Asking the Right Questions about Pot

He was in high school and quite brilliant. The kind of kid who didn't pick up a book all year and aced all of his honors and AP tests -- in complex subjects like Physics. He was also musically gifted. But he couldn't stop smoking weed. The school and his parents did all they could; he even took up sports so he wouldn't go home after school and smoke.

The more he smoked, the more he slacked off, the less frequently he attended class, did his work, and participated in class. They finally expelled him.

He was last seen walking on 101 in the wee hours of the morning on meth, punching and flailing at the police who pulled over to see if he was okay.

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I typed his papers in college -- mostly for his philosophy and intellectual history classes. It's how I earned extra cash. He'd call me up -- completely wasted -- at the last minute and ask me to type his works of art, works of brilliance. He'd really nailed it this time. He was admittedly bright, but years of smoking dope left his brain all a jumble and his papers unintelligible -- a collection of disparate fragments scribbled on several sheets of paper. I'd try to edit the papers so they'd make sense but it was futile to get inside his muddled thoughts. In his mind, though, he was onto something big, his thoughts coherent and his papers exceptional.

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My German professor wanted to help me clean up my senior thesis but had to toke up before he could sit down for a few hours and help. He needed a spliff to work on anything academic. But... he wasn't addicted.

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People say pot isn't addictive. Then they'll qualify that statement and claim it isn't physically addictive. But those of us who have witnessed loved ones "go to pot" see it differently. When dopeheads wake up in the morning completely down and depressed and grab a bong to get high, they do it to feel good again. Does it matter whether the need is psychological, physical, or a little of both? Perhaps the treatment will differ but fighting addiction is an uphill battle whether one's needs are physical or emotional.

I'm not going to recite a list of statistics, choosing instead to speak from my experiences, interactions, and observations. I'm not convinced researchers ask the right questions of the right people as to the long-term effects of prolonged pot usage. The habitual pot smokers I've known are usually in denial about the effects pot has had on their lives. Their families, coworkers, and friends would probably respond differently to relevant questions. Any addiction destroys families, careers, and lives. Pot is no exception.

The criminal and financial aspects of pot legalization have been discussed ad nauseum (not excluding the National Review). As a teen in the 70s and a mother who has witnessed so many young minds wasted by drugs -- all starting out with grass -- it is hard to reconcile the detached, libertarian, financial analysis with the harsh realities of long-term pot smoking among the youth. I will not be surprised if the law of unintended consequences weighs heavily on the safety and health of our youth and results in costs to society that will rival the very costs we are trying to avoid with the legalization of pot.

How will the cartels respond to competition from pot producers in this country? Will black markets arise to meet demands for stronger or cheaper (unregulated) dope and won't law enforcement have to spend resources dealing with that? Will the legalization of grass pave the way for the legalization of all drugs -- a world libertarians crave but most of us fear? What legal problems will we be plagued with and what conflicts will arise if some states continue to criminalize marijuana?

As the dope-dominoes continue to fall and more states join Colorado, it won't be long before we have the answers to these questions. Hopefully, the costs won't be too high but don't be shocked if they are.

I see a rampant decline in our culture and society, especially among the youth, and I wonder if drug use in general and pot use in particular do not play a more prevalent role in that decline than we have been led to believe. For example, could it be that so many in the baby boom generation had difficulty conceiving because of their weed indulgences at young ages in high school and college? After all, smoking weed at a young age over a sustained period of time does lower sperm count. Could this have also directly affected their offspring, leading to the current surge in learning disabilities, behavioral, and emotional problems? Could this be a contributing factor to why our children are scoring lower on tests and performing worse in school than we did when drug use was taboo and drugs were hard to come by, classes were bigger, and resources fewer?

(Whenever I mention this, I'm met with a barrage of anger. I've always suspected it's because parents just don't want to admit their youthful indiscretions might have had a negative impact on their children.)

Since so many crimes are committed under the influence of drugs like pot and so many car accidents are the result of drugged driving, how will crime and auto fatalities be affected when smoking and ingesting pot are perfectly legal and socially acceptable? If pot isn't harmful or addictive, can it be a defense? Why even have rehabilitation programs for something that presumably doesn't alter our behavior and isn't addictive?

Since it is no longer an illegal substance, could students sell brownies laced with pot at a school bake sale? How about the bakery or the supermarket? Would they need to disclose it as an ingredient any more than they'd have to disclose the sugar and chocolate? If anyone is harmed from ingesting the brownies, what would the liability be for the baker? The school? After all, it's legal (and supposedly not harmful) like sugar and chocolate. And, if the baker can be liable for any deaths or injuries or emotional pain resulting from the ingestion of his brownies -- because the effects can be lethal and dangerous -- then why would we legitimize the use of such a toxic substance in the first place?

Has anyone really thought this through?

So many people are already addicted to drugs such as prescription meds and alcohol and, unbeknownst to us, make our streets less safe driving cars, make our workplaces less safe when they operate machinery, and make our children less safe when they care for them in day cares and schools. Do we really need to throw gasoline onto the flames?

Regarding pot vs. cigarettes, Ruth Marcus said the following in a Washington Post editorial:

I'm not arguing that marijuana is riskier than other, already legal substances, namely alcohol and tobacco. Indeed, pot is less addictive; an occasional joint strikes me as no worse than an occasional drink. If you had a choice of which of the three substances to ban, tobacco would have to top the list. Unlike pot and alcohol, tobacco has no socially redeeming value; used properly, it is a killer.

