New York Times
The New York Times has joined the majority of US citizens in the call for a more rational marijuana policy. The White House responded with an attempt to explain why a taxed and regulated market is no “silver bullet solution.” Alluding to The Lone Ranger probably wasn’t a great idea, but I think they mean that this isn’t a panacea for every problem related to cannabis.
Of course, all our other legislation is perfect, so we shouldn’t change this policy until we have a solution with all advantages and no disadvantages.
Our government says that this use of law enforcement and court time targets marijuana users because the plant alters brain development, impedes academic achievement, impairs driving, and creates addiction. The tacit assumption, that prohibition is going to prevent all of these problems, is tenable at best. (We’ve had police officers whip out the handcuffs over 18 million times since 1981. From 1995 until now, we’ve had at least one marijuana arrest per minute. The plant is more available than ever.) But let’s forget about how prohibition isn’t going to help and address the White House’s Furious Four Factors.
The first two (brain development and academic achievement) fall under the “what about the children” category. When all else fails, it’s great to play the baby card. NORML has condemned juvenile consumption for decades now. Of course, the underground market is notoriously bad at carding purchasers. When was the last time a dealer asked for ID? Licensed distributors who could lose their livelihood for underage sales would be markedly more motivated to keep the plant from children. But let’s address the claims.
Brain Development. Regular use early in life could alter brain development. But here’s the point no one is supposed to mention: we don’t really know for sure. It’s likely. It works in animals. But it’s not proven. The niftiest gizmos that take pictures of brains often can find differences between those who’ve used early and those who haven’t. But we don’t have a time machine. We don’t really know if these people had deviant brains before they ever saw the plant.
Investigators who run these expensive studies also have a hell of a time publishing results unless they find some differences. Many would rather leave the data in a drawer than battle editors and reviewers in an attempt to publish a paper that says that marijuana has no impact. What has been found is not always consistent. It’s one brain area showing differences in one study and another in the next. Reports that find nothing, or that the non-users actually have deviant brains (e.g. Block, O’Leary, Ehrhardt, et al., 2000, who found bigger ventricles in non-users), never get mentioned. Big reviews try to tell a coherent story, but effects are small. Binge drinking is markedly worse. (See Lisdahl et al.). Cigarette smoking leads to detectable changes in brain structure, too. I’d joke that we should make alcohol and tobacco illegal following this logic, but I’m afraid some people will actually try to do so.
Academic achievement. If the government genuinely cared about my academic achievement, I think I would have learned more in public school. But that’s another issue. We know that mastering new material immediately after using cannabis is extremely difficult. Going to class high is a dumb waste of time. It would certainly interfere with grades. But what’s the real issue here?
Decades ago, researchers showed that college students who used the plant had better grades than their peers who didn’t (Gergen, Gergen, & Morse, 1972; Goode, 1971). It’s not that marijuana’s a study aid. Students who liked the plant might have taken classes they enjoyed and flourished as a result. Subsequent studies didn’t always confirm these results, and investigators lost interest.
But high school kids who use the plant often bonk their exams. Most heavy users had earned lower grades prior to their marijuana consumption, suggesting cannabis could not have caused the poorer performance (Shedler & Block, 1990). Essentially, cannabis users with bad grades in high school also had low marks when they were in fourth grade. Cannabis might not lead to bad grades, but folks with bad grades often turn to cannabis. In addition, high school students who smoke cannabis heavily also tend to use alcohol and other illicit substances. Once these factors are taken into account, the link between cannabis and academic performance disappears. These results suggest that drugs other than marijuana might lower grades (Hall, Solowij, & Lennon, 1994).
In truth, if the government wants to see better achievement in school, the best answer would require schools with funding. Perhaps we could attract more of the energetic, enthusiastic, well-trained teachers who inspire learning if we offered better salaries. Students might find school more engaging when teachers are delighted and facilities are excellent. Busting teens for possession seems too indirect a strategy for improving education.
Driving. Paul Armentano has done such a superb job of summarizing the relevant data on this topic that I don’t want to belabor it.
A few points are worth emphasizing. NORML has always opposed impaired driving. People who can’t pass appropriate roadside sobriety tests should not operate a motor vehicle. Note that passing a sobriety test has little to do with the content of anyone’s blood or urine.
A recent meta-analytic review suggests that, at most, cannabis is no worse than antihistamines and probably on par with penicillin when it comes to culpability for accidents. If we’re going to make all drugs that impair driving illegal, we’re going to have a lot of runny noses and infections to handle.
