relief for MS symptoms? Tell me more, please. I am the primary caregiver for my quadriplegic mother, who has been diagnosed MS for nearly 50 years.
Dan Avery September 14, 2011 at 08:37 PM
Jillian, People have been smoking marijuana and, for that matter, been addicted to heroin since the late 1800's in the country. It's only been recognized as a problem for the last 40 years because that is when suburban white kids started getting high.
Dan Avery September 14, 2011 at 08:57 PM
I find that it helps to aliviate some of the pain, especially for spasticity. I would imagine from other ways it's been prescribed that it might benefit those with vision problems. It does provide some mild relief for depression but that is short-lived. I find that personally it helps me forget that I have a degenerative disease that has no cure and very little is really known about. Again that is short-lived, but sometimes at night I'd just rather skip the shots and the pills and whatnot and pretend just for one night that I am fine. My neuro tells me that several of her patients use it. She is prevented from prescribing it by the HMO but has told me that there are no conflicts between it and my meds. The National MS Society won't endorse it because the predominant way to receive the drug's benefits is by smoking it; smoking is bad for you. Were it legalized I would imagine Big Pharm would rush to create the first pill form and start making a killing on it. One of my meds retails for $3500 a month. I would imagine a pill form of the drug to come in probably higher than that.
Bretta September 14, 2011 at 11:56 PM
My mother's MS was well developed long before much was known, before any drugs had been brought forward that might help her. I think she has lived so long because my dad took such excellent care of her - he was relentless. The degenerative part is depressing but I didn't know if she was already prone to that or if it was part of the condition. [Is MS a cause of depression or is depression an effect of the disease?] It is also depressing for the family. My paternal grandmother didn't help; as a Christian Scientist she always told mom it was in her head; same as the "pray the gay away" technique, which begs the question... never mind, my question was about a palliative and your article is about controlling a substance that affects the body. Grandma should have been smoking the marijuana.
Dan Avery September 15, 2011 at 01:06 AM
Bretta, according to my reading and to my Neuro, depression is a side effect of the disease. Depression and fatigue seem to be the side effects that most multiple sclerosis patients experience. Some doctors think that the nerve endings to certain parts are the brain become compromised. That would make logical sense. I think over 50% of people with multiple sclerosis suffer cognitive damage of one kind or another.
Bretta September 15, 2011 at 07:19 AM
Dan, In my experience with my mother, the cognitive damage is real. I understand the evidence of it now, as well as the depression and fatigue. It is like being stuck in 1952. I am so sorry. The physical issues are hard enough to deal with - the emotional/mental/cognitive issues are so much more subtle - no one described them to us in those years but, in hindsight, of course, it makes sense now. We just tried to accommodate. I'm grateful for the volunteers who come over to spend time with her on Scrabble, crosswords, Solitaire, watching baseball; anything to keep her engaged. It makes my part so much easier when she stays connected.
Jillian Galloway September 15, 2011 at 01:53 PM
That's interesting Dan but what are we going to do about it? Keeping it illegal isn't preventing people from getting it, drug dealers are just encouraged to hang around our kids trying to sell them pot and get them onto harder drugs. We really do have to choose whether we want drug dealers or supermarkets selling marijuana. Parents have to do a better job at protecting their children than just continuing to do what's failed for the last forty years.
Shripathi Kamath September 15, 2011 at 02:31 PM
The argument in favor of legalization really does not get any simpler or more compelling than that. Well said, Jillian.
Frank September 15, 2011 at 05:02 PM
Isn't legalizing the "pot" going to make the healthy eating and lifestyle the government is trying to shove down our throats a waste of advertising? The munchies when they take over could give a rats behind what Michelle Obama tells us to grow and eat out of an organic garden. Just sayin' but the Lay's Potato Chip man is going busy.
Shripathi Kamath September 15, 2011 at 05:14 PM
'Isn't legalizing the "pot" going to make the healthy eating and lifestyle the government is trying to shove down our throats a waste of advertising? ' Interesting choice of words, but no. No one is trying to shove anything down your throat. It's kinda like Nancy Reagan asking people to "Just say no" to drugs, except Michelle Obama happens to be married to a Democratic President. They are suggesting that you might consider eating and living healthier so that we as a nation do not continue on our record-setting expeditions of obesity. http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/trends.html Legalizing pot should have the same effect as legalizing alcohol did - decriminalization. Consumption of alcohol causes alcoholism and other related problems, not its legalization. Likewise, it is the consumption of pot that gives you the "munchies", not its legalization
Frank September 15, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Dude, you need to relax, it was a joke.
Shripathi Kamath September 15, 2011 at 05:40 PM
Hmm, I am not tense at all, Frank. But thank you for the advice. And for the joke. HA HA I get it now.
Dan Avery September 15, 2011 at 07:51 PM
Bretta, I'd say I'm sorry but that really doesn't help does it? I doubt it's what you even want to hear. You can always reach me at danavery@sidesix.org if you want to vent, chat, get into a bitch session about The Gods, anything at all really. If you can ever get away for a good glass of scotch, single-malt, legal age at least, Victoria and I would love to meet you. Caregivers need breaks and fun once in a while. They deserve it than most.
Dan Avery September 15, 2011 at 07:54 PM
Grapes and carrots are great for the munchies, Frank. The carrots give you a much more satisfying "crunch" than chips, and the grapes are very refreshing when you have "cotton mouth."
Dan Avery September 15, 2011 at 07:59 PM
Jillian, I've never been in favor of keeping it illegal. In fact, I think we should go the route Britain went a long time ago and legalize all drugs, then register the addicts. My point is that no one much cared until middle-class white kids started getting high and getting arrested. Then our answer was to toss our kids in prison, thus insuring they'll learn a lot of cool things about crime they can put into use once back on the streets because no one will give them a job. I've always found that to be a particularly interesting, telling, and callous response.
Dan Avery September 15, 2011 at 08:00 PM
Well played, Frank. :)
Dan Jarrett September 16, 2011 at 04:56 PM
Legalize and tax 80% agree, it's the illegalality that is the only reason it could be considered a gateway drug, it means the people who sell it might also sell harder drugs, like crack.obviously. legalizing it would also encourgae further research into its positive benefits and alternative methods of delivery, since all smoke is harmful to your lungs even barbecued meat has carcnigenic effects. The real reason it is not legal is because the police state does not want to give up any power for search, ceisure, arrest and prosecution, its all about power.
Dan Avery September 16, 2011 at 09:22 PM
80% tax? What the people who would buy legal grass are in the top 1% of the folks who control 40% of the wealth and 25% of the income?
Dan Jarrett September 17, 2011 at 02:59 PM
read it a bit more carefully , 80% agree, not 80% tax
Dan Avery September 17, 2011 at 08:04 PM
no offense, Dan, but "Legalize and tax 80% agree" is unclear without punctuation and can be read carefully several ways correctly. If you want the phrase to say 80% agree, then you should write it like this: Legalize and tax -- 80% agree or Legalize and tax...80% agree however, don't use a comma because that would cause a comma splice: Legalize and tax, 80% agree so, you could avoid the comma splice with a semicolon since both clauses are separate and complete sentences: Legalize and tax; 80% agree. If you'd like I could correct the punctuation in the rest of the sentence for you.
Dan Jarrett September 18, 2011 at 04:07 PM
True it was sloppy writing, be my guest.

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