Legalization of Cannabis
I am in favor of the legalization of cannabis
for recreational use by adults 21 or older, and I am also in favor
of such legalization being coupled with effective regulation.
Good regulation of this product is, in my opinion, the key to
a successful outcome. Additonally, my reasons for being in favor
of legalization may be summarized as follows:
- While excessive use of cannabis can be
harmful in some ways, moderate use can be very beneficial due
to the many medical benefits associated with cannabis.
- We have to weigh the harm that legalization
may bring to society against the harm that is currently brought
about through the arrest and incarceration of thousands of people
each year. Many lives are destroyed not by using cannabis, but
by being arrested for using cannabis.
- Abuse of cannabis or any other drug should
be treated as a medical problem, not as a reason for incarceration.
In summary, given the harm that has been
done by denying people the medical benefits of cannabis and the
harm that has been done to the public by the war on drugs, I see
no better alternative than legalization coupled with good regulation.
That, in my opinion, is the path of least harm to society. Also,
below are a variety of arguments you might hear against legalization
followed by my rebuttals.
- Drug money
is "dirty money." Do we really want to raise revenue
for the state that way?
Yes, and let me tell you why. The
Marijuana Policy Project estimates that the state of Arizona
, for example, would generate an extra 38 million dollars in
revenue anually through the sale of marijuana. That's 38 million
that would go to the state instead of a drug cartel! People are
already spending the money on marijuana. Prohibition has done
nothing to decrease the demand. Thus, who do you want to profit
from this activity - the state or a drug cartel? I know I would
rather have my state receiving this money.
- This isn't
your grandma's weed. Today's weed is far more potent.
This is only partially true. On the one hand, back in the seventies
there existed potent strains such as Maui Waui and Acapulco Gold
which have THC levels that are comparable to many of the strains
today with high levels of THC. But on the other hand, those potent
strains were not always available to all users back in the seventies,
and this brings up a very important point. Under prohibition,
you are restricted to whatever strain a dealer is providing,
but under legalization with regulation, you can choose whether
you want a product with high, medium, or even low THC levels.
For example, even though growers have spent decades developing
strains that are high in THC, many consumers today want the option
of choosing a low THC product for use in social settings, and
if they are medical marijuana patients, they may want a product
that they can take daily without the distraction of getting high.
As a result, products such as tinctures that are high in the
non-pyschoactive cannabinoid CBD and low in THC have been developed,
and Dixie Elixirs has
developed a THC infused soda for adults that contains only a
modest 5 mg of THC. Legalization with regulation doesn't mean
everyone will constantly be using the strongest strain of marijuana
available. It, instead, means that people will have choices regarding
what they put into their bodies, not unlike how today people
can choose between hard liqour and a less intoxicating wine.
- Isn't marijuana
a gateway drug that will cause a person to go on to harder drugs?
This is absolutely false. First, about 18.9 million Americans
that are 12 or older use marijuana, and very few of these go
on to other drugs. Second, a recent study
has shown that if anything, it is alcohol that should be considered
a gateway drug. For more information on studies that show that
marijuana is not a gateway drug, look at this publication
from the Marijuana Policy Project.
- Isn't marijuana
a drug that contributes directly to mental illness?
Questions such as this one can
sometimes be tricky to answer using statistics. For example,
if there seems to be an association between something like marijuana
and mental illlness, is it because marijuana causes mental illness,
or is it because people with mental illness are trying to self-medicate
by using marijuana? According to a recent study done by researches
at Harvard that controlled for these
factors, marijuana does not cause schizophrenia.
(CBD), one of the cannabinoids in marijuana, has been shown to
have definite antispychotic properties.
- Won't legalization
of marijuana result in an increase in use by teenagers?
