Thursday, February 02, 2012

"Life Affirming Weed": How not to distance oneself

There are ways of distancing oneself from the live affirming weed crowd. For example, some within the pro legalization movement haved tried to strike a more serious note right off the bat by conceding that marijuana can dangerous, but argue that it is only by legalizing the drug that many of negative effects of marijuana can be minimized. This seems to be the tone the former Vancouver majors struck in their letter.

I do not find such an approach terribly helpful. First of all, it is associated with a rather dubious argument. The proponents of such an approach almost always argue that marijuana's illegal status make it easy for teenagers to get a hold of pot and if marijuana was legalized "young people" would only have limited access to the drug. The problem is this. Yes there are far more strangers willing to sell "young people" marijuana than there are strangers willing to sell them alcohol and no doubt legalizing marijuana would close that gap. However, far more "young people" drink than smoke marijuana for one very good reason. They know people who have legally bought the former and they get it off them. They steal alcohol from their parents' liquor cabinet. They ask their older brother to pick up a 6 pack for them etc etc. There are simply not that many teenagers brave enough to go buy illegal drugs. This fact limits the number of teens trying marijuana and it certainly limits the amounts consumed. If marijuana was legalized, they might find it harder to obtain on the street, but it is bound to be more readily available at home.

A more fruitful line of attack would be to say that legalization of marijuana could reduce the use of hard drugs among "young people". As researchers have long noted, people who have try marijuana are statistically more likely try other illicit drugs. This gave raise to the theory that there was something about marijuana that encouraged drug experimentation. Marijuana, it was alleged, is a gateway drug. This, in turn, was given as one more reason to keep the drug illegal. However, the gateway drug theory has until recently fallen on hard times for lack of an intelligible mechanism. The problem was that there was no coherent explanation for why marijuana would lead people to experiment with other drugs. Without this explanation doubt was cast relationship being more than mere correlation. That said, in recent years researchers have breathed new life into the theory, albeit with a sociological twist. According to the new version, it is not marijuana's pharmacological properties that serve as a gateway, but rather marijuana's illegal status. Specifically in the process of illegally procuring marijuana, users are introduced to the criminal elements with access to other illicit drugs and hence it is the forged black market relationship between dealer and buyer that serves as gateway. In this context it should be noted that when the Dutch partially legalized the sale of marijuana, heroin and cocaine use went down despite an initial increase in marijuana use. Dutch use of hard drugs remains well below the European average.

Reduced to bite sized talking point the above reads as follows: Every time someone goes to buy marijuana they come into contact with criminal elements with access to other hard drugs. This is your gateway. When Holland legalized consumption and made it available in stores, heroin and cocaine use went down.

Another problem with such an approach is that it concedes far too much ground. Marijuana when stacked up against alochol is simply not that dangerous. To remain silent on the main refer madness myths is to lend them a legitimacy that they simply do not have. They will also remain an elephant in the living room until they addressed. The debate about the dangerous of marijuana have been raging for decades. One can not hope to restart the debate a new. The notion that marijuana causes schizophrenia must be attacked head on. Same hold true for supposed dangerous of potent pot.

This is actually easy enough. After all, epidemiological studies have consistently failed to show a positive correlation between marijuana use and schizophrenia and there is no causation without correlation. Specifically, should there be a causal link between marijuana and schizophrenia, there should be a positive correlation between marijuana consumption and schizophrenia, but such a correlation is conspicuous by its absence. Despite a massive increase in the number of Australians consuming the drug since the 1960s, Wayne Hall of the University of Queensland found no increase in the number of cases of schizophrenia in Australia. Mitch Earleywine of the University of Southern California similarly found the same with regard to the US population and Oxford's Leslie Iversen found the same regard to the population in the UK. According to Dr. Alan Brown, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University, "If anything, the studies seem to show a possible decline in schizophrenia from the '40s and the ‘ 50".

As for potent pot, saying that potent pot is reason for keeping marijuana illegal is akin to saying that alcohol should be banned because gin has higher alcohol content than beer. It makes no sense. The pharmacological affects of consuming 1 "chemically supercharged" joint, as Bush administration liked to say, versus x number of "dad's joints" would be no different if the amount of THC consumed is the same. As for consumption, just as people do not drink the same volume of gin as beer, the higher the THC level in pot the less people consume. Hence, ironically more potent pot may be a welcome development. After all, one of the most prominent health effect related to marijuana, if not the most, is that it is usually smoked. The more potent the pot, the less people have to smoke to achieve the same high.

The attempt to scare parents that have grown up on marijuana by distinguishing between potent pot and “your dad's marijuana” is also too clever by half. After all, it begs the following question. If today's marijuana is truly different in kind from "dads marijuana", would it be ok to legalize "dad's marijuana", i.e., low potency pot?

Both can be reduced nicely to bit sized talking points too. To wit:

1) There is no causation without correlation. There has been an astronomical increase in the number of pot smokers since the 1950s and no increase in the rate of schizophrenia whatsoever.

2 a) Saying that potent pot is reason for keeping marijuana illegal is akin to saying that alcohol should be banned because gin has higher alcohol content than beer. It makes no sense.

2 b) If today's marijuana is truly different in kind from "dads marijuana", would it be ok to legalize "dad's marijuana", i.e., low potency pot?

1 comment:

James Marcum said...

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