THE BLOG

'Reefer Madness' Redux?

04/17/2014 02:14 pm ET | Updated Jun 17, 2014

Cab Calloway sings about "The Reefer Man"

Okay, what's going on here?

Yesterday I read a new study had proved that marijuana altered your brain in some way -- physical changes, finally found. Even in casual users.

The next day, there was an NBC news story about a man who'd murdered his wife while she was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher. The last line?

"Police are investigating the possibility that Richard Kirk -- who admitted to killing his wife on his way to the police station, according to the probable cause statement -- took marijuana prior to the shooting."

"Took marijuana." That takes me back to the days when my mother used to lecture me about people "shooting" weed -- to her, it was all the same as heroin. Dad? Well, let's just say he was a big Cab Calloway fan who knew a little bit about...life.

And of course, I was a child of the '60s, so you might say I was part of a reeeaaally big experiment with weed and...well, a lot of other things. Not me, personally -- no, really. Though I did take a toke or two, I was pretty much the permanent designated driver in my circle of friends.

That was partly because they were kinda protective of me -- I was younger than most of my crew. And I had also watched them standing in the middle of the room zonked out of their minds saying things like, "Wow...I mean, my hands, man...seriously..."

That is your brain on drugs. Some drugs, anyway.

I'm still the "high on life" type. I do vape. Zero nicotine oils--nothing mood altering. Calms me down and keeps me away from junk food. So do yoga and meditation. Deep breathing works. For me, anyway.

That doesn't mean I'm down on those who like a little bud now and then. Any more than I'm down on those who like a little Bud now and then. To each his or her own, if he and she can handle it.

Suddenly, though, we're back to the old Reefer Madness thing -- you've seen Reefer Madness right? No? Oh, you gotta check out the trailer, then:

"Reefer Madness" official trailer

I know, right?

Anyway, I'm not sure what's up, but I get the feeling someone's floating a few trial balloons to see if they can stem the tide of legalization. I know there's a Kennedy staunchly opposed. And there have always been fire and brimstone types who see it as yet another sign that America The Beautiful is on the highway to Hell.

But...let's look at the study a little closer, shall we? What parts of the brain does marijuana alter? The Boston Globe says, "...two key areas of their brain related to emotion, motivation, and decision making." This occurs only in young adults -- the study used 18-25-year-olds.

But that's all the more cause for alarm, right? Young adults are supposed to be finding their way out of the nest and into the big wide world soon at that age.

Only...I think we knew that. It's also why we don't allow youngsters to drink before they're 21 in this country. After 21, well...right or wrong, we believe it's their choice. Yes, some make bad ones. But a lot of my friends who stood staring at their hands back when also went on to be well-respected doctors, lawyers, engineers and...you get the idea.

And most of them say things to their kids that sound a lot like the things their parents said to them back when, too. Cracks me up, actually. But I'm proud of them, too.

As for murder and marijuana...well, let's do a little "drugs vs. alcohol" comparison. Here are the stats for alcohol-related violent crimes from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.:

"FACT: 5.3 million adults −- 36 percent of those under correctional supervision at the time −- were drinking at the time of their conviction offense

Excessive drinking leads to criminal behavior:

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) estimated that a majority of criminal offenders were under the influence of alcohol alone when they committed their crimes.

Federal research shows that for the 40 percent of convicted murderers being held in either jail or State prison, alcohol use was a factor in the homicide.

FACT: Alcohol is a factor in 40 percent of all violent crimes today

About 3 million violent crimes occur each year in which victims perceive the offender to have been drinking. Crimes include: rape, sexual assault, robbery, aggravated and simple assault. About two-thirds of violent crimes are characterized as simple assaults." (From the NCADD Fact Sheet Alcohol and Crime)

As for drug-related violent crimes -- well, the U.S. Bureau of Statistics reports that only 3.9 percent of homicides (2007) were committed by people under the influence of drugs alone. Marijuana alone? I couldn't find a reputable, objective source for that, and the ones I've quoted don't factor out marijuana alone.

We do know that a study by the Denver Police Department -- and they should know -- found that since legalization, "...violent crime (including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) fell by 6.9% in the first quarter of 2014, compared with the same period in 2013."

And what's more, "Property crime (including burglary, larceny, auto theft, theft from motor vehicle and arson) dropped by 11.1%."

Now, I'm not saying those stats mean "weed good, alcohol bad." It just gives us a little perspective. We seem to go a little nuts over weed -- I don't know why. And I'm afraid we're going to be reading lots of scary stories about it as more and more states make it legal.

In part, that will be because we'll be having more and more trouble with more and more people who shouldn't shoot, snort, smoke, swallow or swill any type of mood-altering substance, ever. A lot of people with mental illnesses self-medicate with both booze and weed, according to those same organizations I've quoted earlier.

So there's an underlying issue that is exacerbated by those substances. That's something we really should consider and get ready for -- I'm with the naysayers at least on that. And we've learned from some of our mass murders that we really need to fix our mental health system.

But most parents, if they're honest, know that using those old Reefer Madness tactics is counterproductive -- show that trailer to your kids, folks. That's a great way of finding out how much they know. And how much you don't.

Nice little conversation starter, too, right? You're welcome.