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Cindy Zelman Headshot

Your Weed Is My Poison

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I recently attended an Eagles concert at the Comcast Center in Massachusetts, and the pot smoke was everywhere. You could not escape it. You were forced to smell it and to breathe it in. Your other option was to leave the concert. I know many out there think being able to get high at a concert without fear of being thrown out or arrested is a wonderful thing in these new more accepting times toward marijuana use, but I don't believe many have considered the issues for those of us who do not want to inhale pot smoke anymore than we want to inhale cigarette smoke.

There are times when I think certain (not all) pot smokers are some of the most self-centered, self-justifying and inconsiderate people on earth. I just read an article where everyone is hailing the wonderful act of someone planting pot seeds all over a German city, and the plants are sprouting up everywhere, "majestic" and "green." When Washington State was in the process of making pot legal, I read an article in a local paper quoting a guy who said something to this effect: Until I can walk down the street smoking a joint on my way to Starbucks for coffee, I won't feel I've been granted my full freedom to smoke marijuana. Unfortunately, I have lost the link to that article, but equally self-indulgent articles bestowing "weeds day of worship," abound.

The glorifying of the legalization of marijuana is what I find reprehensible. Perhaps this is why people of other countries often view us as privileged, self-absorbed and out of touch. There are people dying from poverty and living in war zones in many parts of the world -- oh, even in the streets of Seattle you'll find the homeless slumped against a park bench -- but let's focus on the most important issue: our right to get high as we walk down the streets of the city.

Many of my friends support legalizing marijuana for both medical and recreational use. I'm actually not opposed to the legalization for either use. But I don't think most of those people who smoke the drug give one thought to people like me who have had traumatic reactions to it in the past.

I've heard all the self-justifying arguments about why it should be legal. For example: Why don't we make caffeine illegal too? Why don't we make alcohol illegal since it's a drug like marijuana? I can't answer those questions fully, but what I can say is that until someone at a concert tries to pour beer or coffee down my nostrils, then neither caffeine nor alcohol is like pot. Neither invades my personal space or the cleanliness of my air. Neither threatens to give me a second-hand smoke issue or set off some post traumatic stress episode because it's flying up my nostrils.

A good, caring, and intelligent friend posted an update on Facebook one day that said (paraphrasing): Marijuana never hurt anyone, juxtaposed, of course, next to a list of legal things that hurt people all the time, and I commented, "How do you know marijuana never hurt anyone?"

I told my Facebook friend the story of how I believe smoking marijuana as a teen set off my lifelong condition of panic disorder. I told her how 20 years later, I read a book about panic disorder that footnoted a study where the majority of people with the condition cited smoking marijuana or doing cocaine as the trigger event that set off their panic disorder. The study said that people who suffer from panic disorder must steer clear of narcotics as much as possible because our bodies do not react in the way others do who enjoy such drugs. I even have a hard time when I must use narcotics for a medical procedure such as having my wisdom teeth pulled or a colonoscopy.

Another friend reading my views responded that the real question was whether something else would have set off my panic disorder if the marijuana hadn't. It amazes me to what lengths people will go to "prove" that Cannabis is always a good thing. I responded to this person by asking: If a cigarette smoker gets lung cancer would you ask, "But the real question is whether he would have gotten lung cancer, anyway, from another source?"

The question is irrelevant. No doubt something would have set off my panic disorder and people get cancer all the time who never smoke a cigarette, but the fact is marijuana set off my panic attacks and nearly ruined my life. It's taken me decades to get to the point where I can get out of the house and even enjoy myself -- for example, at an Eagles concert.

I'm not saying the drug shouldn't be legalized, but I am saying this: Just because you enjoy it, don't assume it's good for everyone. To read people's opinions in the news or on Facebook, you'd think someone just discovered the wonder drug or the secret to life. You may like getting high -- and more power to you -- but marijuana is a drug, like alcohol, like cocaine, like heroin, and like oxycontin. Any drug can be dangerous and hurtful.

I find with the new opportunities to express ourselves quickly and to mass audiences via social networking, people reduce almost all political issues down to a few phrases that suit them, they cling to those phrases, and those phrases become their truth. "Marijuana never hurt anyone." I say, yes, it has.