What Principles Govern Virginia’s Approach to Tobacco, Vaping, Marijuana?

What’s she smoking? Is it anybody’s business? In an era in which health care costs are socialized, it’s everybody’s business.

Well, at least General Assembly Republicans are consistent. In the words of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the House of Delegates “snuffed out” a number of marijuana bills this week, including a proposal backed by Gov. Ralph Northam to decriminalize pot. Meanwhile, they propose tightening the vice on vaping products and raising the legal age for purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21.

Republicans, it appears, are hostile to marijuana, tobacco, and indeed the inhalation of any foreign substance into the lungs. Tobacco, we know, can cause cancer. Vaping amounts to a nicotine delivery system. Nicotine is addictive, but it’s less clear that it represents a national health emergency. Indeed, my 20-year-old son, a vaper, argues that vaping substitutes for smoking tobacco, and that nicotine poses less threat to human health than the toxic brew resulting from combusted tobacco leaf.

And marijuana? Defenders of the weed say not only is it not dangerous, but it’s a cure for everything from epilepsy to Tourette’s syndrome. While Republicans have held back the tide of decriminalization — the gateway to full legalization here in Virginia — it seems as though it’s just a matter of time before Virginia joins the stampede to legalize the leaf.

Marijuana has a psychoactive ingredient, THC. The health effects of this substance are not well understood. Had it been packaged by Pfizer, Merck or Eli Lilly as a medication for pain, A.L.S., Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, dementia, glaucoma, or any of the other maladies for which it is said to have benefits, THC would have been subject to exhaustive Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clinical trials and protocols. There have been no such trials. The state of medical knowledge regarding THC is akin to that of herbal medicine and vitamin supplements: guided by anecdote, supposition and wishful thinking, not systematic science.

Writes Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker:

Figuring out the “dose-response relationship” of a new compound is something a pharmaceutical company does from the start of trials in human subjects, as it prepares a new drug application for the F.D.A. Too little of a powerful drug means that it won’t work. Too much means that it might do more harm than good. The amount of active ingredient in a pill and the metabolic path that the ingredient takes after it enters your body—these are things that drugmakers will have painstakingly mapped out before the product comes on the market, with a tractor-trailer full of supporting documentation.

With marijuana, apparently, we’re still waiting for this information. It’s hard to study a substance that until very recently has been almost universally illegal. And the few studies we do have were done mostly in the nineteen-eighties and nineties, when cannabis was not nearly as potent as it is now. Because of recent developments in plant breeding and growing techniques, the typical concentration of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, has gone from the low single digits to more than twenty per cent—from a swig of near-beer to a tequila shot.

Are users smoking less, to compensate for the drug’s new potency? Or simply getting more stoned, more quickly? Is high-potency cannabis more of a problem for younger users or for older ones? For some drugs, the dose-response curve is linear: twice the dose creates twice the effect. For other drugs, it’s nonlinear: twice the dose can increase the effect tenfold, or hardly at all. Which is true for cannabis? It also matters, of course, how cannabis is consumed. It can be smoked, vaped, eaten, or applied to the skin. How are absorption patterns affected?

Clinical trials also would identify unwanted side-effects of THC such as schizophrenia and other psychoses. Marijuana may well have side effects that warrant FDA rejection were it proposed as a prescription drug.

The FDA regulates cigarettes and e-cigarettes. Shouldn’t it also be studying and regulating marijuana? As for the regulation of tobacco, nicotine and THC here in Virginia, shouldn’t legislators apply a consistent set of criteria? I have yet to see anyone articulate a set of principles for how access to these harmful/potentially harmful substances should be restricted and controlled. Virginians’ approach seems to be governed by evolving cultural prejudice.

There are currently no comments highlighted.

14 responses to “What Principles Govern Virginia’s Approach to Tobacco, Vaping, Marijuana?

  1. “As for the regulation of tobacco, nicotine and THC here in Virginia, shouldn’t legislators apply a consistent set of criteria?”