Research from The Netherlands shows that folks who use cannabis in the laboratory lose their willingness to drive (source). When the experimenter forced them, they go slower, avoid trying to pass other cars, and start putting on the breaks earlier when they have to stop. These compensatory steps probably explain why a couple of studies have found cannabis users less culpable than drug-free drivers. Surprise surprise! This work never got any press. (Drummer, 1994, Bates & Blakely, 1999).
A study of over 300 drivers involved in fatal crashes in California focused on motorists who tested positive for cannabis but no other drug. Unexpectedly, they were half as likely to be responsible for accidents as those who were free of substances (Williams,,Peat, & Crouch, 1985). Another investigation of over 1,800 fatal crashes in the United States found that drivers who used only cannabis were only 70% as likely to have caused an accident as the drug-free group (Terhune, Ippolito, & Crouch, 1992). These are literally impossible to publish anymore, potentially suggesting the bias alluded to in the Elvik meta-analysis. So don’t drive high, but drive as if you were. Go slowly. Don’t try to pass. Leave room to stop.
Addiction. The new DSM V definition of addiction qualifies me for a caffeine disorder, so I’m obviously biased. Better take what I say with a grain of salt. But be careful, salt allegedly has addictive properties, too.
After five millennia and a series of moving definitions, researchers have finally identified something that they can call marijuana withdrawal and marijuana addiction. I’m guessing that prohibitionists really love this one. it conjures up images of sweaty heroin users snatching purses and plunging needles into infected arms. Have you met people who mug girl scouts to maintain their marijuana money? Neither have I. So what is marijuana addiction supposed to be? Among the most common symptoms are disturbed sleep and, I can barely say this with a straight face, loss of appetite. Anybody who uses every day and then gets irritated on a day without the plant could end up qualifying. If you tell anyone struggling with the opiates that these are the symptoms of your addiction, you’re likely to get a swift kick in the crotch. Expert opinions suggest that only the hallucinogens are less addictive than marijuana.
The most negative thing a government can do to its citizens is punish them. If we want to use punishment, we need outstanding reasons. These four simply do not qualify.
Block, R. I., O’Leary, D. S., Ehrhardt, J. C., Augustinack, J. C., Ghoneim, M. M., Arndt, S., et al. (2000). Effects of frequent marijuana use on brain tissue volume and composition. NeuroReport, 11, 491–496.
Drummer, O. H. (1994). Drugs in drivers killed in Australian road traffic accidents. (Report no. 0594). Melbourne, Australia: Monash University, Victorian Institute of Forensic Pathology
Gergen, M. K., Gergen, K. J., & Morse, S. J. (1972). Correlates of marijuana use among college students. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2, 1–16.
Goode, E. (1971). Drug use and grades in college. Nature, 239, 225–227.
Hall, W., Solowij, N., & Lennon, J. (1994). The health and psychological consequences of cannabis use. Canberra: Australian Government Publication Services.
Shedler, J., & Block, J. (1990). Adolescent drug use and psychological health: A longitudinal inquiry. American Psychologist, 45, 612–630.
Terhune, K. W., Ippolito, C. A., & Crouch, D. J. (1992). The incidence and role of drugs in fatally injured drivers (DOT HS Report No. 808 065). Washington DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Williams, A. F., Peat, M. A., & Crouch, D. J. (1985). Drugs in fatally injured young male drivers. Public Health Reports, 100, 19–25.
Tomorrow’s Sunday New York Times’ editorial calling for an end to cannabis prohibition in America, affirms in my mind, after nearly twenty four years publicly advocating for cannabis law reforms at NORML, the end of cannabis prohibition in our nation is nearly upon the rest of the country (beyond Colorado and Washington State, where cannabis is taxed and regulated like alcohol products for responsible adult use). This is the same editorial board and opinions page that would with great frequency in the 1980s/90s publish some of the most stridently pro-cannabis prohibition editorials and columns found anywhere in the world, let alone from the urbane and ‘liberal’ New York Times, led by ardent cannabis foe, former editor and columnist A.M. Rosenthal.
Also included, informative editorial writing and excellent up-to-date map of all of the variations on cannabis law reform that have happened at the state level, putting evermore upward political pressure on the federal government to both end cannabis prohibition and severely down schedule the herbal drug.
Lastly, the dramatic change in Americans’ public attitude in favor of ending cannabis prohibition is well documented here.
A great sign of the times…the multidimensional pro-reform editorial ends with this nod to cannabis culture: On Monday at 4:20 p.m. Eastern Time, Andrew Rosenthal, the editorial page editor, will be taking questions about marijuana legalization at facebook.com/nytimes.
