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.