The U.S. Love Affair With Addiction
When President Obama made his “Pot is no worse than alcohol” comments, he revealed one of the main underlying problems with the arguments posed by marijuana advocates Said the president: “We should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.”
President Obama is likely referring to congressmen like Trey Radel, a Republican from Florida who recently resigned due to his arrest for cocaine possession. On the surface, the president seems to be making a valid point.
But is this the standard we should be using to make our laws?
Should we legalize domestic abuse, prostitution, or DUI, since some of our lawmakers and government officials have committed those crimes as well?
We all make our mistakes. But, should we admit out faults, and work to improve our own personal behavior so that it conforms with societal standards? Or should we rewrite our laws in order to justify our own personal mistakes? By choosing the latter option, we are simply redefining and weakening the standards of our society so that marijuana users can justify their habit.
A Culture of Tolerance
The underlying problem is that we have become a society so accepting of addiction. Think of the endless list of celebrities with addiction problems -- Whitney Houston, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, and the list goes on. There is the never-ending list of athletes with addiction problems. Even the U.S. military is not immune to drug addiction.
Recently, Houston Astros player, Jon Singleton, publicly admitted to his major marijuana addiction. Most notably, Singleton blamed the start of his marijuana use on “the culture growing up in Long Beach, CA”.
There is a notion that a treatment program will solve everyone’s addiction problem. But over 2/3 of states report that their treatment centers are “at or approaching 100% capacity” while at the same time only about 10% of people with drug and alcohol problems receive treatment. In other words, 90% of people with an addiction don’t seek treatment nor do we have a system that can accommodate them.
So why are we encouraging more use of an addictive substance instead of discouraging it? More importantly, before we worry about building more treatment centers why don’t we first take a look at the “culture” that promotes drug use?
The Fallacies of the “marijuana is harmless” Argument
It seems that many people have adopted the mindset of: “Well, when I was in high school/college I smoked a little pot, but I turned out alright, so I guess if we make small amounts of pot legal, then what harm is there in that?”
When it comes to marijuana, we seem to drift into this sympathetic mindset, and then think we should apply that mindset to making public policy. In no other policy area do we develop policies to conform with our own past personal mistakes. So why do we do it with marijuana?
There are certainly many people who adhere to the findings of researchers like CNN’s Dr. Sonjay Gupta who supports legalized marijuana.
But there is much this research does not address. For example, in 2009 marijuana use was reported to be the contributing factor in over 376,000 Emergency Room visits. One study reported “the toxic effects of cannabis on the brain may result in impaired neuropsychological functioning, poor academic performance, and subsequent school dropout, which then results in further neuropsychological decline.”
Drugs and Crime
This is a perfect example of people who first started using marijuana but then needed a more intense high so they developed another way to achieve that. Legalizing marijuana encourages more of this cycle.
Pro-marijuana research also does not address marijuana use and crime. In a 2012 study, 37%-58% of people arrested tested positive for marijuana at the time of their arrest. Two cities reported a significant increase in the percentage of arrestees who tested positive for marijuana.
The most revealing findings were:
1. “From 62-87% of male booked arrestees…tested positive for some drug in their system at the time of arrest, but fewer than a third…had ever been in outpatient or inpatient drug or alcohol treatment.”
2. 19-38% were arrested on drug crimes.
This reveals that most people who are being arrested are engaged in other criminal behavior -- not just drug use. Moreover, there is only a small percentage of those people who seek treatment.
But let’s also analyze this issue on a personal level. One recovering marijuana addict offered this: “…it is alarmingly clear to me that the issue of molestation and the disease of addiction were born dangerously close to each other.” The author went onto describe how she had been groomed by her molester through the use of marijuana: “No like this” John said, showing me how to inhale the smoke that would alter my consciousness, my life, and my brain development for years to come. Marijuana is a gateway drug.” The author then goes on to describe how her life spiraled out of control due to her addiction.
As a law enforcement officer, I have been involved in many investigations of child abuse and sexual assault, and in nearly every case there exists a past history of drug abuse. It is also very common to find that a person being investigated today for child abuse, has a history of drug use and was also previously abused by their parent(s), who also had a history of drug abuse.
Regardless of where you live, hardly a day passes where you cannot read about a drug-related crime. One good example comes from Lincoln, NE. As one of the teenagers was sentenced in a drug-related shooting, his life was described as follows: He started smoking marijuana and stealing to eat at age 5. His mother was an alcoholic and worked as a prostitute.”
These examples show the impact that addiction can have on our society over the course of two, or more, generations. And this type of impact is very hard to put into statistical perspective. But due to this ‘generational impact’, legalizing marijuana does not bode well for the future of the U.S.
It has simply become too easy for politicians to state that the solution is increased funding for drug-rehab programs. We’ve heard this argument for decades. While I would always support an addict entering treatment, the reality is that only a small percentage seek treatment. But, before we develop more rehab programs why don’t we first develop a society that says drug use is wrong and a crime?
As Dr. Samuel Wilkinson from The Yale School of Medicine wrote: “If legalization is certain to decrease the power of the drug lords in Mexico and other countries, then this is certainly a favorable outcome. However, if the trade-off is that more people suffer from schizophrenia -- and thus more Americans are homeless and debilitated -- then this must be recognized and discussed by the public.”
Matt Ernst is a law enforcement officer and also a national security and criminal justice analyst. Matt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org