No one believes that it's a good
idea for teenagers to use marijuana recreationally. Even if smoking
doesn't cause any permanent damage to the brain or IQ as some
have suggested, the teenage years are still a time for aquiring
mental skills that will help you with college and the rest of
your life. Now, having said that, the good news is that the following
three studies all indicate that the legalization of medical marijuana
in various states hasn't resulted in any significant increase
in use among teenagers. With regard to what impact of the legalization
of marijuana for recreational use will have upon teen use, recent
data from Colorado says that adult
legalization doesn't necessarily result in an increase in teen
use. Also, the results of the studies on states where medical
marijuana has been legalized should be reassuring. Study 1 Study 2 Study 3
legalization be sending the wrong message to kids?
Actually, no. Legalization with
regulation would be sending the right message. It would send
the message that it is permissible only for adults 21 or older,
and that even they must follow regulations and use it in sensible
ways that don't harm themselves or others.
smoking marijuana expose you to a host of carcinogens just like
smoking cigarettes does?
If you smoke marijuana as a cigarette
or with a pipe, then, yes, you do expose yourself to many of
the same tars and carcinogens that tobacco smokers are often
exposed to. However, a study
done in 2006 found no relationship between smoking marijuana
and lung cancer. Unlike tobacco, marijuana contains cannabinoids
that appear to protect one from a variety of cancers. Furthermore,
options exist today that enable you to use cannabis with minimal
or no exposure to the harmful substances often associated with
smoking. For example, many people today use vaporizers which
heat the cannabis to just the right temperature for the cannabinoids
to be released without any actual combustion of the herb. Additionally,
in states with medical marijuana programs, a variety of edible
products are available as well as tinctures and THC infused drinks.
All of these products allow people to use cannabis without exposure
to the potentially harmful effects of smoking, and the availability
of such products is one of the benefits of legalization.
- Does smoking
marijuana make you violent?
No, that's not true. I never got
violent as a result of smoking marijuana, and I never knew anyone
who did. In particular, check out my comments on Marijuana
Myths & Facts. The violence attributed to alcohol consumption,
on the other hand, is well documented, and yet alcohol is legal
while marijuana isn't. Go figure.
- Won't legalization
create a "Big Marijuana" that is just as treacherous
as "Big Tobacco?"
Not necessarily. The key to a successful outcome is good regulation.
For example, when's the last time you saw a tobacco ad on TV?
You don't, and that's because regulations don't permit that kind
of advertising anymore. Similarly, the alcohol industry self-regulates
its television advertising in order to prevent regulation by
the government. Thus, good regulations can prevent deceptive
advertising that would prey upon the public. My main concern,
though, about cannabis becoming big business is not about advertising.
Instead, I worry about a company such as Monsanto attempting
to control the entire market while restricting the variety of
strains and introducing genetically modified products. That is
a much more ominous possibility in my opinion. And finally, let
me point out that there already is a "Big Marijuana."
It's called the "black market" and the "cartel."
This, however, is a type of Big Marijuana that can't be controlled.
This is a Big Marijuana that isn't going to check the ID of a
consumer to make sure they are of legal age. A legalized Big
Marijuana can be regulated and controlled. A cartel can't.
- Is it bad
to drive while high?
Of course it is, and just as one should use alcohol resposibly,
so should one use cannabis responsibly. The good news, though,
is that research has shown that use
of cannabis alone tends to cause only mild to moderate impairment
of driving abilities. However, this same research
also shows that when both marijuana and alcohol are used simultaneously,
the level of impairment becomes severe. The bottom line: Don't
ever drive while under the influence of cannabis, alcohol, or
any medication that can impair your abilities.
research shown that legalizing medical or recreational marijuana
causes an increase in traffic accidents?