    Yes, tobacco should be classified as a Class 1 narcotic and possession of tobacco should be made a criminal offense. Vapers should be arrested, handcuffed, prosecuted, convicted and sent to jail. Altria’s executives should be subject to RICO prosecution at the state and federal levels. Politicians found to be taking money from Altria should also be prosecuted and incarcerated. That would represent consistent treatment of THC and tobacco.

    THC may have harmful side effects. Tobacco definitely has harmful (fatal) side effects. THC may may have merits as a medicine. But nobody, and I mean nobody, is deluded enough to claim medical benefits from tobacco.

    Yet tobacco is perfectly legal while marijuana is not. In fact, your beloved Republicans in the General Assembly have enacted the second lowest tobacco tax in the country and capped the tax that Virginia counties can charge for tobacco products. They clearly want to keep tobacco in Virginia cheap and plentiful while they fall to their knees to kiss the ass of Altria. And tobacco isn’t a drug that might be harmful. Tobacco is a drug that, when used as intended, has been proven to greatly increase the chances of horrible illness and death.

    Jim, your commentary is emblematic of the elite Richmond culture of corporate death and destruction. From Dominion’s love affair with coal to Altria’s distribution of death to Omega Protein’s rape of the menhaden the Richmond elite are only too quick to defend the filthy status quo of Virginia’s disgusting corporations.

    Finally, you are a LINO – Libertarian In Name Only. While a significant majority of Virginians favor legalization of marijuana and an overwhelming majority favor decriminalization, you and your elitist pals in Richmond know better. Where have your supposed libertarian inclinations gone? What happened to personal freedom so long as that freedom doesn’t negatively impact others?

    The Republicans can act like asshats once again this year. By this time next year they will be the minority party. I’ll bet you a dozen bourbon and branch waters along with a carton of Marlboros on that. Ten years from now the Republican Party in Virginia will be all but extinct. It can’t happen fast enough for me.

    • Don, You’re jumping to a whole lot of conclusions. You’re assuming that I oppose decriminalization of marijuana. The fact is, I haven’t made up my mind. I have yet to see a coherent set of principles that reconciles our approach to tobacco, vaping, marijuana… and, I might add, alcohol and other drugs. The way I see things, legislation is based on raw cultural prejudice.

      I led off this post by taking note of Republican positions on the issues to emphasize that they have no coherent principles for balancing freedom of choice with public health and safety. I haven’t heard any coherent principles from the liberal side of the aisle either. Many liberals, who would happily spend an extra $4 billion to dispose of coal ash so as to obviate a health threat that’s barely measurable, are all too happy to decriminalize or even legalize marijuana without the slightest idea of what negative health impacts might ensue. No consistency there either.

      Calling me a LINO or calling Republicans “asshats” does nothing to articulate a coherent set of principles that can be applied consistently. That’s argument by insult, not argument by logic. You can do a lot better.

      • Here’s a consistent construct – democracy. When a majority of Virginians favor legalization and a super-majority of Virginians favor decriminalization it should be incumbent upon the officials elected by those Virginians to respect the desires of the citizens who elected them. Republicans are thwarting the will of the people by using their gerrymandered razor thin majority to kill marijuana reform bills in committee. Despite the overwhelming evidence that they are acting in contradiction to the wishes of a majority of Virginians they will not allow a full vote of the General Assembly on the matter. I’d say “asshats” is a relatively benign term for such anti-democratic politicians.

        In my opinion, logic would require you to either support decriminalization / legalization of marijuana or support criminalization of tobacco. Everybody knows that regular tobacco use often leads to grave illness and death. Your picture on the article shows a woman vaping and asks about the socialization of costs of smoking. Fair enough. Why aren’t you calling for tobacco to be illegal? Unlike THC, we know tobacco kills people. Unlike THC, we know tobacco drives up health care costs. You laude Republicans for increasing the age to buy vape products from 18 to 21. Why aren’t you insisting that the known carcinogen called tobacco be illegal? There’s nothing more to study with regard to tobacco. It’s deadly. It drives up public health care costs. Why aren’t you insisting that tobacco be illegal? That would show some consistency. At least, why aren’t you insisting that the taxes on tobacco products be raised to the point that they pay for the societal costs of the underlying cancer sticks? I’d guess that would be several dollars a pack but so what … user pays, right?

