am i for it or against it

Welcome to the fourth edition of the Marijuana Memo Podcast. My name is Doug Olena. It is Wednesday, June 28th 2006. Today I will ask the question, “Am I for it or against it?”

Plainly speaking, I am for the judicious use of any substance that can be shown to be of benefit to humans in some way. Marijuana can be shown to be of benefit to a large number of people who are ill or aging, therefore in these cases I approve the judicious use of that substance. As well many more harmful substances like wine, aspirin or Prozac® can be shown to be of benefit in judicious quantities. A fairly large majority of the people in the U.S. agrees with this brief summation. Statistics on the approval of medical marijuana use in most states is from 60 to 80 percent. I am not appealing to the fallacy of Getting on the Bandwagon here to “prove” that marijuana use is OK. The science that corroborates this public opinion is in.

The more disturbing issue is whether it is OK to use marijuana recreationally. Or for that matter, is it ok to use any substance recreationally. Andrew Weil in From Chocolate to Morphine, tells us that stimulants should be used when there is a need to extend the body’s normal functioning past its natural capacity, but that misuse can have negative consequences. Let’s look at caffeine.

In our culture, it is OK to use caffeine to wake up in the morning, to extend our day, to enliven our social events, to wake us from our after-lunch slump. We think that Weil’s advice is correct. But in addition to that we use it when it is not strictly necessary. We break our natural sleep cycles with it day after day. We use it addictively when there is no need at all, yet, think nothing of the betrayal of our principles this implies.

Personally, I have to be very cautious in my use of caffeine. If I have a cup of weak tea to help me get a job done, I might have a nagging headache for a day or two. I still take it when I need it, maybe once or twice a month. But taking it more often leads me to persistent use. I first gave up coffee around the turn of the century. I had clearly become addicted to it. If I didn’t have my morning cup, by the late afternoon, a bad headache would start that wouldn’t go away for two or three days. The headache didn’t go away if I drank more coffee. Finally I quit, cold turkey. It took about 6 days for all the pain to subside. My head, and all my muscles were in agony for three days. Aspirin and ibuprofen could not touch the pain, though antihistamines in conjunction with them helped a little.

Don’t universalize my case here. I am not suggesting we should all follow my path either for personal or social reaons. It would be a terrible blow to the economy of coffee and tea producing nations if we all quit today. Starbucks would shortly be in financial trouble. We would have one of the worst weeks of our social history because of the cold turkey crash. We would be less productive over the long run. We might live longer, even though caffeine has been shown to have very few health consequences, because we would not be setting up our expectations based on what coffee can help us produce. We would sleep more soundly. We wouldn’t be so wired. Natural rhythms would resume in our physical and social relations.

The consequences would be radical and would change our culture dramatically. This, I think, is where the pinch is with recreational use of marijuana. Our culture is just not used to the idea that marijuana could be used that way with acceptable consequences. Even though a majority of us have tried marijuana sometime in our past, we can not imagine a world where it is legal. (I speak collectively here, not personally.) The majority of people in the U.S. still think it ought not be legalized for recreational use even though the number who think it should be is growing. We justify use of caffeine, alcohol, over-the-counter pain relievers, cough medicines, Ritalin® and Prozac® but are having trouble imagining what life would be like with legal cannabis.

The answer to whether I am for it or against it is? Well, a straight answer would not be fitting here. According to our best thinking, there is no good reason to forbid legalization of the drug for adults, put it under state regulations, tax it and use the taxes to support education. We should let all non-violent users out of jail who were incarcerated under the current draconian regime. We should deflate the budget for the war on drugs by half, keep arresting people who are intoxicated while they drive, allow employers to require sobriety wherever productivity and safety require it.

On the other hand, those who fear the widespread recreational adoption of the drug should return to a mind that is in control of itself, not requiring external regulation for behavior modification. Self control would be one of the virtues to be reconstituted as the norm instead of the exception. We would need to reestablish trust as the foundation of relationships instead of the suspicion and surveillance we are moving toward. (Maybe this is a pipe dream.) Maybe we should promote better parenting skills and reduce violence in the home. Marijuana might mitigate some of the violence.

There will still be bad people who abuse the system for gain. But, if we could have a political system we trust, some of this would diminish. The politicos need to clean house and soon if they want our way of life to survive at all. (Maybe I’m dreaming again.)

And what of the inevitable experimentation with drugs many of our youth participate in. I have to ask on one hand what your example is to them? Do you drink alcohol or use prince Valium® to even out your day. Are you wired on stimulants? Do you require a pick-me-up for one reason or other? Do you overeat? Do you fret constantly about your ordinary life? If any of these things apply to you, could you possibly object to your child’s experimentation? Using the excuse for prohibition that it is illegal and could get them in trouble is certainly true, but will leave them mystified about you.

On the other hand, would you incarcerate your child for using marijuana? (That’s a no brainer. Pot is available in prison, in addition to the wide array of perverted and violent people.) Of course you wouldn’t. The politicos, influential and popular of our nation can get their kids out of a legal pinch, while the majority of us have to play the part of the deterrent in our wildly violent and irrational drug war.

I’m for legalization of marijuana under any fair set of rules. I’m not for a legalized free for all. I am for judicious medical use of any beneficial substance. I’m not for the abuse of any substance. Whatever happened to the golden mean? Where is moderation in this, or reason? When will we stop believing violence cures people. We incarcerate those who don’t agree with us and assuage our damaged and twisted consciences by misusing ourselves further. No wonder we’ve got such short lifespans. There’s got to be a better way.

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A Rational View of a Complex Topic