The legalization of cannabis is nearly upon us and it is a move that I both applaud and dread. If we lived in a perfect world, with people who respected the properties and consequences of inebriates and used them to enhance life rather than replace it, there would be no contest. However, we don’t — so let’s look at the facts.
First, the plus side. I have no idea why every state has not already made medical marijuana legal. There is enough clinical evidence to show that cannabis is highly effective in the treatment of many conditions, and in chronic illness its health benefits in ratio to harmful side effects make it a far less damaging choice for long-term use than pharmaceuticals. Medical marijuana research has also refined its properties to a science. It is now known that the non-psychoactive cannabinoids found in marijuana have medical properties as well as the THC components known to produce a high, making it possible to treat conditions with fewer of the mind-altering effects associated with pot. Medically regulated facilities dispense a product that has been reliably graded for every constituent.
When it comes to recreational use of pot, there are advantages as well. Let’s be honest — people are always going to use recreational drugs, whatever the legalities. In a field that includes alcohol, crack, OxyContin and heroin, pot is by far the lesser of the existing evils. People who over-indulge or mix pot with drugs and alcohol are capable of causing damage both to themselves and to others, but no one has ever died from an overdose of the drug itself.
However, I cringe when I think of the Pandora’s box that could be opened when marijuana becomes generally legal. Why? Because responsible use is one thing, but people are greedy idiots. Just as it did with cigarettes, Big Business is going to shove marketing campaigns and enticing new products down our throats in order to make as much money as possible with no thought to the consequences. And their greatest victims will be teens.
Teens have tuned out warnings about marijuana because the nay-sayers are usually fundamentalist adults who rant that pot is a “gateway drug” that inevitably leads to ruin and damnation. Since this is patently absurd, it’s easy to ignore the dangers, but they are real. Chronic pot use among adolescents is far different than with adults. Teens are at a phase in life where they are developing the coping skills that will serve them into adulthood. When the world is enveloped in a pleasant fog, you neatly avoid the uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking feelings that a more direct look induces. You never learn to cope with unpleasantries. As a result, teens who smoke pot on a daily basis are 60% less likely to get a high school diploma or university degree and seven times more likely to attempt suicide in early adulthood. Getting stoned with your buds on occasion is one thing, pretty much everyone does it. But habitual daily use of pot before the age of 17 can handicap you for life.
So, I have a parting message to those who are still chronologically young: Don’t be an idiot. All of those people who you are hanging out with and want to fit in with will be gone by the time you hit your 30s, but you will still be stuck with the choices you made. Be responsible with marijuana. It’s a powerful drug. It has the potential to do both great good and great harm. The choice is entirely up to you.