Blue ridge journal

The bandwagon effect is in full swing again in the US; this time the fad cause is legalizing marijuana. Several US states have now rescinded laws that made possession and "recreational use" of marijuana illegal, to great fanfare and victory parties. But as we know, these activities are still illegal throughout the country because of the federal law that classifies the weed as a "Schedule 1" drug, meaning a drug with high likelihood of dangerous abuse and with no redeeming medical value. While the Obama administration looked through the fingers at small-time possession and personal use of weed, the Trump gang appears to intend a fuller prosecution of the law.

During the Obama administration, production of marijuana blossomed into a major industry in a number of "friendly" states.

California, for example, added cultivation of marijuana as a regulated agricultural category and issued growers discharge permits to waters of the state (which had to be approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency), in spite of the federal illegality of the activity.

The quixotic efforts of these states to nullify federal law recalls the "nullification crisis" of the early 1800’s, when southern politicians such as John C. Calhoun of South Carolina insisted that the US Constitution allowed for individual states to opt out of provisions of federal law that they found bothersome. (Even future presidents Jefferson and Madison had argued for this view in opposing John Adams’ anti-immigrant law in the 1790’s.) But these arguments didn’t hold water, as has been confirmed by the Supreme Court. Federal law trumps state law; that’s just how it is.

However, elected officials hold a finger on the public pulse, and there’s clearly more interest than before in Congress in relaxing federal restrictions on marijuana. The Senate minority leader has, in fact, just introduced a bill to decriminalize use and sales of marijuana federally. We don’t know what future the bill will have in the Republican-controlled Congress (which may change in a few months), but it makes this a propitious time to consider the ups and down of "grass".

According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the potency of marijuana ("cannabis") has increased in recent years, meaning there’s a higher concentraction of the psychoactive chemical THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). As a result, we are seeing more serious short- and long-term effects as well as a greater risk of taking in dangerously poisonous levels of THC, especially when taken through the digestive system. In sum, THC works directly on the brain (that’s why users use it), and the desirable short-term euphoric effects on the brain give rise to a number of long-term effects on the brain, none of which are desirable.

To answer that, we can ask, are there now people who refrain from use of marijuana because it’s illegal? The answer is clearly yes, as we can all attest from our personal experiences, though to my knowledge we don’t have data on how many are in that group. But they are the ones who would be affected by legalization (or decriminalization) and begin to try or use the drug. So there will certainly be an increase in the number of users upon lifting of the legal restraints.

• With legalization, we can count on more adolescent users of marijuana. These are likely to join current youthful users as back markers in our schools, with reduced developmental capacity and career success. And with more children of parents who use or are addicted to marijuana, more children are likely to receive less than adequate life guidance.

Two levels of policy are involved: federal policy and state policy. The federal prohibition derives from the placing of cannabis on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s "Schedule 1", a list of drugs banned for their potential for societal abuse and their lack of medical value. It appears that recent credible studies have demonstrated some potential medical value of cannabis, which could get marijuana moved from Schedule 1. In this case, marijuana would presumably be primarily regulated through state laws.

And this is probably as it should be. We are still, in theory, a federation of states that regulate themselves to the greatest extent possible. Our Constitution still says that powers not granted to the Congress are reserved to the states and to the people. So it will be up to each state to legislate on marijuana as the state’s population prefers. I would personally vote for decriminalization, with admonitions to the public from the state health department to avoid weed for the sake of their health. Insurance companies would have a right to treat marijuana use as they treat tobacco use: it would be reasonable to charge higher premiums for health and life policies, and perhaps for vehicle liability insurance as well. Those who choose to add unnecessary risk to their lives can’t ask others to underwrite the risk. At least, don’t ask me to.

I just read a short piece in the online report, the "Observer" (New York), where the writer, Chris Roberts, castigates varying police departments for stressing the "gateway-drug" theory, which identifies marijuana as a frequent first-drug of those who later succumb to addiction to stronger drugs. Mr. Roberts writes, after having proclaimed in his title that "the Police are the Problem",

Mr. Roberts here makes a simple but common logical error, and winds up arguing against a falsified form of the gateway-drug theory. He argues that most marijuana users don’t become users of more dangerous drugs. This is absolutely true, but it has nothing to do with the gateway-drug theory. He is arguing against the inverse of the theory, and his conclusion is therefore false. The gateway-drug theory doesn’t suggest that most users of marijuana become users of stronger drugs, it says rather that most (or many) users of stronger drugs started with marijuana. That’s an entirely different proposition, and the evidence I have seen suggest that this is correct. As a result of Mr. Roberts’ "misunderstanding" of the gateway-drug theory, his criticism of police departments for emphasizing (the correct form of) the theory is both invalid and damaging to community relations with the police. He sets out to make the police the "bad guys", and succeeds by a "sleight-of-hand" bit of illogic that he perhaps trusts no one will notice. (And the Observer ensures that no critique will appear on their pages, by simply not making any provision for reader comments.) I’m prepared to revise my suspicion of Mr. Roberts’ motives if it turns out that he has made an honest mistake, but his vigor in prosecuting his theme (the Police are the Problem) makes me doubt that he’ll admit to the error of his ways.