Your Neighbor Might Be Using Drugs: How Is It Affecting You?

Drugs are bad. Drugs are dangerous. Drugs will destroy individuals, families, communities, and society. Only worthless degenerate criminals use drugs.

All drugs should be illegal on the basis of these facts.

The above statements frame the arguments of the countless citizens who oppose marijuana legalization. Their anger over the potential decriminalization of cannabis is at times palpable. Impassioned pleas against legalization emanate from all corners of our society. Religious leaders, academic researchers, physicians, and nonprofit organizations have all gone on the record condemning the growing movement to legalize pot. Many believe that if we allow recreational marijuana use, we’ll slip as a society down the slope into rampant addiction, unemployment, sloth, violence, disease, and moral decay.

Previously employed professionals will start smoking pot and be laid off en masse. Promising college students will be handed a joint at a party, become addicted, and piss away their future. Teenagers in their naivete will follow the lead of these miscreants and soon a new generation will descend into hopeless addiction. Reformed users will be pulled back in by the easy availability of marijuana and will again flood our hospital emergency rooms, unemployment offices, and prisons. The “gateway drug” will lead us down the path to unbridled abuse of opiates, inhalants, and psychedelics.

But what if these assumptions are just wildly speculative fantasy? What if we’re stronger as a society than we all think? Its discrediting to our ambition, resilience, and virtue, not to mention our basic biology, to blindly assume that marijuana legalization would ruin us all. Plenty worse things than legalized marijuana have been thrust on us as a people and it can be argued that we’ve overcome, or at least adapted to, a great many of them.

Other situations have caused considerable harm or have proven elusive to reconcile. Prohibition repeal, the AIDS pandemic, virus outbreaks, foreign wars, natural disasters, terrorism foreign and domestic, racial integration and strained race relations, financial collapse and the devaluation of the dollar, a pitiful job market, and overwhelming destruction of our health and our healthcare, among many other things, have all tested our resolve as a citizenry. But nothing thus far has ruined us. Life has proceeded on and we have managed accordingly. The sun still rises.

We are nothing if not malleable.

Besides, this might be an example of the slippery slope fallacy. An aberration of critical thinking, a slippery slope occurs in an argument when we presume that, by taking one action, another action, this one markedly more harmful or insidious than the first, will automatically result. This process can theoretically be repeated until the results are cataclysmic. It can be considered a desperate attempt to win an argument when this tactic is deployed. The frailty of our viewpoints and the cloudiness of our perspectives are often illuminated when we recruit the slippery slope into our arguments.

Legalizing marijuana won’t ruin us as a society. Addicts won’t be convulsing in the streets. We won’t be violently mugged by stoners lurking around every corner. Our friends and our children won’t descend into an abyss of chemical abuse and wanton criminality. Our emergency rooms won’t be filled with psychotic potheads restrained on gurneys. And there won’t be scores of users riddled with pneumonia, hepatitis, and failing organs in our critical care units. The typical adult who uses marijuana recreationally won’t allow a few puffs on the weekends to lead to a debilitating heroin addiction or unhinged solvent abuse.

Perhaps I’m guilty of a logical fallacy myself: arguing against a straw man. Assuredly no one who’s reasonable can be this over-the-top and hyperbolic about weed. But we might be mistaken about that. Remember that the majority of voters in elections are older adults and seniors. Theirs is the demographic most likely to reliably turn out at the polls. A large proportion of these seniors identify as Christians and conservative Republicans. Drug use offends their sensibilities and runs counter to their religious beliefs; people shouldn’t smoke pot because its dangerous, gross, indecent, and just plain wrong. And some are adamantly, vehemently opposed to not only drugs but alcohol, too. Have you ever met an octogenarian who despises drinking and the people who partake in it? This mindset is pervasive among seniors; its what many belonging to their generation continue to believe.

And these are the people who are deciding elections.

And maybe you agree with them. Or maybe your family does, along with your friends and coworkers.

Think about your next door neighbor for a minute. He’s probably a nice guy. Polite, social, waves hello to you. Say he’s got a family. His wife is also neighborly. Kids seem bright and well-behaved from what you’ve seen of them. He has a job; an accountant, maybe, or insurance salesman or mechanical engineer or college administrator. It doesn’t matter: he’s gainfully employed and providing for his family.

He and his family are good neighbors. They’re quiet and unobtrusive. He keeps his yard and property maintained. They don’t have droves of guests over at all hours. From what you can assume, he pays his taxes and his bills. He has a good reputation as a responsible and caring family man in the community.

Now let’s say he smokes marijuana.

Does this instantly change your opinion of the guy? Is he now a detestable pothead? Do you pity him? Does he disgust you?

If your answers are yes, answer this: how does his smoking weed affect you? As described above, there’s nothing he’s doing that is impacting your life as a direct result of his recreational marijuana use. For all you know, he’s a responsible upstanding citizen aside from this perceived affliction, this character flaw. He is not harming you or infringing upon you by quietly smoking marijuana in the privacy of the home he owns. He’s just trying to relax.

Who cares if your neighbor smokes pot?

Now let’s say that you have the same good reputation as your neighbor. But on the weekends you like to smoke a cigar and have a few cocktails. You do this to relax. What’s the difference? Should he view you as a crass, disheveled, reckless drunk? Of course not. The evidence, the public opinion of you, suggests the opposite: you’re an intelligent, responsible, and kind person.