We can't say this with certainty,
and here's why. First, remember that correlation doesn't imply
causality. For example, if traffic accidents happen to increase
right when cannabis is legalized, that doesn't necessarily mean
that one event caused the other. Second, remember that metabolites
from marijuana can stay in your system for anywhere from a few
days to a month after being under the influence. Thus, any study
that talks about people having metabolites in their system at
the time of an accident is meaningless. We can't draw any conclusions
from the mere presence of these metabolites, because by themselves
they do not tell use whether the person was high at the time
or not. What we do know, however, from research is that marijuana
by itself tends to impair cognitive functions less than alcohol,
but when you combine marijuana and alcohol together, the impairment
is far worse than even alcohol by itself. Again, don't driver
while under the influence of anything, legal or otherwise, that
might affect your performance and put people's lives at risk.
And finally, here are three studies. The first
talks about marijuana related car crashes increasing, but remember
that the presence of metabolites doesn't mean the person was
high on marijuana at the time. The second
article reports traffic accidents decreasing since legalization
in colorado. And the third is a scientific
study of the effects of alcohol and cannabis on cognitive abilities.
marijuana create a distorted view of reality?
Marijuana doesn't create a distorted
view of reality. It creates a different view. In particular,
it creates a view that emphasizes the right brain more while
temporarily suppressing the analytical functions of the left
brain. As I say, it frees us from the tyranny of the left brain
so that we can move toward becoming a whole brain. Furthermore,
exposure to different ways of seeing reality can, in my opinion,
result in a less distorted view overall. However, if you want
to see some very distorted views of reality that are not related
to drug use, just observe some members of Congress, ... or Dick
Cheney. I suspect that many of them suffer from a severe cannabinoid
- Won't smoking
marijuana make you stupid?
Cannabis can cause temporary impairment of cognitive processes
just like alcohol does. In particular, an immediate effect of
cannabis is that it can disrupt short-term memory and our ability
to put two and two together, but it does not affect long-term
memory. And heavy use over time may, but not necessarily, cause
more serious impairment, again just like alcohol does. The results
of studies that have been done on heavy users of cannabis have
produced mixed results. Consequently, it hasn't been established
that even heavy use over time will cause any permanent brain
damage. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean being a heavy and frequent
user of cannabis is a good idea. Additionally, one study
done in Canada found an association between moderate use
of cannabis and a raise in IQ over time. Also, one difference
between cannabis and alcohol is that cannabis is an anti-inflammatory
that has many health benefits while alcohol, in comparison, has
few health benefits. Thus, at this point in time, if you are
using cannabis recreational and not for a medical reason, then
I would suggest using it only moderately, maybe even just once
or twice a month. And if you are using it medicinally, then perhaps
low dose tintures or strains high in CBD
may be sufficient to help your condition without keeping you
constanly high. For more information, see my sections on Marijuana and IQ and Ways
to Use Marijuana Without Getting High. The bottom line, though,
is that for moderate users the mental effects appear to be temporary,
and since there are plenty of other things out there that are
legal that make you stupid, that, in itself, is not a sufficient
reason for keeping cannabis illegal and sending people to jail.
- How do marijuana,
tobacco, and alcohol compare?
According to the Center for Disease
Control, excessive alcohol causes
about 88,000 deaths per year in the United States and has an
annual economic cost of $223.5 billion. Similarly, cigarette
smoke (direct and second hand) is responsible for 480,000
deaths per year in the United States and has an annual economic
cost of $289 billion. Meanwhile, no one has ever died from an
overdose of marijuana, and studies
show that using marijuana causes no increase in mortality
rates nor an increase in chronic breathing
problems. This is why many people say that marijuana is safer
- Alcohol and
tobacco are bad for you, so if we legalize cannabis, aren't we
just making one more bad thing available?
Everything can be abused and used
in unwise ways. For example, I and many others consume way too
much sugar. However, one of the differences between alcohol and
cannabis is that if you overdo it on alcohol, you will have a
hangover the next day. However, if you overdo it with marijuana,
you will just have some ancillary health benefits the next day.
