This is a little off topic, but I’ve been interested in the legalization of marijuana for as long as I can remember. In the interest of full disclosure: I do not partake, because highness induces instant paranoia and a desire to crawl under my bed forever and ever with a pipeline to the Cheetos factory.

I have enough problems.

Pot was ever present at home when I was growing up. I learned how to roll joints when I was really young – I also learned how to tie cherry stems into knots with my tongue. Parents do come up with inventive ways to keep their kids quiet (I remember my father giving me the solemn responsibility of blowing out the car lighter when I was 3.). Anyway, the smell of marijuana is like apple pie to me, and I rather enjoy being around people who are smoking. But I’ve always been so sure I don’t want to smoke it that peer pressure has never been an issue — getting razzed about it in highschool didn’t even register. I don’t smoke pot, and never have. So, the fact that I want to see marijuana legalized, completely, without restriction, for good and all, right now, is not because I’m a stoner.

I simply do not see the logic in criminalizing a plant you can grow in your windowbox (and it is a federal felony to grow a single plant), especially one whose detrimental effects on the family or on society are markedly less severe than World of Warcraft. Whatever logic keeps marijuana illegal ought to also find boobs, weightlifting and cell phones worthy of criminalization. There is no serious politician who can justify the prohibition of marijuana, while simultaneously accepting money from the liquor and tobacco lobbies.

Anyway, that’s my position: I don’t smoke pot, because I hate it, but I want it decriminalized immediately.

 !@#$%

That was the introduction to my rant about the recent article in the New York Times, entitled “Marijuana Is Gateway Drug for Two Debates,” which is sort of timely (inasmuch as the NYT is timely), considering the renewed public interest in this issue. And the reason I’m bringing this up is that the reporters rely on AA members and 12-Step treatment counselors to fill them in on the nature of addiction to pot. The first person they interviewed graduated from a 12-step treatment center run by the Caron Foundation and who now regularly attends AA. The first testimonial on the Caron website says,

At Caron I have come to learn about the disease of addiction and how it has rendered me powerless.  I have taken the Steps and skills I have learned and have developed a greater awareness of my Higher Power, and have learned that to accept help is to accept love into my life.”

So, there’s that.

And then there’s all kinds of “Pot hasn’t killed anyone…. YET!”

One more funny thing is the writers’ point of reference, as they say that pot has been glamorized by musicians from “Louis Armstrong to Bob Dylan.”  I’m definitely not climbing on anyone for their age, considering that I probably share their cultural touchstones, but, dang. If you’re going to talk about a current issue, you might want to be up on what the kids are listening to these days.

What has me up in arms about this article is, as I mentioned, the fact that they rely on 12-Step evangelicals for their information about addiction. As one of the commenters to the article mentioned, this piece is like a modern day rehashing of Refer Madness. It seems to me that this is one of those “reports,” where they treat both sides of the issue as if they were somehow equally valid; for instance, pitting evolution against Creationism. It’s more in the interest of sparking debate — an easy, lazy way of doing “journalism,” as opposed to actually researching the issue at hand and setting the bar as fairly as possible. 

So, what we get with this article is a lot of wild speculation, fear mongering, weird contextualizing and misinformation about marijuana, interspersed with a few opposing opinions, for “balance.”

The main bugaboo in this piece is the notion that pot – which they call “the drug” – is much more potent these days than it ever was. Because this is the cornerstone of their article, the authors do not include any research that might contradict this, when, in fact, there are plenty of opposing views to be found with just a basic google search. For instance, the top search result lands on drugpolicy.org, which offers this information:

 Myth: Marijuana Is More Potent Today Than In The Past. Adults who used marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s fail to realize that when today’s youth use marijuana they are using a much more dangerous drug.

Fact: When today’s youth use marijuana, they are using the same drug used by youth in the 1960s and 1970s. A small number of low-THC samples seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration are used to calculate a dramatic increase in potency. However, these samples were not representative of the marijuana generally available to users during this era. Potency data from the early 1980s to the present are more reliable, and they show no increase in the average THC content of marijuana. Even if marijuana potency were to increase, it would not necessarily make the drug more dangerous. Marijuana that varies quite substantially in potency produces similar psychoactive effects.

So, why not offer the opposing views and research? Why did these reporters simply take the potency of marijuana at face value? It is interesting to note that the people who promote this potency thing, and support keeping marijuana illegal are the very people in the addictions treatment industry who benefit financially from maintaining the status quo. And it’s beneficial for them that, as they point out in the article, the people entering treatment for marijuana addiction is on the rise, mostly due to court sentencing.