Andrew Rosenthal…the son of A.M. Rosenthal.
Times in America regarding cannabis have changed, and, accordingly, so too has the New York Times.
While there is nothing genuinely funny about a seventy-five year prohibition on cannabis that has arrested over 25 million cannabis consumers, making fun of the failed policy never goes out of style, especially when done right, with aplomb, which the NORML staff occasionally highlights on an otherwise serious-minded public policy blog.
While over a week-old it would seem a crime itself not to share this New York Times so-called OpDoc (where videos rather than guest columns are submitted). The Gregory Brothers, a quartet of video artists from Brooklyn, absolutely skew the disparity between American society’s hypocritical legal vs illegal drug paradigm.
They accomplish this by very humorous employment of auto-tune and eye-rolling use of politicians’ own words about the now near universally acknowledged failed war on some drugs.
Check out former Congressman Ron Paul, New York governor Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey governor Chris Christie (with intentional help from Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes of ‘Jay and Silent Bob’ fame) sing in a way, about a subject matter, they surely didn’t intend t00 when they opened their mouths and spoke the truth about an unpopular public policy (which, ironically, is what elected policymakers are supposed to do in democracies).
You can watch the video here.
Tomorrow’s New York Times will feature a full page advertisement from our friends at the Drug Policy Alliance, acknowledging what a remarkable year it has been for cannabis law reform in the United States, and around the world.
Check out the ad here.
In the wake of the historic votes for marijuana law reform on November 6th, there has been a renewed focus on the topic and a shift in tone amongst the mainstream media. While previously, many outlets have either covered our efforts with a wink and a nod (or didn’t cover them at all), now that two states have called for the end of marijuana prohibition, reporters are rushing to cover the story. Along the way it seems they are also getting a crash course education in the concepts of civil liberties, federalism, and the disasters of our country’s prohibition on cannabis. Many are beginning to wake up to the reality that we have long identified: cannabis prohibition is a failed policy that has destructive effects on our society and these effects can be remedied by legalization and regulation.
Look no further for a sign of the changing times than editorials featured this weekend by two of the United States’ largest newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post. Both papers featured columns from their staff opining in favor of marijuana law reform. It seems the days of traditionally conservative editorial boards writing against cannabis law reforms may be coming to an end.
There is a seismic shift happening in the national consciousness on marijuana policy in response to the legalization of cannabis in Colorado and Washington, we are winning new converts by the day and those previously afraid to speak out are now doing so with passion and vigor. This recent influx of mainstream media outlets jumping on board with reform is just the beginning of the avalanche of change that is to come.
The New York Times by Timothy Egan, NYT Opinion Writer:
Give Pot a Chance
For what stands between ending this absurd front in the dead-ender war on drugs and the status quo is the federal government. It could intervene, citing the supremacy of federal law that still classifies marijuana as a dangerous drug.
But it shouldn’t. Social revolutions in a democracy, especially ones that begin with voters, should not be lightly dismissed. Forget all the lame jokes about Cheetos and Cheech and Chong. In the two-and-a-half weeks since a pair of progressive Western states sent a message that arresting 853,000 people a year for marijuana offenses is an insult to a country built on individual freedom, a whiff of positive, even monumental change is in the air.
…there remains the big question of how President Obama will handle the cannabis spring. So far, he and Attorney General Eric Holder have been silent. I take that as a good sign, and certainly a departure from the hard-line position they took when California voters were considering legalization a few years ago.
The Washington Post by Washington Post Editorial Board:
Marijuana’s Foot in the Door
…Or the Justice Department could keep its hands off, perhaps continuing the approach the feds have largely taken for some time — focusing scarce resources on major violators, such as big growers that might serve multi-state markets, cultivators using public lands or dispensaries near schools. The last option is clearly best.
But it’s unrealistic and unwise to expect federal officials to pick up the slack left by state law- enforcement officers who used to enforce marijuana prohibitions against pot users and small-time growers. Unrealistic, because it would require lots more resources. Unwise, because filling prisons with users, each given a criminal stain on his or her record, has long been irrational. For the latter reason, we favor decriminalizing possession of small amounts of pot, assessing civil fines instead of locking people up.
Also, for that reason and others, the Justice Department should hold its fire on a lawsuit challenging Colorado and Washington’s decision to behave more leniently. And state officials involved in good-faith efforts to regulate marijuana production and distribution according to state laws should be explicitly excused from federal targeting.