Monday, July 20, 2009

Why Legalizing Marijuana Won't Destroy America (or Anyone Else)

LA Times states that in a Zogby International poll taken earlier this year, 44% of Americans said marijuana should be taxed and legally regulated like alcohol and cigarettes. Here's probably why:

Annual American Deaths Caused by Drugs:

Tobacco: 400,000
Alcohol: 100,000
All Legal Drugs: 20,000
ALL Illegal Drugs: 15,000
Caffeine: 2,000
Aspirin: 500
Marijuana: 0

(National Institute of Drug Abuse)

Yet, it doesn't surprise me when someone (most often of my own gender) proclaims 'that pothead' to be the spawn of evil. This is what we've been raised to believe: pot is scandalous; potheads, lawless lowlifes. But like so many other societal traditions and myths that we have also been raised to believe, this one's no less of baloney. And its believers, as usual, have no idea what they're talking about.

Take it from someone who used to be that believer only a few years ago. Also take it from someone who has absolutely nothing to gain from giving up that belief--I don't smoke. Anything. Yet, I now look back ruefully at all the times I equated marijuana smokers with scandalous, lawless perpetrators of evil and think: what an utterly tiresome waste of time.

What instigated this post however is not that realization, but an interesting exchange I had with a friend one afternoon. Like 56% of misguided Americans, my friend draws an 'absolute' line at smoking pot and those who do it. Total disdain (no Harolds and Kumars in her circle!). It got me thinking: how exactly does that whole 'drinking is plain good fun but marijuana we draw a line at' argument work? Considering that drunk drivers kill thousands each year, alcohol poisoning kills, excessive drinking damages the liver, and the general profile of a drunk is that of a miserably unhappy and violent menace to society, how does smoking pot compare?

1) People killed in road accidents by non-drunk pot smokers: 0
2) Number of rowdy bar fights: 0
3) Number of godawful rants about their childhood/mother/ex-wife recounted to complete strangers (with tears): 0
4) Tears: 0

On the other hand, marijuana users are routinely found to be excessively happy and hungry, traits that haven't to date killed any of them. But kudos to the Alcohol industry on fooling an entire civilization so superbly for so long. And as for all you Mexican pot smugglers, you have obviously no marketing skills whatsoever, precisely why you need to be replaced by legal marijuana trading channels--the kind that pay their taxes.

There is no doubt that like anything else in the world (including Skittles and High Fructose Corn Syrup), Marijuana is subject to abuse. Its frequent overuse can induce lethargic behavior (commonly known as laziness). It can also cause short-term memory loss, but only while under the influence and does not impair long-term memory. Contrary to another myth, marijuana also does not lead to harder drugs. People who want to do hard drugs, need not use marijuana as a gateway--Cocaine, Heroine and other hard drugs have nothing in common with marijuana. Unlike them, marijuana does not cause brain damage or damage the immune system, or kill brain cells and induce violent behavior like alcohol does. Continuous long-term smoking of marijuana can cause bronchitis, for the same reason that Cigarettes can cause bronchitis: inhaling smoke. But chances of bronchitis from casual marijuana smoking are tiny, and if only marijuana was legal and marketed through legal means, people would know that respiratory health hazards can be totally eliminated by consuming it through non-smoking methods, such as vaporizers or baked foods.

What annoys me the most about the entire debate surrounding marijuana is the hypocrisy found on the other end of the argument. Tobacco and Alcohol industries pour billions of dollars into marketing and lobbying their products as cool, stylish, and socially acceptable recreational products. Yet it is universally accepted that both have harmful side-effects on health. But the brouhaha surrounding marijuana and its users is so powerful, so ingrained, that without knowing the least bit about cannabis and its effects, society lumps it together with The Drugs. Hard drugs are dangerous, seriously detrimental to health, addictive. Marijuana is neither. And yet, this faulty, pointless debate keeps thriving based on self-righteous and ignorant assumptions.

What's ironic is that many of our ancestors were brighter than that. The elders of South Asia mixed 'Ma'ajoon' (a form of powdered cannabis) into herbal medicine for those in pain. Sufis used it to help them meditate. If only these scandalous evilmongers knew their Ma'ajoon will become such a huge, annoying deal one day...