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Op-Ed: New York debates legalizing cannabis, with reservations

The New York Times has an op-ed by Kenneth L. Davis and Mary Jeanne Kreek called Marijuana Damages Young Brains, outlining a range of issues. While I totally disagree with just about all of the op-ed, they have succinctly, and mercifully briefly, outlined a lot of issues. (Please do read this article, because you probably won’t see as neat and clear a definition of the issues anywhere else. I may disagree, but I do respect the clarity and intent of their op-ed)
The op-ed also highlights many of the objections to legalization very effectively. Primary reasons for objection include a lot of medical research. Specifically, those reasons include many negative findings related to adolescents, which the American Academy of Pediatrics considers harmful to developing brains.
I have to say, my initial reaction to this op-ed was a bit less than glowing endorsement. This is my unpublished comment to the NYT:
“The “killer weed” theory again, eh? This is a path to proven failure. The War on Drugs failed miserably in the 1970s, and you’re still using the logic that started that disaster? Meanwhile, you’re still happily bankrolling organized crime, healthy as that is.
Illegal weed is readily available around the world. Tell younger people something is “dangerous”, and you make it compulsory. Tell them that adults disapprove of it, ditto. You’re in direct conflict with the growing up and becoming independent decision-makers cycle, to start with. No easy wins there.
Cognitive development? Cognition is now a luxury for assessing duly elected pathological liars, hellish workplaces, institutionalized sycophancy as a way of life, ongoing gun massacres and expensive fake consumer bliss, isn’t it? That’s a message from the dead about healthier lifestyles.
Where a message comes from has a lot to do with how it’s received. This generation is screwed, and it knows it. Don’t preach to those trying to live in a war zone.
A no choices/ do what we say motif, for young adults? Why the hell would anyone listen to this? Say “naughty” and expect the inevitable.
The message is also obviously coming from people who don’t use. Not the best mentor position for managing problems. Experienced users will tell you what’s wrong. Spectators and self-righteous cocoon dwellers will tell you that what’s wrong is you. Which message is likely to be acted upon? Fewer sermons, please.”

If you’re guessing there was a reason for that very hostile instant response, there was, and it’s complex:
A history of failed negativity
There’s another issue here, however. Cannabis is one of the “most reported” drugs in history, for various reasons, some rational, some irrational. Much of that reporting was originally agenda-based or looked like it was agenda-based. In the postwar years, reporting was always negative, always conservative, and ineffectual in stopping its use.
The incredibly hostile campaign against cannabis was a total failure. Reports, even if factual, had no effect at all. The totally negative message simply didn’t deliver, on any level. (This was in the 50s even before the hippie era, when cannabis became the middle-class drug of choice.)
People simply didn’t trust the message and ignored it. Some of the messages were also truly bizarre, like focusing on sexual promiscuity caused by cannabis. You can see the levels of intelligence at work, trying to make sex into a negative. The net effect was to make cannabis look like fun and a way of annoying the insufferable moralists.
When the hippies came along, clearly having a good time, it was the final nail in the negative coffin. The hippies didn’t care at all, and most of the other Boomers mainly smoked anyway.
To clarify an issue before discussing the current reports:
Just about any possible reason for not using cannabis was included in these negative campaigns. Birth defects, brain damage, you name it, these were the reasons for not using cannabis.
An entire generation, seeing no sign of birth defects in their own kids, brain damage in themselves or anyone else, or any proof of the rest of the cannabis mythos, wasn’t too impressed. The message effectively immunized people against itself.
One of the reasons for my disagreement with the NYT op-ed is based on the fact that I’ve seen so many variants on these reports for the last 50 years. The old reports, based on old science, cried wolf and they were called on it. These reports, even if 100% accurate, are likely to go the same way.
There are also some social environment issues:
• A society which is stressed to the point of absurdity needs anything which reduces stress. (Imagine banning good painkillers which actually work. Much the same thing.)
• There is still a hostile agenda to any type of recreational drug use. This very consistent, multigenerational agenda is based on a very facile mindset which dismisses any thought of anyone having fun of any kind.
• Morality, supported by facts or not, always amps up negatives. The last thing anyone needs is a distorted view of such a major initiative, even if you mean well.
Also in fairness to the NYT op-ed:
• The current generation of cannabis really is so much stronger in THC than hippie-era cannabis. That means dosage definitely is a factor.
• There have been many reports of ODs and that wasn’t the case with the lower THC cannabis. That problem needs to be considered.
• Any related psychoactive outcomes could well be due to simply overdoing it, but there may also be individuals who are prone to adverse outcomes.
Medical research and cannabis
Which brings us to the issue of medical research and effects as reported:

• The absolute deluge of favourable medical reports regarding medicinal cannabis can’t be ignored, either.
• The tales of people forced to get cannabis from illegal sources for their various conditions tell a grim story regarding sourcing a proven beneficial treatment option.
• Young kids may well have developmental issues, but can it be said that cannabis is the sole cause? Even if it is, why doesn’t it affect other kids? Can THC be the only issue, in such a complex drug? Probably not. (Not as rhetorical as it might seem; these pediatric developmental issues are at global plague levels for other reasons, too. Positively pinning down causes and excluding things which don’t cause them is important.)
• The cannabis plant chemistry is incredibly complex. Expressing doubts about possible risks is the best practice response to any medical doubts, sure. That said, it may be that the causes of negative outcomes relate to factors which haven’t yet been defined, let alone researched. This is absolutely critical because the research specifically refers to the main user groups, adolescents and young adults. What would explain people not having these issues? Can’t be that simple.
The les$$ altrui$tic iSSue$
Recreational drugs are basically immovable objects in social culture. People like them, they use them and that’s that. Cannabis is now big business. There are billions in play, and NYC isn’t exactly famous for rejecting chances for itself to make big money.
Kicking the eternal cannabis black market in the expensive teeth isn’t likely to deter the legislators, either. This is revenue, it’s anti-crime, and it’s good business are the working dynamics.
With all due respect to the medical and other advocacy issues, when, not if, New York legalizes cannabis:
• Dollars don’t stop moving just because someone might get hurt.
• Medical issues are much better left to doctors, not politicians.
• Proper care and cures for negative outcomes have to be the major priorities.
Solve the problems, and the perception of the medical issues will be a lot more positive.

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Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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