It Ain’t Easy Being Green

[Disclaimer: This article is in no way the promotion of the use of marijuana. I (and this website) would never suggest that one use a mind-altering substance. Nor is it a celebration of the drug. This article is strictly about the hypocrisy that is society’s prohibition of marijuana. If you are looking for a “pro-pot” piece, best to look elsewhere. After reading this of course. Also, I am not promoting the legalization of all drugs. Crack, heroin and methamphetamine are truly harmful and HIGHLY addictive. Perhaps you might think that makes me a hypocrite – but so be it.]

It’s hard to deny that the world (or at least the U.S.) is getting greener by the day. After almost two decade of states approving of the legality of marijuana for a variety of medical reasons, Colorado and Washington have opened the door to the plant’s acceptance as something more akin to alcohol than the “drugs” it has been lumped in with since the 1920s.

Now, it’s entirely possible that you disagree, your feet firmly planted in the camp that thinks “it’s bad for you and nobody should do it,” and that’s fine. More than likely you were taught about the dangers of drugs in school by a D.A.R.E. officer, with special emphasis on marijuana as a “gateway” drug that upon using it would transform you into a junkie passed out in the gutter with dirty, shared, needles dangling out of your arms; or else you would turn to a life of crime, robbing old ladies for crack rocks or performing favors for meth, all while scratching at the bugs on your skin that aren’t even there.

The problem is, marijuana doesn’t lead to that. I guess one can make a case for “this happened first, and then this happened after that” type of causality, but is that really accurate? One can make the case for almost anything that way – I’d bet a less than sensible amount of money that these people who illustrate this “gateway” phenomenon probably drank alcohol first. Blaming mary jane ignores the underlying causes for addiction that leads people to abuse marijuana and/or make the jump to other harder drugs.

A great deal of time, the most vocal opponents are those who have never even tried it. Which is OK I suppose, everyone is entitled to their opinion. I don’t have to know someone who had been raped or be a rapist to be able to say that it’s wrong, but in this case not having that experience has led to opinions that are glaringly misinformed and sometimes laughable. I always have a good laugh (a giggle you might say) when a person who has never been stoned assumes that using Marijuana causes one to see paisley or flowers and that things are morphing into mythological creatures before their eyes – that they are basically tripping on acid. News flash: Marijuana isn’t hallucinating and using it doesn’t render the world into “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, although I am sure it can make it a little more groovy.

(Actually, that isn’t entirely true. It is possible to get pretty messed up on the old wacky tobacky – especially if it’s in edible form which can get pretty concentrated and strong. So one should know what they are putting into their body and proceed slowly. But still, the experience is nowhere near as psychedelic as you might think.)

That “I’m freaking out maaaaan” stereotype is one that gets remembered, spurred in in part by two other types of detractors altogether: the person who tried and had a bad experience and the person who smoked a lot in the past but has since swore it off. While wholly unique, the two share in common the fallacy of applying anecdotal evidence as a way of reasoning that weed is bad.

Personal experiences are one of the primary ways of learning so it isn’t surprising or out of the norm that one would do this, but the danger lies in applying subjectivity so broadly. This way of thinking is what leads a woman to clutch her purse more tightly when a person of color approaches or assuming the worst when seeing a possibly Arab looking person in an airport.

It would also lead to the prohibition of pretty much everything. The fact that excess exists, even if you saw it or experienced it yourself, isn’t a logically sound argument to make something illegal because it ignores the concepts of personal responsibility or moderation. Even forty year olds sometimes pass out in the bathroom after having too much to drink, and yet the bars stay open and happy hour happens every weekday.

Anyone who has ever lived has seen a drunk person who heeded not the words “enjoy responsibly,” slurring and repeating themselves, while sometimes physically unable to coordinate themselves enough to do simple things like use a bus card or stand without having to purposefully steady themselves. Sometimes these people even get behind the wheel of a car and plow through pedestrians on a closed road because they were worried about being pulled over and arrested for their misinformed decisions. Plus there are scores of people who have battled, are battling or have succumbed to their addiction to “The Creature.” Surely something must be done to make sure that these brain damaged zombies can’t access the substance that renders them so intoxicated that they might black or “brown” out…their night or day of revelry at least partially blank as they soldiered on autopilot.

