Monday, December 27, 2010

Guest column: Proceed cautiously on marijuana

I've been taking a shellacking in the comments section for this column, dear reader, but it displays in stark manner (1) the mindsets of the "wicked local" residents of my hometown and (2) the absolute faith of those in favor of the legalization of marijuana, a faith that should be by no means rock-solid. But try telling them that. Anyway, enjoy:

(Previously published by the Watertown TAB & Press, December 26, 2010. Copyright 2010 Watertown TAB & Press / Wicked Local Watertown.)

One of the issues that keeps on re-occurring is the decriminalization, or legalization, of marijuana. Proposition 19, the California Legalization Initiative, recently suffered defeat in the Nov. 2 election. Massachusetts decriminalized marijuana via ballot question in 2008, and other states such as New Hampshire, Hawaii, Vermont and Oregon have, by referendums or State House bills, allowed possession of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes—to no avail, of course, because federal anti-drug laws will trump the initiatives, rendering them moot.
When it comes to the War on Drugs, there is no such thing as states' rights.
The libertarian impulse to legalize the herb is, from a face value point of view, noble. No government, be it municipal, state or federal, should have the right to dictate what we can or cannot do with ourselves, if it involves no harm to others. Naturally-grown cannabis is a relatively mild drug. Some of its more eager proponents assert that it's less harmful than alcohol; some would even put it on a par with caffeine in terms of both its ubiquity and non-life threatening nature.
It helps those suffering from pain that conventional medicines cannot touch. To deny these people relief is cruel. And the fact that so many jailbirds are non-violent offenders who got locked up for possession of amounts that make it clear, even to those with a brain the consistency of mashed potatoes (which rather adequately describes federal lawmakers), that they are not dealers is preposterous.
I would, as purely a matter of technicality, be perfectly willing to decriminalize marijuana. Free the dopey stoners; they are not a threat to anyone. Allow those suffering from glaucoma, asthma and multiple sclerosis access to it. Let's be honest—prohibition doesn't work. It's why alcohol was re-legalized. It's why we fight a war on drugs that is incredibly costly. Yet, drugs are still available. The black market provides, such as it always has.
Furthermore, the so-called legal highs like Salvia or K2 have been studied far less and their effects on the mind and body long-term are largely unknown. Sometimes, as with K2, they can be synthetic. There is no end to the variety of marijuana alternatives being produced, widely available over the Internet that could pose more of a danger than cannabis itself.
But if the government was to decriminalize marijuana or any other illegal drug, they would not only have to admit they were wrong, which is highly unlikely, they would have to regulate it. Do we want more tax revenue to be wasted on programs that benefit everyone except American citizens? I don't think anyone with a libertarian bent wants to place this kind of potential cash cow in the government's hands.
I previously used the phrase "naturally-grown cannabis." This is exactly what the government would legalize. There would be a scientifically determined maximum amount of THC to legal marijuana. This would not please connoisseurs of the stronger varieties, such as “skunk.” If the point were to defeat the illegal dealing of marijuana, such a measure would fail.
Furthermore, we cannot pretend that cannabis is a happy-go-lucky, hippie drug. This is disingenuous. Like any drug, it depends on how you're feeling, where you are, and who you're with when you take it. Users may be aware that a super-strong strain of marijuana is literally "one-hit s**t," but, apropos to the laws of human nature, they'll still smoke an entire joint of it in one sitting. As for the claim that marijuana is not addictive, perhaps it isn’t pharmacologically, but definitely is from a psychological perspective. There is no avoiding the fact that frequent use of cannabis affects the mind long-term.
Normally I would say that medicinal marijuana is a fine idea, to be regulated by the healthcare industry. Those who seek the pain-relieving qualities that cannabis provides would not care that it contained only government-approved levels of THC. There should be allowances for it in any competent healthcare plan.
ObamaCare, however, has largely rendered that option unworkable.
Conservatives don't like hearing about how things work in the Netherlands. But since we're likely to have death panels under ObamaCare, we might as well allow cannabis in government-sanctioned coffee shops as they do in Holland. But again, there's the ever-thorny issue of who is supplying the drugs. I've witnessed deliveries to coffee shops in Amsterdam. The suppliers didn't bother anyone; they did their job and went on their way. But they all had that ruthless "dealer" look to them. Does this make the Dutch experiment more or less laudable because they found some way around the fact that marijuana is not going away and it's better to use coffee shops as a middleman between dealer and user?
This is an issue that cannot be taken lightly. We cannot claim an absolute right to deny anyone the “Alice in Wonderland”-like existence they search for in the smoke—their bodies, and their lives. But legalizing marijuana could create an even more surreal experience for lawmakers, the judiciary and the general public. On marijuana, we must proceed cautiously or not at all.