The substance you choose to help you unwind should be irrelevant to any discussion of your merit as a person. The means by which you contribute to society, the ways that you demonstrate kindness to others, the actions you take to improve your life and the lives of those around you should be the criteria by which you’re judged.

The coworker who helped you get a promotion might be a cocaine user. The lady down the street who found your missing dog might down a fifth of vodka every night. Your favorite childhood teacher might have been a two-pack-a-day smoker. The best friend who stood by you during the most difficult time in your life could be hiding an addiction to painkillers.

Plenty of lifelong sober people can be unproductive, unstable assholes.

The point is that, so long as someone’s marijuana use doesn’t affect others, we have little ground to shun that person and venomously protest their right to do it. We all have our vices, our bad habits, and our comforts, many of which we would prefer to keep hidden from others.

If you have a valid argument against marijuana decriminalization, perhaps potential financial repercussions of legalizing it, that’s one thing, but it’s exceedingly arrogant, contemptuous, and illogical to support keeping a defensibly innocuous substance out of the hands of consenting adults just because of your personal beliefs. Especially when the adults using that substance are doing so without harming or disturbing anyone else.

This description may include people who you know, people you respect, maybe even loved ones.

So get off of your high horse.

-D.H.

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Why do we have to prove that marijuana is safe?

News broke this week that Safe Streets, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-crime group, has filed two lawsuits in federal court regarding marijuana law. In one suit, the group plans to target government officials in the state of Colorado over their alleged violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S Constitution. The group contends that by “promoting the commercialization of marijuana,” Colorado has acted in direct violation of federal narcotic laws. The other suit names several prominent Colorado-based business owners who work in the cannabis industry.

Regardless of the group’s knowledge of how to spell marijuana, this incident is another in a long line of attempts by politicians, government officials, law enforcement, special interest groups, religious leaders, and newspaper columnists to halt the decriminalization of marijuana possession and dissuade the public from voting to legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational use.

Arguments and rebuttals against this diverse onslaught of pundits have originated from a variety of mediums. From rallies and demonstrations on Capitol Hill to Congressional lobbying to lengthy op-eds and dedicated blogs, the fervor for legalized marijuana is as strong as ever. One of the most popular strategies employed in this battle has been to evoke the supposed health benefits of marijuana use.

While the science is burgeoning, it is also deeply flawed, filled with holes and questions, and is too poor to extract any conclusions from one way or another. Relying on this research to frame and support an argument favoring marijuana legalization is dicey at best; one can’t get far with shoddy incomplete data and assumptions. Regardless of this reality, the pro-marijuana crowd has soldiered on undeterred, boasting study after study purporting to demonstrate the efficacy of cannabis and it’s ingredients in treating any number of health conditions.

This appears to be the best method for bringing about legislative change to decriminalize marijuana. But, in addition to the uncertainty surrounding the whole of the marijuana scientific literature, there are other untoward possibilities that could result from this tactic.

To the fearless recreational users crying for reform, the ambitious grassroots organizations lobbying their representatives, the bloggers unearthing obscure studies, and the cancer patients asserting it’s palliative effects, I have one word for you:

Stop.

Stop trying to educate the public about the potentially health-promoting effects of marijuana. Stop trying to convince our policy makers that cannabis is not a danger. Stop invoking tales of chronic pain alleviated, of headaches relieved, of vision loss arrested, of anxiety calmed. Stop playing this game.

This situation is reminiscent of a child begging her mother to buy a particular snack food at the grocery store. “But mom,” she whines, “it’s healthy!”

Its the mother’s choice as to whether or not she’ll buy the junk food. The little girl believes that her pleading and bargaining is helping her cause, giving her some influence over the decision. But ultimately it may be for naught. It may just be serving to further define their two roles. Mom is in charge and she knows best. The little girl is at the whim of the mother’s judgement and there’s realistically not much she can do about it.

Now replace the mother in this situation with the federal government. The fussing child is the public, the tax-paying citizenry, clamoring for cannabis to made lawfully available to them.

Is this the precedent we want to set? Is this how we want our government to treat us going forward? Do we want to succumb to the nanny state by acting like little children who do indeed need a nanny?

We as citizens should not bear the burden of demonstrating the safety of everything we want to consume. We aren’t particularly adept at it, especially considering the questionable quality of data and flimsy biology with which we’re equipping ourselves in this battle. The results of a few studies and copious anecdotal evidence might have aided in getting the ball rolling in Colorado and Washington State, among other states, but in order to finish this fight against an overbearing, overreaching mommy-knows-best government and thus be free to smoke marijuana in the comfort of our homes, we don’t need to assume the position of a submissive, compromising, and desperate populace.

We shouldn’t be throwing statistics and purported benefits at the wall in the hope that something sticks. Hold strong to your convictions and forget the burden of proof; it shouldn’t be on us. And if it is, no data, no matter how compelling and noteworthy, is going to reverse our role as the angry child in the grocery store begging for cookies from an overprotective mother.

The nanny state won’t be swayed by numbers. Unless, of course, those numbers are dollar figures.

-D.H.