Have you ever tried to quit smoking? Marijuana’s legal cousin that is responsible for 480,000 deaths every year is also one of the most addictive substances that exists. While advocacy groups have done a good job in the recent past of educating people (especially young people) about the dangers the habit poses to one’s health and how gripping the addiction can be, something so destructive with no positive uses is still very legal. If one decides that they want to chew or smoke tobacco, they can do that without fearing that they will be harassed as arrested. No one pulled over for a minor infraction like having a taillight out has had K9 officers called to the scene to determine if there is tobacco in their glove box. Nor do they need to worry about losing any federal aid including financial aid for college because of a pack of smokes.

Even things that are typically harmless can be a real problem for those unlucky folks who are prone to addiction. TV, video games, consensual sex or masturbation, the Internet, or in some cases traditionally positive concepts like religion, exercise, and an incredibly hard work ethic can consume a person’s life in a very negative manner. The problem is addiction and its underlying causes, not the ways it is manifested.

That’s the structural problem with this national conversation surrounding what to do with marijuana: it isn’t being talked about in a contextual manner. Opponents have typically just harped on about the dangers of the drug without ever addressing the counter argument that other substances are virtually the same in terms of addiction (even if weed isn’t physically addictive), or the ability to be abused yet are treated as somehow “safer” and “acceptable?” No argument against pot can logically stand up against to this test. Even in light of the recent media “smoking gun” pieces concerning the neuroscience study that discussed the effects of marijuana on the brain development of young people doesn’t prove anything that wasn’t already known: Developing brains shouldn’t use drugs and alcohol. That’s why we try to educate children and teenagers in an effort to hopefully discourage the heavy use of substances and have laws that keep minors from legally procuring these potentially harmful substances.

Even the other study that showed the link between marijuana use and cardiac problems that is also being touted by opponents of loosened laws or an end to prohibition isn’t exactly the smoking (ha!) gun they were looking for. Once one gets past the headline they see that the study focuses on marijuana as a factor but with no control group and without isolating for any other factors. Were they smoking it, something that obviously has negative effects on one’s heart regardless of the substance? Were they also smokers of tobacco? Did they drink – something else linked to heart problems? What were their lifestyle like, diet and exercise (or lack thereof) are also major factors in one’s overall health – especially when discussing cardiovascular health? The study didn’t take ANY of this into account and simply looked at a collection of data that the researchers themselves admit merely suggest a link and a need for more research. The more focused research that will follow might show a more solid correlation, but even with additional “proof” this would be like pushing for harsher alcohol laws because heavy use has been linked to many health problems. We already know that heavy use of these substances is bad, so none of this is new – especially when the study was specifically dealing with smoking. The collective response should have been more “duhhhh” than “aha!”and yet it has been touted as evidence that any steps towards a more sensible policy is misguided.

(A similar study from 2000 showed smoking marijuana increased heart attack risk within the first hour of smoking when compared to non-smokers but again researchers aren’t sure if it is “smoking” part that is causing this risk. They also admit that the increased risk was “little higher than the risk for sexual intercourse, about the same as that for other types of strenuous exercise.” Let’s make those illegal too?)

The culture of excess and pleasure that is glorified in society seems to be what opponents are actually fighting when arguing the case for prohibition. Sadly a culture obsessed with pleasures of a material world permeates all and sends some mixed messages. But that isn’t the fault of pot, it’s that of rappers and hippies alike. The freedom of the sixties turned into the widespread celebration of hedonism and sadly that is the legacy of that era that has become woven into the fabric of our culture at large. The zeitgeist of “Freedom” was stripped down to something cheaper and steeped in narcissism. Today’s Ke$ha-worshipping party girls on that Molly Ringwold are from the lineage of those who turned on and tuned out, as well as the Caligulas of the seventies and eighties, whose wild partying provided the blueprints for the current crop of revelers.

