A Cautionary Note to the Drive to Legalize Pot

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In response to some of the comments to my recent post on crime and drug data, as well as to a running theme on this blog, I want to share a thought-provoking article that I recently encountered.

I have long felt that the use of marijuana should not be a criminal offense.  However, a recent New Yorker article caused me to have second thoughts.  The author does not take a stand on whether pot should be legal or not.  He is questioning one of the basic premises behind the drive to legalize it: that it is safe.  He points out that we really don’t know how safe it is because relatively little research had been done in this field.

The point that stood out for me is that there is some evidence linking the heavy use of pot to mental illness, particularly schizophrenia.  Also, some researchers have shown links between the use of pot and increases in violence.

All of this research is preliminary and much more needs to be done before any definitive conclusions can be reached.  In any event, it is important to keep in mind that THC is a potent chemical and that the human brain chemistry is a delicate balance that can be affected, in good and bad ways, by the introductionof “foreign” substances.

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12 responses to “A Cautionary Note to the Drive to Legalize Pot

  1. A valid point. But this genie is out of the bottle. Criminalized pot is too much a major source of urban strife and disrespect for the rule of law, like Prohibition in its day. It’s too late to await “proper” studies. Besides, just how “safe” is alcohol, anyway?

    • Alcohol is incredibly unsafe and tobacco is probably worse. Burger King Whoppers are unhealthy as all get out but now they have the Impossible Whopper – right? “A traditional Whopper has 660 calories, 40 grams of fat (12 of which are saturated) and 28 grams of protein. The Impossible Whopper clocks in at 630 calories, 34 grams of fat (11 saturated) and 25 grams of protein, so it’s pretty similar from a macro nutritional standpoint.” (Source: USA Today).

      A McDonald’s Triple Thick Shake has 1,110 calories and 193 grams of carbs.

      As for me – I’ve never said pot was safe. I said that attempts to eliminate it from society by making it illegal have failed for at least the last 50 years. Better for the profits to go to legitimate tax-paying businesses than Mexican drug cartels. There are lots of unsafe things that are perfectly legal to own. Guns for example.

    • We know the health problems associated with alcohol and tobacco. And proponents of legalization on this blog may not have claimed it was safe, but national organizations lobbying for legalization argue that it is safe, primarily because no has ever died of an overdose. See: https://www.safeaccessnow.org/cannabis_safety

      People should be able to be informed of the risks. If they choose to indulge despite the risks, then it is on them.

      • That is a very fine and informative New Yorker article you brought to our attention. These paragraphs, among many jumped out a me:

        “The first of Berenson’s questions concerns what has long been the most worrisome point about cannabis: its association with mental illness. Many people with serious psychiatric illness smoke lots of pot. The marijuana lobby typically responds to this fact by saying that pot-smoking is a response to mental illness, not the cause of it—that people with psychiatric issues use marijuana to self-medicate. That is only partly true. In some cases, heavy cannabis use does seem to cause mental illness. As the National Academy panel declared, in one of its few unequivocal conclusions, “Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.”

        Berenson thinks that we are far too sanguine about this link. He wonders how large the risk is, and what might be behind it. In one of the most fascinating sections of “Tell Your Children,” he sits down with Erik Messamore, a psychiatrist who specializes in neuropharmacology and in the treatment of schizophrenia. Messamore reports that, following the recent rise in marijuana use in the U.S. (it has almost doubled in the past two decades, not necessarily as the result of legal reforms), he has begun to see a new kind of patient: older, and not from the marginalized communities that his patients usually come from. These are otherwise stable middle-class professionals. Berenson writes, “A surprising number of them seemed to have used only cannabis and no other drugs before their breaks. The disease they’d developed looked like schizophrenia, but it had developed later—and their prognosis seemed to be worse. Their delusions and paranoia hardly responded to antipsychotics.”

        It is shocking how little we know the pot habit, and shocking how the legislatures of so many states pass this raft of new legislation in the face of such ignorance of the potential consequences of rapidly expanding habit among so many citizens and how such harm might be avoided by more thoughtful and carefully tailored legislation and regulation.

        Instead our lawmakers treat these matters as primarily as a vote getting and money making opportunity for sponsors. It’s more evidence of our broken government and dysfunctional culture and political system.

  2. Actually, I do NOT think that pot use is “safe”. I just point out that we allow a lot of behaviors that are not “safe” without criminalizing them.

    Lets just take some easy ones like over the counter drugs, or cigarettes, alcohol or even a wide variety of homeopathic remedies and “foods”.

    It’s not so much a question as to why the govt is involved in these issues but why the penalties are so disparate and tend to be most harsh on folks on the lower economic strata?

    We’ve essentially demonized SOME kinds of drugs to justify horrific jail sentences – like years – for marjianna use while and virtually no enforcement of other types of drug use.

    here’s what those drug imprisonments look like:

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    ?itok=nuM5hPk8

  3. I agree that not everything that is dangerous should be illegal. It can be dangerous just traveling to work each day.

    Recognizing there are chemical differences between marijuana and tobacco, it seems both left and right are inconsistent with the treatment of the two. The right tends to support the continued sale of tobacco products but often is anti-legalization on Pot. And vice versa on the left. We should know more about the health effects of marijuana use and, to the extent, it is similar to those from using tobacco, some similar type of legal controls/regulation should be imposed. That might include using warnings, taxes and age restrictions. If there are significant differences, disparate regulation might be appropriate.

  4. The point missed so far? Whether for alcohol, tobacco, pot or guns (or whoppers and shakes!), try not to forget that the medical care and rehabilitation costs are paid by all of us. It would be easier to be libertarian if the consequences rested with the individual. But they don’t. Just finished listening to one discussion of Medicaid costs in a House Committee, the topic is on the JLARC agenda this afternoon, Senate Finance tomorrow and then a special subcommittee on health care issues. Four GA meetings in two days?

    • You make my point. People smoke tons of pot every year in Virginia without generating a cent in taxes. Whatever medical issues are caused by pot are being caused while it’s illegal. There just isn’t any compensating tax revenue to help address those issues.

      • Understood. You assume that legalization w/ taxation would reduce usage or not increase it? I don’t. My preference remains to de-criminalize simple possession, stop jailing or creating criminal records for personal use. Along with the discussions of Medicaid were discussions of the Lottery and ABC Authority. Just loving how VA funds government and depends on the steady growth of destructive behaviors! 🙂

        • “You assume that legalization w/ taxation would reduce usage or not increase it?”

          No. Never said that or anything close. Usage will go up if legalized. And taxes on pot will go from nothing to billions. The incremental increase in usage will be more than covered by the extreme increase in taxes.

  5. “He points out that we really don’t know how safe it is because relatively little research had been done in this field.”

    In other words, not necessarily harmful unlike alcohol, tobacco, fatty foods, etc which are known to be harmful.

  6. Good points – and why don’t the taxes we collect on alcohol and cigarettes go to fund MedicAid? We could do that also with Pot.. tax it – put it in a fund to pay for health impacts – as well as programs to treat addiction, etc?

    The basic problem with pot is generational. The older folks are “ok” with cigarettes and alcohol – even prescription drugs but not okay with things the government has made “illegal” even though some of those same people decry the folks who are ground up in the criminal justice system so they want some sort of bifurcation …. and imagine how that kind of solution would “work” for cigarettes and alchohol.

    Where is the consistent logic ?

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