Unwatched Pot: Do we know enough about marijuana?

Image courtesy of WBUR, a Boston NPR Station

I’ve been thinking about marijuana since my home state of Michigan legalized its use in November. I read Malcolm Gladwell’s piece in the January 14, 2019 issue of New Yorker.

I am ambivalent about legalizing it. The state criminal justice system spends a lot of money prosecuting marijuana crimes, mostly for possession arrests. The majority of people arrested are poor African Americans. After listening to Season 3 of Serial on the impact of the criminal justice system on the poor of Cleveland, Ohio, I feel it is a good idea to eliminate marijuana as a crime, especially with the poor. I think it is good that this is no longer the case and hopefully the government will treat it as a health issue and not a crime.

I am concerned, however, that with the legalization, that more people will be using marijuana. 10 US states have legalized recreational use and there are only three states that prohibit any use. I think that is the last thing Michigan, and America needs. A drug that anecdotally encourages people to be less active, eat more and decrease motivation, will not be good for a country already suffering from this.

Gladwell points out that there are not any long-term, large studies on the effects of marijuana use. Some studies show marijuana use increases incidents of mental illness, especially schizophrenia and perhaps even violent behavior. I know this sounds like the 1936 documentary, Reefer Madness, but I don’t think we know enough about it. As it becomes more mainstream, like cigarettes and alcohol, I believe we will see more research findings.

Gladwell mentions e-cigarettes and how they are being handled by governments as a comparison to marijuana. He wrote that e-cigarettes are 95% less harmful than regular cigarettes, but in many ways, it is more difficult to buy them. Educators are seeing increased use of e-cigarettes by teenagers and this is a concern.

I will be curious to see how we view marijuana use over time. We are embarking on a large-scale experiment on the effects on our society. I wonder how we will feel 20 years from now.

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