Barry said...

Mr. Manning,

When you have a chance, pick up a copy of my book, "Letter to a Prohibitionist", which is available at Amazon (no reviews at, but you can find a few at the .com listing). I'd love to get your thoughts on it.

Two quick things: marijuana will be hard to regulate for medical use because it is a plant of varying strengths, not a patented synthesized substance. Second, I see no reason to proceed cautiously. As long as we sell it in the same manner we sell liquor and with accompanying rules and regulations in place, everything will be fine. Want to use it recreationally? Fine, go right ahead. Want to use it to treat your glaucoma or nausea? Fine, go right ahead.

On a third and unrelated note, you ought to avoid using the term "death panel". Giving patients the right to formulate end-of-life care is eminently fine and acceptable, whereas the crude "death panels" suggests something diabolical.

As for things that are surreal, just look at the War on Drugs. How did we ever get it into our heads that nature could be criminalized and made illegal? I'd call it a farce if tragedy weren't involved.

As for the subject at hand, check this out:

Nightdragon said...


Thanks for your intelligent and well-tempered comment. Unlike some other posters, you are someone I believe I stand half a chance of reasoning with.

I'm not fond of prohibition. Five years ago, I was stridently against the War on Drugs and prohibition and the tendency to ban substances. I wanted full legalization of marijuana and a detailed review of drug policy for other substances.

But sometimes you have cause to, if not change, then at least soften or temper your stance on things. For me, it's not a matter of believing whether or not cannabis is harmful in the long-term or not. Tobacco and large amounts of alcohol are very harmful in the long-term, and those are both legal products.

My suggestion for a cautious approach to marijuana concerns just how much the gov't is going to get involved with it. This is the kicker for me: As a right-leaning libertarian, I think people have the right to use marijuana. But, as I said in the column, I do not want to place a "cash cow" in the gov't's hands. The only way cannabis will be legalized is through regulation. There is no other way that doesn't involve fantasy. And those who cry "freedom" with regard to marijuana don't realize that they will still be beholden to an authority in that respect.

Furthermore, as I noted, I can only see the milder, naturally grown varieties of cannabis being legalized. You note that cannabis is a plant of varying strengths; that's true, and that's exactly my point. Concerning the stronger varieties of dope, we will still have to contend with illegal dealing.

I thought the Dutch had a great idea with the coffeeshops, but you cannot get away from the fact that the Dutch gov't is stamping "legal" on a product that was technically supplied by dealers. It's a conundrum. Especially when you consider that the dealing of pot in Holland is illegal. All they've done is say, "right, we'll let people carry no more than 5 oz. on their person and we'll create a middleman for that by opening coffeehouses where pot can be purchased." Good idea, but you have to scratch below the surface to find the flaws.

On the unrelated note, I'm not against euthanasia. But it should be a service provided through private insurance with certified proof from the person him or herself who wishes to die. With gov't run health-care, my worry is that doctors or the gov't health care provider will be given the power of decision over the individual in question. The basic difference here is that you seem to trust the gov't; I don't and I do not want to place the issue of euthanasia in their lap. All I want from them is to declare mercy killing legal and get no further involved with it; it's a decision that we must ensure is controlled completely by the terminally ill themselves and their families.

I've done all I can do in terms of clarifying my position.