Cannabis is a strong anti-inflammatory herb, and that makes it
very good for many of us. Plus, unlike alcohol and tobacco, there
are no long term illnesses associated with cannabis. For instance,
while heavy smoking could bring on a case of bronchitis, stories
that marijuana causes lung cancer or schizophrenia or an 8 point
drop in IQ have been debunked by recent studies. All in all,
cannabis in small, non-psychoactive doses has a lot of health
benefits, and in larger doses it is one of the safest ways to
experience altered states of consciousness. And lastly, it is
a healthier alternative to alcohol and tobacco.
- If teenagers
who use cannabis have a one out of six chance of becoming addicted,
then does that mean they will become addicted if they smoke six
No that's not what that means,
and surprisingly, Kevin Sabet, the director of Smart
Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) actually makes that statement
in a talk
he gave recently in Sweden. That and several other statements
he makes are debunked by the information contained on this webpage.
Anyway, what that statement actually does mean is that over time
about 17% of teenagers who use marijuana will become addicted,
and in the general public the addiction rate is estimated to
be 9%. Below for comparison is a chart showing the addiction
rates of marijuana and various other substances. Marijuana addiction
or dependence appears to afflict primarily heavy smokers, and
surveys indicate that the withdrawal
symptoms experienced are similar to those experienced by people
attempting to quit tobacco. In particular, anger, aggression,
irritability, anxiety, decreased appetite, weight loss, restlessness,
sleep difficulty, and strange dreams. The symptons peak within
2 to 3 days and can last one or two weeks. Also, here is a link to
a video of Kevin Sabet's recent talk. Using the information at
this website, see how many flaws you can find in Dr. Sabet's
- Will marijuana
increase my risk of having a heart attack?
Yes, marijuana will increase your
risk of having a heart attack by about
five times. That's the bad news. However, the good news is that
a person's overall risk of having a heart attack at any given
moment is so low that five times this number is still incredibly
small. To put it into perspective, your risk of having a heart
attack while smoking marijuana is about the same as your risk
of having a heart attack while exercising or having sex. In other
words, the average person doesn't really need to worry about
- Should marijuana
be legal for college age students?
In my opinion, no, marijuana should
not be legal for college age students. People in the age group
from 18 to 21 have still not fully matured either psychologically
or in terms of brain development. But on the other hand, I don't
think any arrests or criminal records should be imposed upon
people in this age group for using cannabis. Let's be honest.
It is generally illegal for people in this age group to buy and
use alcohol, but that does nothing to stop the beer from flowing.
Likewise, people in this age group who want to use cannabis are
still going to use it regardless of what laws are passed. I'm
simply saying that I believe that people this young still need
some restrictions on their behavior, but simultaneously, they
also need guidance. Given that they are going to use various
substances, they have to be taught beforehand how to make the
experience as safe as possible and also the importance of never
driving while under the influence. Additonally, I believe that
people this age are driven to seek out various experiences as
part of the brain's natural path towards maturity. Thus, let's
not make everything unrestricted, but at the same time, let's
do everything we can to ensure a positive outcome.
- We don't
give people opium to smoke for pain; we give them morphine which
is derived from opium. Can't we do the same with marijuana?
Some people believe that only pills
and other products derived from cannabis should be made available
as medicine, and, personally, I must say that I really do want
pharmaceutical companies to develop cannabis-based products that
effectively target very specific conditions. Nonetheless, the
whole cannabis plant also contains hundreds of different compounds
which can act together in synergestic ways that are hard to duplicate
in a pill, and that is why so many cancer and AIDS patients have
found use of the whole plant to be much more effective than marinol,
the pharmaceutical version of THC that is available in capsules.
Also, keep in mind that for thousands of years, all medicine
was herbal medicine. Just because modern medicine has made it
possible for pills with standardized doses to be created, that
doesn't mean that using a whole plant that contains hundreds
of additional and useful compounds isn't also good and effective
medicine. In fact, herbal remedies are still a very important
and effective branch of traditional Chinese medicine. Or, another
way to look at it, which would you prefer in the morning? A pill
with a standardized dose of caffeine or a nice hot cup of coffee?
There are situations where use of the whole plant may be better
and more effective than taking a pill. To say that it is not
medicine simply because it is in its whole plant form rather
than a pill form is simply ingnorant and ludicrous. For more
information, see my section on The
- What do
you see as the pros and cons of marijuana use?
On the con side, there is the temporary diminishing of short-term
memory and the ability to engage in complex chains of thought.
As a mathematician, I tend to see those as negatives. But on
the other hand, they can also be positives. Forgetfulness serves
an important purpose in that it helps us heal from pain and trauma
and move on with our lives, and the temporary disengagement from
the left hemisphere of the brain helps us see the world in different
ways. So the negatives of marijuana can also be positives. Additionally,
whereas the aftermath of drinking is often deterioration and
a hangover, the frequent aftermath of cannabis is healing. This
is because cannabis is an anti-inflammatory that can do many
things that are good for our health. Consequently, when used
in moderation, the postives of cannabis can outweigh the negatives.
And lastly, even though recent studies suggest that marijuana
can cause some shrinkage of the brain (while also increasing
interconnections), alcohol also causes short-term memory loss
and shrinkage of the brain. So don't overreact. The long history
of the use of cannabis by humans suggests that it is relatively
- What do
you see as the advantages to legalization of marijuana for recreation
use by adults 21 or older?
There are several advantages to
legalizing cannabis along with appropriate regulation. A few
of them are summarized below:
People will no longer acquire ciminal records, be sent to jail,
and lose jobs, voting rights, and student loans as a result of
having used cannabis. The current system ruins more lives than
abuse of cannabis does, and it puts a tremendous financial strain
on our society.
Many people will experience health benefits as a side-effect
of moderate cannabis use.
People will learn new ways to think and escape the tyranny of
the left brain. The left hemisphere of our brain is responsible
for language, mathematics, and logical thought, but it also can
create delusions that it then feels compelled to impose upon
others. For example, there is no global warming, torture is justified,
the earth is flat. Escaping the left brain lets us see that some
of our constructs are arbitrary.
The money currently spent on cannabis will go to legitimate businesses
and local governments instead of drug dealers and cartels.
No one is recommending that cannabis be legal for adults under
21, but if you do have a teenage child, then it's good to know
that a dispensary owner will ask for an ID. A drug dealer won't.
Cannabis that is sold legally can be appropriately regulated
with regard to quality control. Thus, vendors can be required
to have their product tested for cannabinoid content and to be
free of pesticides and mold. On the other hand, marijuana that
comes from a drug dealer or a friend could be adulterated with
pesticides or dangerous synthetic substances or who knows what?
With legal cannabis you can choose the type of product and the
strength you want, and not everyone wants a strain with ultra-high
levels of THC. However, with illegal marijuana, you are stuck
with whatever your drug dealer or friends have.
Legalization would end much of the racism that has become a part
of the war on drugs.
Legalization would also likely be less harmful to society than
our current system which has resulted in the U.S. having 25%
of the world's prisoners even though we have only 5% of the world's
And finally, legalization is a step towards cognitive
liberty, our right to control our own thought processes as
long as we are not a danger to ourselves or others.
- What positions
do major medical organizations take on the use of marijuana?
Organizations take a variety of different positions. For a list
of organizations exhibiting various forms of opposition to cannabis,
go to Smart
Approaches on Marijuana (SAM), and for a list of groups that
exhibit some form of support for cannabis, go to the National
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. However, also
keep in mind that large institutions will often have a lot of
inertia and, consequently, change very slowly. That is one of
the reason why in the Talmud
the ancient sages said that we must always listen to the patient.
The voices of the people will tell you how medical marijuana
has improved their lives.
"If the patient says, 'I need food,' while the physician
says, 'He does not need it,' we listen to the patient. What is
the reason? 'The heart knows its own bitterness (Proverbs 14:10).'"
-Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 83a