THE BLOG
09/18/2013 12:20 pm ET | Updated Nov 18, 2013

If You Still Think Pot Should Be Illegal, You Are an A**hole

Some will look at the title of this article and think that I'm baiting you into reading why you're actually for cannabis regulation because you're really a decent human being. And while you'd be right, the truth is that I want this to be a real issue for you because I'm not being facetious. You're not a stiflingly overprotective mom if you don't want your kids taking drugs, legal or not. You're not a narc for wanting to keep money out of the black market. You're not a communist for being uneasy about the potential for "Big Marijuana" to join the bankroll of the inebriation lobby. But there are a slew of bellowing ignorant statements that you make when you support cannabis prohibition: That you don't care about injustice; That you mindlessly repeat propaganda so easily debunked it belies the shallowness of either your intelligence or your integrity; That you are so averse to admitting that you were wrong about something regardless of how bigoted, short-sighted, and stupid it makes you look, you don't even care what your stubbornness is saying about you.

For one, if you think cannabis should remain a Schedule I drug, one for which there is no accepted medical use, then you are scientifically illiterate. Not that you have to be a Nobel Laureate to be know what you're talking about, but if you've read enough to know what you're talking about, then you aren't talking about prohibition. If you don't think the earth is younger than civilization, or that vaccinations cause autism, or that chiropractic is real medicine, then you're already doing better than most people. But if you ignore the studies year, after year, after year, after year, finding that responsible cannabis use not only shows no long-term damage to the body, but might even benefit it, you are kidding yourself. There is even quite a bit of evidence that suggests cannabis kills cancer cells. A lot of it. A lot of lot of it. And didn't you hear about that little girl whose severe epilepsy has only ever been alleviated by cannabis oil? Surely you heard about Sanjay Gupta's admission that he was wrong about medicinal pot? Who else has to come clean? A former surgeon general? A three-fourths majority of doctors?

You may think you're looking out for kids, and you wouldn't be totally wrong. There is evidence to suggest that childhood use of cannabis increases the likelihood of psychosis and depression in kids that are predisposed to mental problems. And that would be a fair point if under our current policies cannabis hadn't become essentially ubiquitous across high schools. More than any other demographic, seniors are poised to be the biggest pot users in America should cannabis be legalized. It's law-abiding adults who will begin using pot in greater numbers, and the associated lameness of watching their parents ripping a bong will, if anything, probably decrease teen use.

Still, the whole argument is hypocritical from the get-go. Alcohol isn't too good for kids either, but no one appears to be pushing for a dry country again. If you really want to keep pot out of kids' hands, keep it secure in dispensaries that demand ID and away from cartels and street dealers who just want money and don't care about the customer or the product. When was the last time you heard of a booze or stogie dealer? Why do you think that is? It's because kids don't drive the inebriation market, adults do. And if you're under the impression kids will get their hands on pot anyway (they will), would you prefer it spent 6000 miles strapped to a leaky gas tank or six months meticulously nurtured and pruned by a professional botanist? These are rhetorical questions, of course. I doubt you care if teens smoke pot because you probably did and you came out just fine.

Then again, you may not even be under any misconceptions about your position. You probably just seek out your own opinion to alleviate the voice in the back of your head that keeps reminding you how wrong you are. Here's Dubya speechwriter David Frum's view of an America destroyed by weed because poor people can't help but quiet their sorrows in cheap escapes. Here's New York Times' Roni Caryn Rollins' painful guidance counselor pamphlet about the dangers of the devil's cabbage. Hers is such an infuriating caricature of the menace of marijuana that I have to wonder if she is a poe. Her pathetic exaggeration of cannabis withdrawal insinuates a similarity with something out of Trainspotting, but really sounds more like a holiday at the in-laws: "In users who develop a dependence or addiction, quitting can cause intense withdrawal symptoms, like anxiety, trouble sleeping, lack of appetite, mood swings, irritability and depression." So does quitting cigarettes! So does not getting laid. Quitting cigarettes is so hard that smokers have to change their everyday habits associated with lighting up, cold turkeying alcohol is so metabolically traumatic that it can kill you, but cannabis can't be legal because the withdrawal might make you skip lunch.

I'm not going to give you that hippie garbage that pot is harmless, but it's not heroin. It's a drug and like any drug there are risks with using it. Started early, habitual use has been linked to decreased neurological activity over decades, and even psychosis and depression if prone to them. But don't act like the chance of unearthing predisposed psychological problems is anything like the permanent bodily and psychological harm that results from heroin or alcohol abuse.

