Frum fears the legalization of marijuana:
It’s baffling to me that people who profess anxiety about the trend to social inequality will so often endorse drug legalization. A world of legal drugs will be a world in which the fates of the top one third of Americans and the lower two thirds will diverge even more than they already do. A world of weaker families, absent parents, and shriveling job opportunities is a world in which more Americans will seek a cheap and easy escape from their depressing reality. Legalized marijuana, like legal tobacco, will become a diversion for those who feel they have the least to lose.
Mike Riggs tackles Frum's article and Frum fights back. The factual nit-picking is not what interests me. What interests me is David's assumption that smoking marijuana is self-evidently bad for people. He cites a study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. My italics. It has no section for responsible drug use. It does not consider in any way the possible notion that cannabis, like alcohol or coffee, can also be a personal and social good.
So check this section out from the study he cites:
Marijuana intoxication can cause distorted perceptions, impaired coordination, difficulty with thinking and problem solving, and problems with learning and memory. Research has shown that, in chronic users, marijuana's adverse impact on learning and memory can last for days or weeks after the acute effects of the drug wear off. As a result, someone who smokes marijuana every day may be functioning at a suboptimal intellectual level all of the time.
At what point could this not be said of alcohol as well? And yet alcohol is far more addictive, far more related to social problems and violence, and daily drinking of large amounts can be dreadful for the liver (see graph above).
There's also what the study does not analyze: the whole point of marijuana use is to disrupt settled ways of thinking and feeling, to offer a respite, like alcohol, from the deadliness of doing. But for reasons we don't quite yet understand, marijuana, like other essentially harmless drugs in moderation, can prompt imaginative breakthroughs, creative serendipity, deeper personal understanding, and greater social empathy and connection. People need these things and have always sought refuge in them, especially at this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere.
And what is so dangerous about imagination? What is so fatal about temporarily slowing your mind down and letting it meander creatively in a culture fixated on materialism and anxiety and greed and pride? Are not hyper-competitive, insanely complex modern societies actually begging for some mental relief? And what's exactly wrong or socially damaging with giggling?
Some of our greatest music was written under the influence: would David stop that? Jazz might not exist without it. All of our recent presidents were stoners at some point – and the current president in his teens was an enthusiast even by Hawaii standards in the 1970s. Does David think that the man who wrote Dreams From My Father suffered from impaired memory? Does he believe that Michael Phelps who smoked pot and became the most decorated Olympian of all time didn't do one of those two things? Can we not discuss drugs rationally, rather than with this vast super-structure of boomer-era culture-war synapses attached to it?
I doubt, for example, that David would cast aspersions on my local liquor store, festooned with baubles and tinsel, selling relief and escape, as well as the potential for addiction and violence, this Holiday season? He's no Puritan. He would not panic at a legal teenager drinking for pleasure and social lubrication. So why should he when it comes to something less harmful, less addictive, and more likely to spawn creativity?
Here's the "drug abuse" site's description of how dreadful canabis dependency can be:
Long-term marijuana abusers trying to quit report withdrawal symptoms including: irritability, sleeplessness, decreased appetite, anxiety, and drug craving, all of which can make it difficult to remain abstinent. These symptoms begin within about 1 day following abstinence, peak at 2-3 days, and subside within 1 or 2 weeks following drug cessation.
How many alcoholics would kill for a two-week readjustment period after using a drug for a lifetime? Please.
David's completely valid point is that cannabis can definitely harm the developing brain among kids. But the point of legalization is precisely driven by this concern: to get a better grip on teenagers' access to pot, not to relax it further. Right now, getting high is often very easy, outside the purview of parents, and entangled in illegality. If we end Prohibition, we can regulate it like alcohol, provide a legal option, and take much greater care in keeping it from kids. I doubt David has a problem with the way we license and regulate alcohol and nicotine when it comes to minors.
David also makes no serious attempt to grapple with the genuine medical benefits for certain conditions that are belied by the drug's ludicrous Class I classification, although he is dead right that California's medical marijuana regime quickly became a farce. In saying his core point is to protect the vulnerable and poor, he also fails inexplicably to note how enforcement of petty marijuana possession laws in urban centers needlessly ruins countless lives, and does so with a racial disparity that is simply staggering. The first thing you'd do to improve the prospects of the young black men David rightly cares about is to stop incarcerating the black pot-smokers at rates white kids and their parents would not tolerate for a milli-second.
I'd love to engage David in a discussion on this subject. Consider it begun.
(Chart from the March 24, 2007 article: Nutt, David, Leslie A King, William Saulsbury, Colin Blakemore. "Development of a rational scale to assess the harm of drugs of potential misuse" The Lancet 2007; 369:1047-1053. (PMID 17382831; doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(07)60464-4) The data in the paper is obtained solely from questionnaire results obtained from two groups of people: the first comprised people from the UK national group of consultant psychiatrists who were on the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ register as specialists in addiction, while the second comprised of people with experience in one of the many areas of addiction, ranging from chemistry, pharmacology, and forensic science, through psychiatry and other medical specialties, including epidemiology, as well as the legal and police services.)