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:

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.


  1. 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.
         
  2. 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.
        
  3. 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.

  4. 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. Furthermore, cannabidiol (CBD), one of the cannabinoids in marijuana, has been shown to have definite antispychotic properties.
       
  5. 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
        
  6. Wouldn't 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.
       
  7. Doesn't 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.
        
  8. 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.
      
  9. 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.
      
  10. 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.
      
  11. Hasn't 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.
       
  12. Doesn't 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 deficiency!
       
  13. 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.
        
  14. 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 than alcohol.
        
  15. 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.
       
  16. 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 joints?

    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 arguments.
       

         
  17. 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 it.
        
  18. 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.
       
  19. 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 Entourage Effect.
       
  20. 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 benign.
       
  21. 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 total population.

    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.
         
  22. 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