The pervasive and misleading nature of the marijuana debate: Let's get some things straight first

By Paul R. 05/17/19

It's been really everything and the kitchen sink last few years when it comes to the debate about the pros and cons of legalizing (and - more consequential - decriminalizing) all weed-based offenses. 

There is no rhyme or reason to this cacophony of opinions - doctors are arguing with prison officials, hospice workers are trying to educate a mother who lost her daughter to meth and who still vividly remembers when her only child suddenly became moody, started gaining weight and making late-night phone calls in a hushed voice back when she was just 16. Cypress Hill was her music of choice, then came the dreadlocks, hemp clothing and ultimately a Bob Marley poster. Marijuana was her daughter's go-to drug, and never had she even thought of dabbling into "hard" drugs. The meth snuck up, as it always does with someone chasing the euphoria from smoking illicit substance. She died 4 years later - held out more than an average meth addict 

The federal government is nowhere near removing the marijuana from its controlled substances list, nor does it allow federal employees to include marijuana stock in the retirement portfolios, let alone use it recreationally. It has slowed down the enforcement of federal laws when it comes to possession and even distribution of marijuana, especially when Democrats were in power, however this is a matter completely within jurisdiction of one person - the Attorney General. Eric Holder professed a more lax view, whereas, for instance, Jeff Sessions was for enforcement of marijuana laws. And then there are the states - from Colorado to Texas and from Vermont to Mississippi with everyone else in between: evolving politicians, new age cancer therapies, harm reduction champions and even conventional religions - everyone has an opinion and a way forward. 

Can you say confusing? You can say it again. The whole thing is a cluster and even policy makers are often left exasperated in the face of conflicting societal trends, let alone adolescents whose brains are still forming. Add weed to that equation and its grip (at first, loose and murky but inevitably pancreas-crushing and, again, pervasive) and you get a perfect "junkie" candidate. 

A lot has been said about weed not being a gateway drug and from a viewpoint of an adult recreational user, like Bill Maher, for instance, it is certainly not. The executive function of a mature brain discerns the hazards and risks and drives the train confidently. A clueless teenager in middle America does not see warning signs of a looming addiction. Even though marijuana does not (unless mixed with hash) cause a classic dependency the way ethanol or crack do, it still impairs judgment, endangers motorists (according to USA Today, car crashes rose 6 percent from 2012 to 2017 in four states that legalized marijuana - NE, CO, WA, and OR), causes massive blood sugar swings, perpetuates depression and causes anxiety.

Dr. Sharon Levy, a Harvard Medical School professor also lists IQ loss, poorer brain functionality, slower anatomic growth, addiction-forming properties and a generous plethora of mental health issues as consequences of persistent marijuana use by adolescents. It is those secondary byproducts like depression and anxiety and inevitable yearning for euphoria that weed no longer supplies that later push the users into the welcoming hands of harder substances, which in turn, cause classic addiction and, later, misery and death. So, even assuming arguendo that direct results of use are benign, the indirect ones still "accomplish" the same goal, namely, dependency on hard drugs. 

Many rehab dwellers were overheard confessing that weed, in fact, was their gateway drug. One can disagree with this moniker, yet that does not change the fact that adult users of all sort of drugs - from benzodiazepines to heroin - told me in numerous conversations that weed was the beginning of it all. For some, it is also the end, as extrapolating what happens next is fairly easy - just look at those who did not make it to a rehab. Most all of them are dead. 

As with any complex social issue, the marijuana debate must go on in a methodical, respectful manner. There is no quick answer one way or the other and it will take time. Yet, some are already making bookoo cash running dispensaries for recreational use. Is it the new tobacco industry forming? Is it the next alcohol lobby that is about to emerge? Surely seems that way. In no way do the for-profit stake holders care about any parts of the "gateway drug" debate. It is legal, so they are peddling it left and right, making money the same way the Big Tobacco once was - carelessly, without any regard to youth health, marketing products to minors in a wink-and-nod kind of way 24/7/365. Is this the solution? I certainly think not. 


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