The most incendiary issue I've been dealing with here in Los Angeles (where I live) has been the whole "Legalization of Marijuana" debate. Both sides are very passionate about changing the law, and both sides have good arguments for effecting this change, but no one seems to want to do the homework and get the information for themselves. And this is a problem because without the right information, it's very easy to get the issue confused.
I, for one, am absolutely against the legalization of marijuana. Period. There isn't an argument in the world that will change the fact that psychoactive substances produce emotionally crippled adults. We are living in a country where young people everywhere are actively seeking out new and creative ways to self-medicate. These are young people who are at a place where they should be learning how to process their emotions, not sublimate or suppress them. And, so, conversely, what we are winding up with is a generation of burgeoning adults who have no idea why they have so much anxiety (when they aren't high) or why it is practically impossible for them to relate to other people (unless they're high).
And this isn't supposition; I have been working in the field of addiction for almost 20 years. This is my expert opinion. And it's an opinion born of the thousands of addicts I've come into contact with -- and helped -- down through the decades.
Is medical marijuana bad? No. And here, again, I'm asking you to get some information.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a medical correspondent for CNN, was a huge anti-marijuana advocate, but in an unprecedented change of heart, Dr. Gupta reversed his position and is now promoting marijuana as a misunderstood drug. It is challenging to watch his CNN documentary Weed and not be moved by his discoveries (as a parent, I can tell you that I would move heaven and earth for my children), but what seems to be falling through the cracks in Dr. Gupta's argument -- what many Americans continue to ignore -- is that there is a significant difference between medicinal marijuana and the kinds of marijuana everyone seems to be desperate to legalize.
The psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It's what gets you high. Dr. Gupta reports that there are a host of medical advantages to using the drug, the most profound of which is staving off the debilitating effects of chemotherapy, which I agree places pot in a category of its own.
But Dr. Gupta also introduces us to a family of marijuana farmers called the Stanley Brothers, who have managed to breed a strain of marijuana that is rich in cannabidiol (CBD) and low in THC, which has its own miraculous medicinal qualities. What I find the most interesting about this product (which is 28 percent CBD and about 1 percentTHC) was breeder Josh Stanley's claim that, "People said, 'You're crazy! Who's gonna smoke that?'"
Which brings us back to my case and point: if the mad rush is for the THC-rich marijuana and not the (actual) medicinal marijuana, what exactly are people fighting for? My argument (and this argument is supported by the segment in Dr. Gupta's documentary where the effects of THC-rich marijuana on young forming brains is explored) is that it is our responsibility to regulate this narcotic.
To this end, I am very against the legalization of marijuana, but not against the decriminalization of the drug. And here is where things get complicated.
Decriminalization or re-legalization would mean that certain drugs would be legally available, but regulated by the government which would mean restrictions on advertising, age limitations, restrictions on the amount purchased at one time, requirements on the form in which certain drugs would be supplied and maybe a ban on sales to intoxicated persons, etc. It would mean significantly changing what would happen to people who were arrested for possession of the drug(s) in question (to my thinking, a sentence that would fit the crime as opposed to arbitrarily sending first-time offenders to prison for an egregious amount of time instead of getting them the help they truly need), and perhaps helping more people instead of damaging them for life. Decriminalization is explored in an intelligent way by Kevin Sabet (former Senior Advisor for the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy) and former congressman Patrick Kennedy on their website for the Sam Project (Smart Approaches to Marijuana). If you haven't visited their page yet, trust me: it's an eye-opener.
Legalization would be a nightmare. All of a sudden, marijuana would be sold in grocery stores and 7-Elevens. There'd be advertisements in newspapers and on TV. The advent of the many different brands of pot would create a whole new industry that would mirror the alcohol and tobacco industries.
None of this is going to happen overnight. But my point is also none of it has to happen overnight. The mad rush nowadays seems to be to push for the legalization of marijuana, but this begs the question, "Why?" Why are Americans in such a hurry to get high? Why are people fighting passionately to create legislation that could put this burgeoning generation at such high risk? Do we really want to create a culture that is full to bursting with adults who have no coping or self-soothing skills, who live their lives with unexplained panic disorders and high anxiety (no pun intended)? Is our job, as a society, to promote drugs that would get people high or to promote drugs that help people with physical or mental illnesses?
Most people talk about legalizing pot as if it were no worse than alcohol -- as if no one has ever died as the result of using marijuana. But the truth is, alcohol has created so much dysfunction and destruction in our society, why would we want to introduce yet another drug that gets people high and back its usage with the power of Congress?
Is that the society we're passionate about becoming? A "loaded" society?
And I think that's what we should be doing after all. We should be asking questions. Don't let people tell you what to think. Get out there and get involved and ask the kinds of questions that matter. Questions like, "Who is this helping?" and, "What does this mean for my family and my community?"
And last but not least, "What will it say about me if I don't speak out on this vital issue?"
Because the dialogue is happening right now, and it behooves you to become a part of it, come hell or high water, and let your voice be heard.
We're not fighting to prevent people from receiving the medical help they desperately need. We're fighting for the emotional well-being of our children.
We're fighting for the future.
Follow Dr. Howard Samuels on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheHillsCenter