Pot-heads nationwide are celebrating Oregon’s legalization of a fourth over-the-counter addictive, recreational drug. THC now joins caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol in the arena of legal vices Oregonians can enjoy with relatively nominal legal restrictions. Heartily supported by Representative Earl Blumenauer, the 420 crowd capped a multi-million dollar political campaign with a solid victory for their Measure 91, legalizing recreational marijuana in Oregon. Along the way, users made a lot of grandiose promises about the utterly harmless nature of smoking marijuana such as:
- Legalization will decrease access and use by minors.
- Students who regularly use marijuana will have the same academic successes as clean students.
- Adults who regularly use marijuana will have the same professional and employment success as clean adults.
- Marijuana users will not seek social services at rates greater than general society.
- Marijuana is not a gateway drug, therefore the rates of illegal drug abuse will not rise as marijuana use increases.
- Using marijuana products regularly will not impair thinking, decision-making or IQ.
- Chronic users are safe drivers.
- Smoking marijuana regularly does not impair lung function or lead to COPD or emphysema.
- When smoked at equivalent pack-year rates to cigarettes, marijuana does not cause cancer.
- Unlike nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol, marijuana is not addictive and has absolutely no withdrawal pattern.
Over the next several years, as data is collected from Oregon, Colorado, and Washington State, along with any other states that legalize pot, the truth of these claims will emerge. It will be a ‘put up or shut up’ moment for stoners. This entire block of our society is now under tremendous pressure to fulfill their very own prophesies. Can they ensure their own predictions will come true? Will they have the guts to own it if they are wrong?
I believe, as evidences mounts, all their claims will prove false. When that time comes, I also believe marijuana advocates will scurry away from their responsibilities like cockroaches when you turn on the light. I have seen too many of my friends, patients, and colleagues get destroyed by drug addiction and abuse over the years. I am not talking methamphetamine, heroin, PCP or fringe designer drugs. I am talking caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs. The ‘safe’ stuff. I know a truck driver, the husband of a former coworker, who earned a heart attack by drinking six or more energy drinks every day. A friend of mine from high school fell to his death when he was stoned. Another high school classmate began abusing steroids at the age of fourteen and continued until his death from a major cardiovascular accident at age 38. I know pharmacists, doctors and nurses, all trained to the dangers of controlled substances, that have destroyed their careers for the sake of hydrocodone or zolpidem or whatever controlled drug they fancied. One of my former pharmacy colleagues was an alcoholic who committed suicide when he was caught stealing narcotics from the pharmacy. I have patients who are chain cigarette smokers who are literally taking decades off their life. A former patient of mine murdered a man in downtown Portland over a bottle of alprazolam. I have watched gifted friends go by the wayside for the sake of marijuana… peers with IQs well above mine who deliver pizzas for a living or hang drywall. My daughter just came home from university to attend the memorial service for one of her high school classmates. He overdosed on Molly at a party at the age of 20.
People who use drugs recreationally like to believe they are in control of the drug, not the other way round. Sometimes that is true, sometimes that is not. What most people who dabble with recreational drugs lack is a healthy respect for the power of those drugs. It does not matter if the drugs are clean and legal, or the nasty, adulterated products manufactured by some South American drug cartel. Alcohol is no exception. Marijuana is no exception. To have some childish “Fight the Power” pot-head brag that marijuana is just as safe as alcohol is not exactly reassuring. I know too many alcoholics who have destroyed their lives and families to find comfort in this comparison. The same goes for pot-heads. Your children are ashamed of your behavior.
This idea that psychoactive substances like marijuana are as safe as candy is nothing more than wishful thinking. It is harder than you think to have your cake and eat it too when it comes to recreational abuse of drugs. Whether you are rich or poor, it is harder to succeed and easier to fail in virtually all aspects of life if you get drunk or high on a regular basis. Ugly as it is, that is the truth. And when things go sideways for you, you get hooked, you O.D., you wreck your car and maybe kill someone, your kid eats your stash and ends up in the hospital, you lose your job or fail out of school, when your life slips and falls off the edge, it is the rest of us who have to pick up the broken mess you leave behind. I find the idea of having such things on my conscience quite haunting. Why so many people embrace such easily avoided risks simply to get high for a few hours also haunts me. It is as though they believe life is filled with infinite second chances, do-overs and restarts, when the truth is there are simply not that many tomorrows before it is over and we have to make account of our lives.
So now Oregon has marijuana. Mary Jane’s last dance. One more drug to ease the pain, so smoke up, Johnny! The question is – can we handle it? Only time will tell.