While I agree with her that pot should not be legalized, her claim that cigarettes are the worst and should be banned is asinine at best. I loathe cigarettes but do not believe they should be outlawed any more than butter, salt, coffee, and large sugary drinks should be.

Cigarettes do not get you high or alter your state of mind. They do not affect your ability to think or reason. They do not affect your ability to drive a car safely or operate machinery. They do not affect your ability to hold a job or care for your family or attend school. They do not negatively affect one's motivation, tenacity, or ambition. They do not affect sex drive or ability to reproduce. Yes, they can kill you and degrade your health, but that is not immediate. It occurs after only years of use. I do not know one person who smoked a cigarette and died from it the next day (unless they were distracted lighting up and that caused a fatal car or machinery accident. But that can happen while drinking a cup of coffee, eating an apple, or taking your vitamins while operating a car or machinery.) Yes, it causes heart disease, emphysema, strokes, and cancer, among other illnesses, but these are diseases that take years to develop.

Like others, Marcus vilifies tobacco above all other inebriants. I'm not sure what "socially redeeming value" she is referring to that pot and booze have over cigarettes. All three can be done with friends and to relax. Or is she talking about the medical benefits of pot? Some claim weed lessens their nausea from chemo. But alcohol can take the edge off for high-strung people and lessen the risk of heart attack from stress; studies show red wine may keep one's cholesterol from climbing. And many swear that cigarette smoking keeps their weight down. Obviously, overuse of any is deleterious to one's health. But used in moderation, wouldn't she have to conclude they are all socially redeemable?

There will always be those individuals who smoke cigarettes or pot and defy the odds. Some people can smoke grass and still perform their jobs, be responsible citizens, father many healthy children, and not develop any health problems. Similarly, not everyone who smokes cigarettes will die from smoke-related illnesses. One family friend was a chain smoker since she was 16 and died of lung cancer in her mid-70s. But, irony of ironies, it was not the kind of lung cancer caused by smoking. The point is, smoking a cigarette, while addictive, does not impair your motor or mental functions -- at the time of inhaling -- the way Mary Jane can.

Meanwhile, we have no problem sending mixed messages -- and false ones at that -- to our children: smoking a cigarette is the most lethal and socially loathsome thing any human being can do and the people who smoke them are flawed addicts of the most horrible sort.

I hate cigarettes but I despise this bloated rhetoric even more -- rhetoric we spend millions on each year in schools and ad campaigns. Many of us have wonderful friends and family members who smoke cigarettes, yet our children are taught that they are social miscreants. On the other hand, smoking marijuana is so benign and non-addictive (it even has medicinal value!), that it's legal and okay to smoke.

Let's be honest, if not with ourselves, at least with our kids. Smoking anything has health risks and is usually addictive, especially to people who have addictive personalities. We shouldn't encourage anyone to smoke anything -- from cigars to cigarettes to weed to hash.

But smoking cigarettes is not a mind-altering event. Individuals can smoke cigarettes for their entire life expectancy and continue to function and be valuable members of society and their families. That is not so in most cases of people who start smoking pot at a young age and continue to do so for many years.

The main purpose of smoking pot is to get high, which, by definition, is to alter one's reality. Depending on the kind of pot smoked and the quantity, people can even hallucinate on it. THC -- the main ingredient in pot -- stays in the body for weeks even after the direct effects fade. Pot must be inhaled and held in one's lungs for as long as possible in order to get the most out of it -- this is not good for your lungs. Initially, cannabis revs up your libido but long-term use results in decreased sex drive and performance, including lowering one's sperm count. Pot kills brain cells (i.e, makes you dumber and makes you talk like you are a dunce). The longer you smoke pot and the younger you start, the slower will be your thought processes and reflexes, the less motivated you will be, the less reliable you will be at work, in school, and to your friends and family.

If we want to decriminalize and outright legalize it, then we should fight against its use with as much vim and vigor as we do with cigarettes and alcohol. We shouldn't glorify it or pretend it is benign.

Pot is deceptive. At first you can smoke it and function (unlike booze, where if you get nasty drunk, you can't walk, talk, or think or do much of anything). But the more you smoke, the more you want to smoke to stay high and avoid the downer, and thus the cycle begins. The more you smoke, the less capable you are of performing (at least reliably and consistently) at much of anything. The picture we all have in mind of stoner youths listening to music, smiling, heads bobbing up and down to what they think they hear, sitting on the couch, munching on Doritos in front of the TV, standing up friends and forgetting to go to work -- is not an just an exaggeration for laughs; it's reality.

How many methheads or cokeheads or heroin addicts started out as potheads? We all know it is a gateway drug but because so many can smoke it and leave it, we forget that for troubled kids or highly addictive personalities, it is the beginning of a long road to hell.

Kids today are confused. They are getting mixed messages from the adults they are supposed to look up to when it comes to commitment, responsibility, marriage, child-rearing, sex, drugs, alcohol, and even food. We are supposed to set limits as parents and society. Yet the messaging is that hedonism and consumerism are okay with respect to sex, drugs, and entertainment even though a significant percentage of crimes are committed under the influence, too many girls lose their virginity under the influence, and a great deal of unwanted and unprotected sexual intercourse takes place because of blurred signals between intoxicated (and unsupervised) boys and girls.

With grass usage already so rampant and not doing a hell of a lot to promote the social good, maybe we should spend more time and money on awareness, prevention, and rehab (like we do with alcohol and cigarettes) than on legalization. And if it does become one more vice we throw into the pot, we better be prepared to double down on such efforts.

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