August 12, 2020
Marijuana Critics Just Don't Get Itby Ballard Quass
It's the criminalization, stupid!
I've started to run across online articles that fret over the excessive use of marijuana by young people. (See, for instance, "America's Invisible Pot Addicts" by Annie Lowrey in TheAtlantic.com.*)
Fair enough. The argument can be made that some young people overuse marijuana - although even this concern is often based on unconscious assumptions about what constitutes the good life. The average capitalist American is constantly on the go, and so they're naturally shocked by a lifestyle that does not involve intense ambition and a constant desire to amass more material goods than one's neighbors.
Nevertheless, fair play. The overuse of marijuana is something that can be rationally discussed in a country that values rational analysis of social problems.
The problem is that as I read these articles, I can just hear the knee-jerk mental process of the average western reader saying, "Oh, dear: If this is so, we really must criminalize marijuana after all!"
And that is the whole problem of the drug war: it gives us this knee-jerk reaction to all so-called "drug problems": that is, criminalization.
No one thought about psychoactive substances like this in the past. The knee-jerk reaction of yore following a so-called "drug death" was to denounce the way that the substance in question was used - that is, to denounce a lack of educated and informed use -- not to denounce the substance itself as somehow "bad" in and of itself without regard for the circumstances in which it was employed. That is a blatantly anti-scientific way of thinking about the world, to denounce a substance rather than the circumstances of its use. And so when it comes to the modern boogieman of "drugs," western thinking today is far more superstitious than it was in the past. It is superstitious because it attributes to amoral substances (aka "drugs") the goodness and badness that actually resides only in the way in which such substances are used.
Take the drug MDMA. That drug basically brought about "peace, love and understanding" on British dance floors during the 1980s, during the rave scene, until it was criminalized after one - count 'em - ONE well-publicized death in 1995. One!
That response was about as counterproductive and unscientific as can be, especially from a country that purports to value a rational approach to problem solving. First, it ignored the glaring fact that the death in question was caused by a lack of honest information and research about drugs: not by drugs themselves. (Had Leah Betts been made aware of the proper hydration requirements for using E in a high-stress environment, she would be alive today.) Second, by banning Ecstasy, the drug warrior ushered in a wave of crack and fentanyl use that quickly turned the British rave venues into shooting galleries that required the intervention of ex-special soldier forces to keep the peace.
Result: the knee-jerk mindset of the drug warrior ushered in far more death and violence than ever, all in response to a self-created problem involving one of the safest drugs in the world.
This highlights the unspoken truth about the drug war: it causes all of the problems that it claims to fix. It caused the death of Leah Betts by E, since it suppressed research of such substances and criminalized them, making them available only from doubtful sources. It brought about the end of a peaceful dance scene, from which British society (and even the world) could have learned much, and ushered in the violence and death that the drug warrior claims to be fighting.
The drug war is even responsible for the overuse of marijuana, to the extent that we agree this is a real problem. The drug war criminalizes thousands of plants that can help bring about a sense of peace of mind and transcendence, including cocaine, opium, and hundreds of psychedelic plants that have been shown to conduce to personal insight and self-understanding when used advisedly (i.e., by educated people in a free country). Why are we surprised when this lopsided legalization of one solitary psychoactive plant results in excessive use of that one particular plant? (especially in a world where superstitious drug warriors keep shouting "drugs, drugs, drugs" at the top of their hypocritical lungs, thus bringing the use of psychoactive substances front-and-center in the minds of young people who might have otherwise ignored the topic entirely).
If the world were to criminalize all but one sports car, car lovers would flock to car dealerships in order to buy that one particular model of sports car. If we as a society find this problematic, the answer is to open the car market to all models, not to fret over the problems caused by this one model that we have grudgingly allowed out on the sales floor.
So, let's be honest, not just about marijuana, but about all drugs. Let's be honest enough to say that a drug like "E" can help bring about peace and harmony, even if it is politically incorrect to say so (even if the British government prefers gun violence to such honesty). Let's be honest enough to say that cocaine and opium can be used responsibly if education is available for that purpose. (Sigmund Freud and Benjamin Franklin could have told us as much). Let's be honest enough to say that properly guided psychedelic use can help us fight addiction and get a new and better outlook on life. (The anecdotal evidence of this fact dates back to prehistory and the Vedic religion.)
Until the drug warrior is open to this kind of real-world honesty, I'm going to be suspicious of their criticism of marijuana, thinking to myself, "Great, now they're out to take away the one bit of mental freedom that they've grudgingly provided me, when the real question is: why are they limiting my choice of freedom to this one single solitary substance in the first place? If that substance is problematic, give me some alternatives: don't yield to the drug warrior's knee-jerk temptation to criminalize the market entirely."
POSTSCRIPT: Check out the irony of the title of Annie Lowrey's piece mentioned above: "America's Invisible Pot Addicts": this from a reporter whose articles ignore the great addiction of our time: the fact that 1 in 4 American women are addicted to Big Pharma meds (source: Julie Holland). Given this huge blind spot on Annie's part, the reader can't help but assume that her article on pot addicts has been written to further some political or social ideology about drugs rather than to spread the unvarnished truth about what's actually happening viz. addiction in the real world.