With 68 percent of 18- to 29-year-old Americans watching reality TV on a regular basis, these shows have a tremendous power to influence young adults. When I learned that a clean-cut medical marijuana dispensary owner with an MBA was going to be a contestant on the new season of "Survivor," I was interested in how this high-profile individual might address his controversial career on the show -- what message would he broadcast to young adults on a weekly basis? After merely two episodes, my worst fears were confirmed.
Jim Rice, the aforementioned owner of two medical marijuana dispensaries, walks a fine line between exploiting the drug and being ashamed of it. First, he capitalized on his job's shock value in order to join "Survivor" -- his application tape showed him in his dispensary, surrounded by piles of marijuana. Yet as soon as he was selected for the show, he began lying to the other contestants about his occupation: He told them he was a science teacher. "He realized," said a friend of Rice, "that being a medical marijuana dispensary owner is not going to get him any votes." Yet he had been happy to flaunt his occupation in order to get the producers' attention: "You know they don't see that every day," Rice explained.
Rice's duplicitous attitude makes light of a drug that is the most commonly abused illicit substance in the U.S., and medical marijuana is no exception. Ten percent of people who try marijuana will become addicted. This is not a harmless herb, and although it may provide pain relief and end-of-life care for some individuals suffering from a terminal condition, there's no excuse for its current widespread and undisciplined distribution. Medical marijuana use is exploding -- last year in Montana, for example, the number of registered medical marijuana patients doubled in merely three months, reaching a total of 20,000 legal users.
"It's out of control," declared Montana Senator Trudi Schmidt of the medical marijuana abuse epidemic. The public as a whole is skeptical of the distribution boom -- especially the fact that one-fourth of registered marijuana users are between the ages of 21 and 30.
Are that many young adults really suffering from otherwise untreatable pain? Marijuana is being sold to these young people under the guise of "treatment" for common medical conditions -- acid reflux, minor muscle spasms, nausea -- that can and should be successfully treated with legal and non-addictive medications.
Now, to add to the problem, there's a famous and smooth-talking "Survivor" who alternates between masquerading as a schoolteacher and lauding the benefits of marijuana on reality TV -- a broadcast venue that speaks directly to the young demographic most likely to abuse marijuana.
"Too often it gets associated with the big ailments, like cancer and AIDS," Rice says of the drug, "It's frustrating that it's seen as a last option, when it's really something people should be trying early on."
Really? A 10 percent risk of addiction, coupled with lasting negative effects on the immune system, brain, heart and lungs? Sounds like a last option to me.
Rice's attitude -- advocating marijuana use as if it were a vitamin or a health supplement -- is simply fueling the drug abuse that is rampant in our country, especially among the young adults whom reality shows reach. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that 33 percent of reckless drivers tested positive for marijuana -- a substance that produces such a high rate of hazardous behavior is anything but a health supplement. It's no wonder that Rice hid his occupation from his fellow contestants. With its pun-based title of "High Level Health," Rice's medical marijuana dispensary seems to promise a good time rather than deeply needed relief. Sadly, Jim's exploitation of medical marijuana for his personal aims proves him to be the quintessential "Survivor" -- whether on air or at work, he's determined to earn the big bucks, even at the expense of his "tribe."
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