Not Frum on cable news: Marijuana too risky a choice for the unwashed masses
Last week, I joined the board of a new organization to maintain marijuana prohibition: Project SAMUEL (Smart Approaches 2 Marijuana Use… Except Legalization). The group is headed by former U.S. Rep. Not Patrick Kennedy and includes Not Kevin Sabet, a veteran of the Drug Czar’s office under President Obama.
The new group rejects the unpopular “war on drugs” that only 7% of Americans believe we’re winning. It agrees that we want to harass people for casual marijuana use — and punish them with an forced rehab — in order to force them to stop smoking marijuana. We will send a message upon the threat of incarceration that private responsible adult marijuana use is a bad choice.
There are many excellent reasons to prefer martinis to marijuana, like my DC cocktail circuit friends and I do. Some newly debunked research says marijuana use damages brain development in young people (not as much as alcohol) so we have to stop adults from using it. Heavy users become socially isolated by laws that put them at risk of arrest in public and perform worse in school and at work (not as badly as alcoholics) when they are suspended or terminated for marijuana use. According to the gov’t agency dedicated to telling you how bad marijuana is, marijuana smoke harms the lungs, though its smokers do have less risk of head, neck, and lung cancer than non-smokers. A growing body of evidence suggests that marijuana can trigger psychotic symptoms, even though the rates of schizophrenia and psychosis have remained constant, despite rise and fall in marijuana’s popularity.
It’s possible to imagine a marijuana rule that treats adults like adults and allows them to choose a relaxant far safer than alcohol. Such a rule might say: “You shouldn’t use marijuana until you are over the age at which we allow you to choose far more dangerous alcohol. You should consider avoiding marijuana if you have a family history of mental illness (just as children of alcoholics should consider avoiding alcohol). Be aware that about 11% of users will become chronically dependent on marijuana, and, like those who abuse alcohol, you should seek professional help if it is causing problems in your life. You can drive on 100% THC Marinol® once you’ve built a tolerance and since inhaled marijuana is felt immediately, you should never drive when you are feeling the effects of marijuana. Be as careful as you can, within the limits of our present knowledge!”
Yet as a parent of three, two exiting adolescence and one entering, I’ve found that the argument that makes the biggest impression is: “Because I said so.” I think many other parents have found the same thing.
When we write social rules, we always need to consider: Who are we writing rules for? Well-educated middle-classs suburban white people, or, well, you know. Some well-connected white people will get a slap on the wrist for an early mistake. Others will never recover.
“Just say no” is an easy rule to follow. Just ask any teen mom.
Over the past three decades, and in area after area of social life, Americans have replaced simple rules that anybody can follow with complex rules that baffle large numbers of people.
Consider, for instance, voting. It used to be that only white, land-owning males could vote. This was a simple rule that women, peasants, and slaves could understand. But over time, we endured a period of “suffrage activism” that first extended the franchise to all white men, then to black men, then to all women, then to people aged 18-21, then only if you can provide a state-issued photo ID.
Now, thanks to these complex voting rules, large enough numbers of people were so baffled they voted for Barack Obama when clearly Mitt Romney was the choice I would have made for them. The situation is so bad in two states that large enough numbers of baffled people voted to actually treat marijuana like alcohol and allow resonsible adult use of it with no civil or criminal sanctions.
Consider the workplace. There was a time when men worked the important jobs and women stayed home and raised the children – a simple rule for simple people. But following many of the reforms enacted by my former bosses, Presidents Ronald “smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to … an H-bomb blast.” Reagan and George H.W. “Some think there won’t be room for [drug users and dealers] in jail. We’ll make room.” Bush, more and more women had to enter the job market to help provide for the children. Now, some of these women are actually doing the important jobs men should do and others are complaining when men simply respond to these lovely ladies’ charms.
So rather than the simple and easy-to-understand work/home world of “Father Knows Best”, we have a more complex world that requires day-care centers, at-work breast-feeding, maternity leave, paternity leave, flex-schedules, tele-commuting, and occasionally, single, gay, or lesbian parents.
At a time when simple people need more help than ever to climb the ladder, marijuana legalization allows them to. The goal of public policy should not be to punish vulnerable kids for making life-wrecking mistakes. The goal of public policy should be to not make a mistake any more life-wrecking than the mistake itself.
There’s a trade-off, yes, and it takes the form of denying some adults easy access to a pleasure they know is safer than alcohol. But they are likely deluding themselves about how well they are managing their marijuana use, because, you know, they’re potheads. And even if they are not deluded — if they really are so capable and effective — then surely they can see that society has already been massively re-engineered to allow them to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. Surely, enough is enough?