My guess is that this approach was easier. Marijuana’s potency provided the reporters with a premise from which to work. The subject offered them the opportunity to unwittingly generate a sensationalistic debate, giving undue validity to the treatment advocates who say such outrageous things as:

With marijuana, “it’s going to take some real fatalities for people to pay attention,” Dr. Volkow said. “Unfortunately that’s the way it goes.”

Only after the basketball player Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose in 1986, and the crack epidemic began, did the government start a campaign to warn of cocaine’s dangers.

Since fatalities associated with marijuana don’t register at all statistically, a statement like this, made by a degreed expert  – which segues, without any reason, right into the subject of cocaine – is just alarmist speculation. It does nothing to further a rational discussion. It’s like saying that Extraordinary Rendition keeps us safe, and if we outlaw it, innocent citizens will die. My immediate response to that is a very juvenile, “Yeah, you wish.” My more measured response is more like, “Prove it.” And that, of course, leads to the “If you’re willing to kill Americans to prove your point…”

And, another assertion from Dr. Volkow that sticks in my craw is the idea that because pot is more potent nowadays, smoking it now is like drinking whiskey, as compared to smoking yesteryear’s more beer-like pot. She says, “If you only have access to whiskey, your risk is going to be higher for addiction. Now that people have access to very high potency marijuana, the game is different.” To me, this does seem like bald-faced, premeditated bullshit. No matter what you believe about AA and alcoholism, if you are an alcoholic (whatever your definition and denomination), you know that there is an enormous number of alcoholics who choose beer over whiskey, despite whiskey’s easy accessibility and drunk-effectiveness. If it’s the alcohol that is addictive, then what difference does the vehicle make? This might be a wild guess, but I suspect that most of us alkies got hooked with beer or Strawberry Hill because it went down more easily when we were kiddos. I know there are exceptions, but many of us would have spit out the whiskey when we were 13. If we’re going to do the “gateway drug” angle, let’s agree that access to more palatable vehicles for a nasty tasting chemical substance, so that it can be consumed in great quantity, would be more of an inroad to addiction than the more hardcore whiskey. Should we promote alco-pop in the interest of fighting alcoholism?

Also, I (and probably you) know plenty of debilitated alcoholics who have easy access to whiskey, but choose beer or wine – and are no less fubared. If alcohol is addictive, and if alcoholism is a bonafide disease, which is instantly triggered by any alcohol whatsoever, then what difference does alcohol content make to the addict?

So, what’s up with this article?

I’m not above putting on the tinfoil hat once in a while, but in this case, I tend to think that it’s just very sloppy reporting: Take a current issue (marijuana), find a compelling (who cares if its bogus) premise, rely on ignorance, get some Phd.s to comment, make a half-assed attempt at balance, and tadaah! Interesting Article!  I am not cynical enough to believe that the people they interviewed for the article are anything more than misguided and entrenched in their beliefs. I don’t think that they all have dollar signs in their eyes – especially not the random users they interviewed for the article.

But still, there’s a lot of money invested in keeping marijuana illegal, and it’s in the best interest of some very powerful industries to scare the holy bejeebus out of ordinary citizens. Treatment facilities; private, for-profit prisons; and God Himself, are all enormously profitable industries – not to mention the liquor industry, which lobbies side by side with Hazelden, Betty Ford and MADD.* AA membership and its general validation in our culture depends on these industries.

What’s also very interesting is that the habitual pot smokers interview in this article – even the ones who are engaged in 12-Step and invested in the disease model – don’t seem to display symptoms of addiction that escalate beyond psychological dependence. Despite its alarmism, this article’s threats of destitution and death are still mere speculation: people could die; people could become addicted! If it were indeed a fact that marijuana is more potent now that it was 40 years ago, the fact still remains that this is the pot that people have been smoking,  and are now smoking, and the statistics relating to it, don’t jibe. There’s no justification for the fear mongering.

The debate topic in the sidebar of this article asks if marjuana legalization will increase addiction, which simply begs the question – in the classic sense. The premise of this question (that marijuana is addictive) will be validated no matter the response. And the fact that the premise of this question can be taken as a given, as a legitimate either/or proposition – is a testament to the unquestioned status that the invested industries have, AA among them.

*Speaking of lobbying, you might find it interesting to know that AA has found a loophole in the Tradition concerning public controversy and anonymity by recruiting individual AA members to band together to lobby the government in behalf of the treatment industry, which, altruistically, would like to see insurance companies foot the bill for the expensive treatment provided by Hazelden and Betty Ford.

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