I tend to steer clear of the marijuana debate, mainly because it seems like an arena where educated people are consistently made to look like fools by those who have no clue what they’re talking about. But the timing of the AP’s release of this story is too unbelievable for me not to mention it.
On Wednesday the DEA raided ten marijuana clinics in Los Angeles, arresting clinic owners and managers who allegedly sold marijuana to patients who hadn’t been prescribed it. Most people—potheads and non-smokers alike—were outraged, as it seems rather absurd for L.A.P.D. to waste valuable manpower on victimless white-collar crimes. Is the city any safer if a few thousand potheads are prevented from getting their fix? If anything, cracking down on corrupt marijuana clinicians triggers a boom in the black market, giving more money to American drug dealers peddling drugs for the foreign market.
Whenever policy decisions infuriate large quantities of Americans, I hold my breath and wait for the propaganda to follow, often toting so-called “scientific” claims that are certain to sweep up the mess. Sure enough, on Thursday night—just as Geraldo Rivera was explaining to Bill O’Reilly that pot smokers are peaceful people and marijuana is less harmful than a lot of stuff that’s legal in this country—the following story ran across the AP wire: Marijuana May Increase Psychosis Risk.
Most reputable scientists believe just the opposite. Books by highly renown experts, from Cynthia Kuhn (Buzzed: The Straight Facts about the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy) Andrew Weil (From Chocolate to Morphine) show that marijuana is less likely than tobacco or alcohol to result in death, disease, or addiction. Moreover, regular marijuana users are more likely than alcoholics to say their drug of choice improves their productivity and enhances their human relationships.
Still, you can always find scientific studies that paint horrifying pictures of marijuana use, and here’s why. Conducting scientific research costs money. In order to pay for such research, scientists need to locate funding agencies and submit a grant proposal. One of the main components of a grant proposal is the “Objectives” section, where researchers state their goals. Some people’s goals are “to find out whether or not marijuana is harmful” while others’ are “to inform the public about the harmfulness of marijuana.” Often, these so-called “public” funding agencies choose their researchers based not on competence but rather on agenda. The British Health Department, which funded the research cited in the AP article. If the government, media, and corporations are as half as intertwined in Britain as they are here in the United States, I would wager my lifesavings that Dr. Stanley Zammit falls in the category of researchers who believe marijuana needs to go away and stay away.
There is nothing wrong with people who have made up their minds that marijuana is dangerous; in fact, I would guess 99.99% of them are good people who want very much to do the right thing. But scientists who take the anti-marijuana position need to think critically about why their research gets funded while the more scientifically sound research that refutes it does not. A second question, particularly relevant this week, asks which research findings are most likely to get cited by the AP, and when?
In most Western nations, alcohol and tobacco industries are among the most powerful corporations. Based on their market research, these industries have concluded that their profits will plummet if and when marijuana becomes legal. They have already seen significant drops in sales in those states that sanction the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and especially in California–where clinic workers have been furnishing pot to users without medical conditions that necessitate its use.
So, what are the effects of raiding these clinics? First, the (generally) well-intentioned fighters of “the war on drugs” have a new reason to push for outlawing medicinal marijuana use, making it harder for dying people to receive proper medical attention. Second, otherwise law abiding citizens who enjoy smoking pot can no longer pick it up at local suburban pharmacies; to compensate, many of them will go back to smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol.
For many moralists the solution is rather simple. People who use illicit drugs need to gain control of their lives; they must overcome their “addictions” to these harmful substances and take more seriously their responsibility to obey the laws of society. The activists who disagree most loudly with those who moralize this issue, tend to be potheads whose main concern is not to fix society but rather to get high; so they spend most of their energy responding to the “war on drugs” and trying to prove marijuana isn’t bad for you.
The opinionated people on both sides of this argument are bickering about the wrong thing. It isn’t whether or not marijuana is bad; the real issue here is whether other drugs, like alcohol and tobacco, are worse.
And because substances manufactured by marijuana’s competitors are not only more harmful but also less enjoyable (at least, as far as pot smokers are concerned), corporations who legally produce alcohol and tobacco in this country have a financial interest in keeping pot off the pharmacies’ shelves.