And don't pretend like that's the reason you think it or any other drug should be illegal. If anyone's concern was actually about health then tobacco and alcohol would have been outlawed with the dawn of the scientific method. These cronies for the anti-pot lobby try to compare the health risks of "smoked" cannabis with tobacco while conveniently omitting that smoking tea would carry nearly identical risks for bronchitis, emphysema, and cancer. Unlike tobacco, cannabis can be cooked into oils and creams, which reduces its potential harm down to basically zero. Technically, you could still choke on the brownie. The dependence rate for cannabis is extremely low, just 9 percent (which includes kids who, when faced with rehab and juvenile hall, choose rehab), while nearly a third of cigarette smokers become addicted. Meanwhile, alcohol has visibly deleterious effects on one's brain and body and is involved in 40 percent of violent crimes. Have you ever heard of someone being arrested for a "high and disorderly?" And while alcohol is actually a poison that inebriates you by slowing your brain to a halt, the hundreds of active agents in cannabis, called cannabinoids, have receptors in your brain, called cannabinoid receptors, made to receive your own organically produced chemicals called -- I hope you're writing this down -- endocannabinoids. Comparisons of the annual death rates of the legal drugs to cannabis are never made because the great hypocrisy inherent in the health argument becomes readily apparent: It is, without exaggeration, hundreds of thousands to zero.

Your insularity doesn't stop there, either. Being anti-pot requires you to not care that cannabis prohibition has a traceable origin to anti-immigrant and specifically anti-African sentiments across the Anglo world from the earliest years of the 20th Century. You are unconcerned that a young black man is four times as likely to be arrested for possession than anyone with the good fortune to be white in this country. You support stop-and-frisk, well-aware of its abysmal record on racial profiling and knowing it would be effectively useless without the criminality of petty possession. And worst of all, you know that a felony conviction -- even an arguably unjust one punished only with probation -- is a sociological death sentence, one that can and does bar convicts from voting, working, and qualifying for any number of government programs, nevermind the social and emotional trauma of enduring the wrath of the justice system. LA Times Stephen Gutwillig writes: "An 18-year-old convicted of a felony is headed nowhere fast. In this sense at least, marijuana is indeed a gateway drug; it is a feeder for the criminal justice system, disproportionately for black kids."

But no, you say! You're not a racist! You're not a scientific imbecile! Maybe not intentionally, but that's what is required to be against marijuana decriminalization. But it's been illegal for nearly 80 years, you say, isn't there one good reason to hate pot? Well, no. In fact, the ramifications of your anti-pot sentiments reach ever-further into dark territories. Your arbitrary feelings about substance use are denying all of us of a more stable economy or at least a more reasonable debt, since taxing cannabis would bring in a great deal of tax revenue (about $8 billion a year) and cutting the war on drugs would save us the same if not much, much more (you don't even want to know, you'll throw a brick through your rep's window). It gives credence to militarizing the police and domestic surveillance of metadata because it makes intimidating and catching drug traffickers easier. And perhaps most awful of all, it lets the producers and financiers of this illusion -- Big PhRMA, Tobacco&Alcohol, and Police Unions -- get away with making one of the most brazenly immoral business deals in recent memory, one complicit with Mexican drug cartels who would be crippled by the legalization of pot in the U.S.

But maybe none of this applies to you. Maybe you're a parent who has legitimate reasons to keep drugs away from their kids but doesn't know how to do so without labeling them as intrinsically evil. Maybe you're just a phony, invertebrate politician, trapped between the people who vote for you and the companies that finance your campaigns. Legalization and regulation will have to be well thought out, no one is under any delusions that it's a matter of simply striking down the prohibition. But to consciously allow a program that targets and exploits minorities, to deny decades of scientific research and results you don't like, to support tyrannical criminals while withholding much-needed economic stimulation, to continue incarcerating non-violent citizens who at best are addicts and at worst have merely chosen a different evening vice, that makes you an asshole.

But never fear, for the pessimists who tell you that the plutocrats have taken total control are wrong, we can still make real changes in this country. In just two decades of referendums, over half the states have relaxed their laws on cannabis. Last week, Eric Holder announced that the DoJ will leave Colorado and Washington alone to be the guinea pigs for the whole country. Heck, even John McCain said it's an option. Like marriage equality, legal pot is all over but the crying. And so long as we don't get complacent with the progress we've made, no amount of assholes can stop us.

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