        The stodgy Richmond elite love Altria. The fact that the company’s products kill millions of people every year doesn’t seem to matter. The fact that the use of its products drives up public health care costs doesn’t matter. It’s a Richmond landmark and to hell with the costs and personal devastation that company visits on its customers.

        You claim that more study needs to be performed on THC. Why? There has been endless study on the effects of tobacco and it’s as legal as bottled water in Virginia. In fact, Virginia refuses to tax the death sticks at anything like the national average. Where is your moral outrage over that? If studies of THC found it to be half as harmful as tobacco would you recommend that it remain illegal? And you’d still think that tobacco should remain legal? Where’s the consistency there?

        As for your insistence on more studies … there have been countless studies on the long term impact of marijuana use. Try an internet search of “effects of marijuana” to provide enough material to keep you reading until July. The summary of the reports I have read is that marijuana use has negative side effects (so does excessive consumption of sugar) but those side effects are somewhat less harmful than cigarette smoking.

  2. Me, I see that and wonder if they really even want the votes from anybody under the age of 40….stunning. The hills they pick to fight and die on…

    Looked ’em up. The four or five pot bills went down on mostly 5-3 party line votes in a House subcommittee.

  3. 5 Republican jack-wagons in a sub-committe prevent the full House from voting? These five know the sentiment of Virginians on these matters. They don’t care. These five can’t even be trusted to allow their 95 colleagues in the House to vote. They don’t care. They are emblematic of the Virginia aristocracy that has paid only lip service to democracy since Jefferson, Washington, Madison, et al left Virginia politics for national offices.

  4. re: LINO and “I’ve yet to make up my mind”

    Oh Contraire !!!

    On these pages , you have questioned whether or not people who smoke or over eat or for that matter, have autism should be subsidized by others, no?

    What I find a disconnect is the extreme and arbitrary criminal justice approach to various drugs – as DJ points out.

    Crack cocaine – off to the hooscow with you.. POT – ditto – nicotine or Jim Beam ? why that’s American as apple pie… go on now…..

    Never saw anything approaching that for POT!!!

    What right does the govt have telling you what is good or bad for you – to the point where they’ll throw you in prison if you defy them?

    An argument can be made in terms of things that harm us and others have to pick up the tab and for that reason – I support hefty taxes on any/all products that have been shown to cause harmful health and financial costs to taxpayers.

    The funny thing now-days is that we’re all “concerned” about opioids and want to “help” folks but POT.. nope .. police fodder you still are…

    So, yeah.. it’s good to ask about “principles”… when there is a smell of hypocrisy wafting through the air….

    • No kidding. Jim wants to study the matter further in order to see if pot is dangerous. Well, it’s been studied for decades and there are dangers. Fewer dangers, in my opinion, than from tobacco, alcohol or excessive sugar intake but there are dangers. But let’s say, for the point of argument, that pot is found to be exactly as dangerous as tobacco. What then? Keep it illegal? But keep tobacco legal? How would that display any of the principled thinking Jim desires? Jim asks, “As for the regulation of tobacco, nicotine and THC here in Virginia, shouldn’t legislators apply a consistent set of criteria?” Yes, they should. Which makes it hard to understand how five fossils in sub-committee decided that pot is so dangerous that we need to make possession of it a crime while tobacco is freely and openly sold. Either be a libertarian, legalize the stuff and hold people accountable for their own health outcomes or be a big government, nanny stater and make tobacco and pot illegal.