Hedonism isn’t necessarily a bad thing and has been part of the human experience for a long time. PersonalIy, I do like a good ripper from time to time, though that has been losing its appeal as the years keep ticking. Excessive hedonism however, is problematic. It also is usually a precursor to addiction – the gateway lifestyle if you will. Still opponents and those who turn up their noses at pot users and legalization activists are OK with this. They decry the corrupted youth with their swagging YOLO-ing, yet talk fondly of drunken and/or stoned nights and the fire that is youth. “Do as I say not as I do” is usually a bad way to dissuade young people not to do something – hypocrisy can be taken as an unspoken gesture similar to a wink and a nod – with very little honest education about the actual dangers of substance use and abuse. Saying “no” just adds an allure that only education can strip away. It is very similar to “abstinence-only” sex education that many communities employ instead of actual education, which lead to higher teen pregnancy rates in those areas.

Prohibition rarely works, as evidenced by our nation’s own foray into that approach with both alcohol and everything else. People who want to do it will find a way, especially teenagers. Tell them you will start giving them breathalyzers at the prom and they will start drinking it through their anuses. Kids are like prisoners in that they have a lot of time to sit around and figure out ways around the boundaries that society has placed in front of them, and they are stuck in a place that doubles as a network for distributing the tried and true methods of deception as well as the substances they are looking for. This was true even before social networks and peer to peer communications like texting and it is true now. If it is kids we are trying to protect then we need to be honest with them. We also shouldn’t infringe on the freedom of adults to engage in misguided attempts to protect the young – unless you want the movies of Martin Scorsese or television programs like Game of Thrones sanitized of all the things that make them rated for mature audiences only. Restrict access the best you can and throw the proverbial book at those who are providing materials deemed to be off limits whether it be the “cool” parents or siblings (something that could be done to solve the “Kids playing violent video games that are rated M for Mature” problem as well) or all the “Hey Buddys” of the world. Don’t punish those who are old enough to make the choice though, a denial of freedom that at least borders on irony when considering the political affiliations and ideologies of some of the loudest proponents of marijuana’s continued prohibition and criminalization.

Where does this leave us?

Since California first legalized marijuana for medicinal uses leading other states to follow suit, there has been a march towards progress and I look forward to this bright future where we treat things consistently. The Deborah Downer in me, however, knows it is still far off. The only green that matters is money and it dictates what is allowed and what isn’t. The blossoming pot industries of the west and other advocacy groups striving to change policies at the state-level nationwide don’t have the pull and influence of other vice-industries like alcohol or tobacco. When much of the money made even since dispensaries first opened their doors has been illegal, lobbying efforts will always pale in comparison to groups that represent the manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of both alcohol and tobacco. Tobacco – which SHOULD be controlled more due to its highly addictive nature as well as its penchant for destroying your overall health – is losing its steam as a decade and a half of education and advertising regulations have shrunk their numbers. Paradoxically, taxes on cigarettes (and gambling) have helped to pay for a number of social and education programs, some aimed at preventing and treating abuse of those things. This proves that more freedom can work and can actually help fund the education that will help people make responsible choices. Why shouldn’t marijuana be given a similar treatment?

The answer for now at least is that society’s acceptable drugs – alcohol, tobacco, prescription medication, “energy” anything, and diet pills sold by celebrities to kids on MTV – fuel the economy not only in terms of sales, but also in advertising dollars. Looking at Super Bowl advertisements, anyone can see how big and influential these industries are and how devastating it would be if they stopped promoting their sometimes dangerous and sometimes addicting products in every facet of society. The same goes for gambling and tobacco products, ad campaigns telling us that a portion of every lottery ticket goes to help kids almost reminding customers that should they give up their vice then children would suffer. If we stop taking our prescription meds, then the companies won’t be able to research the drugs that we want them to and future generations won’t have the breakthroughs in boner pills and will all die from cancer – that they got from processed food cooked in plastic and cigarettes that we need to buy or else. If the alcohol companies and sales drop, how will people get laid?

We can only address and ultimately fix society’s most problematic phenomena by asking questions  and being truthful  with ourselves. We can start by asking:

“Am I being a hypocrite?”

And

“Won’t someone please think of children?”

Author: Josh Richer

Josh lives in NYC (OK OK! Staten Island) and would love it if you employed him. Send Josh an email