  5. Pingback: What Principles Govern Virginia’s Approach to Tobacco, Vaping, Marijuana? – Bacon’s Rebellion – Vaping News

  6. Inconsistency is not limited to the VA GOP. Last April, my wife and I were in San Francisco. We went through Haight Ashbury and much of Golden Gate Park on 420 Day (4/20/18). This was the first 420 Day since California legalized marijuana. Needless to say, there was likely enough smoke and haze in the air to match their brush fires that occurred later. Outside the irritation to my breathing from the massive amounts of burnt cannabis in the air, I don’t care about people smoking pot.

    In some of the store fronts and other places were campaign posters urging residents of the City by the Bay to vote for a ballot proposition that would ban any outdoors tobacco smoking or vaping. So I guess it’s just more politics.

    • I was at Haight Ashbury on New Year’s Day, 2018 – the day that California’s legalization of pot took place. Nobody was legally selling anything on 1/1/18 as far as I could tell. A guy came up to one of my twentysomething sons and offered to sell him some pot. All my son could say was, “I guess you’re going to have to find a new way to make a living.”

      Even in places where pot is legal, smoking reefer outside (in public places) should be a no-no … just like drinking in public.

  7. I don’t know about banning outdoor smoking – that seems pretty restrictive to me though I believe outdoor seating in restaurants and hospitals and schools and probably other places is done.

    However – whatever is done – for smoke – it ought to apply to any/all smoke no matter the source of it.

    What I’d favor is to take something like alcohol and add up all the health care costs associated with it – and put a tax on it sufficient to pay for those costs.

    Ditto for cigarettes, vaping and POT… etc… ‘

    it gets more dicey when we talk about sugar and obesity and diabetes but make no mistake – diabetes is rampant in the US and leads to a lot of cardiovascular deaths that rivals deaths from things like lung cancer from smoking.

    Our laws are done by old white guys who have a cultural affinity for liquor and smoking and a generational bias against pot – and a de-facto racial bias against drugs used by black folks. I don’t think it will change until we replace them with folks who are more representative of our society.

    • “Our laws are done by old white guys who have a cultural affinity for liquor and smoking and a generational bias against pot …”

      Wrong. Those “old white guys” are either dead or over 94 years old. My generation gave birth to the pot generation, its only innovation worthy of note, beyond the wondrous spirit of Janis Joplin.

    • “Our laws are done by old white guys who have a cultural affinity for liquor and smoking and a generational bias against pot” Like J Edgar Hoover, perhaps.

  8. My, my! Obviously a topic that raises the blood pressure. (Time for a toke!)

    There is no consistent regulation of alcohol, tobacco, vaping and marijuana use because Republicans have worked hard to treat marijuana use as a criminal activity.

    It would not be hard to develop some consistency.

    For example, alcohol and marijuana are both used as recreational drugs. They both temporarily affect the cognitive and physical abilities of the user. Alcohol is clearly addictive; marijuana less so. In any case, we have balanced societal needs and individual desires regarding alcohol through regulation; we can apply the same regulations toward the recreational use of marijuana.

    Marijuana used as a medical product should be regulated like any other pharmaceutical. There had previously been no study of THC for the FDA since our Republican colleagues worked hard to deny any value to marijuana. Undoubtedly, this will change. The question then will be who will pay for the research. Normally, a pharmaceutical company with a patentable product idea and an adequate research budget would test the therapeutic use of a potential drug. However, achieving an effective (i.e., enforceable) patent monopoly over a specific use of THC might be difficult – its current supply and use are widespread.

    Vaping is a nuisance, and should be treated as one. But it is a valuable delivery mechanism for nicotine, which remains useful to self-treat depression, ADHD, schizophrenia. However, I would prefer regulations to keep scented vaping out of public places, as with cigarettes.

    Tobacco is a less desirable means of nicotine delivery, with severe adverse reactions. But if we keep its use out of public places (both as a nuisance and a health hazard to others), smokers should be able enjoy their vice to their hearts’ content.

Leave a Reply