Monday, December 29, 2014

The March of Marijuana

Interesting to observe, over time, how various drugs are managed by a large democracy. By drugs I mean tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, morphine, heroin, and the like—thus substances we do not need —but they cause various changes in our physical and mental state we view as desirable. These substances fall into three categories: permitted, marginal, and prohibited. Before the substances became widely used and were therefore “recognized,” they were easily obtainable, witness Sherlock Holmes’ use of cocaine. Cocaine’s progress has been from sold, to marginal (in Dr. Watson’s opinion), to prohibited. Alcohol was prohibited but then, what with the impossibility effectively to control so widely-used a drug, was once more permitted and continues to be a source of state revenues. Nicotine is halfway into the marginal category now. It is officially frowned upon and major propaganda is deployed to reduce its usage. At the same time, in the form of nicotine gum, lozenges, and e-cigarettes, it is trying to recapture its earlier permitted status. And marijuana…?

Marijuana is certainly in transition. It is in transition from an illegal substance to at least a tolerated drug, thus from prohibited to marginal—with the future probably holding full permission to use by all. Where it is permitted, it is becoming a major source of revenues for the states involved. Herewith I show a graphic from Wikipedia’s article titled “Legality of cannabis by U.S. state” (link).

Anything that changes human behavior by chemical means, other than through intake of ordinary food and water, produces strange ambiguities. I read somewhere a rather wise statement long ago. It asserted that laws to which the public does not uniformly assent are ultimately unenforceable. Drug regulation introduces this ambiguity—clearly seen in the prohibition of alcohol (1920-1933); what surprises me about alcohol is that it took 13 years to repeal Prohibition. Perhaps that experience taught the collective that a direct prohibition—say of all tobacco products—would just produce a massive (and difficult to tax) black market. Marijuana is teaching us is that legalizing it produces a massive increase in tax revenues—and its decriminalization saves the money necessary to enforce the law.

As for the relative dangers of, say, alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana, such things are very difficult to measure. How many deaths are associated with alcohol use? In that case two sets of data must be meshed somehow: deaths from drunken driving and deaths from liver failure. Tobacco? Inhaling cigarette smoke is definitely a killer, but nicotine is not considered to be a carcinogen and may be ingested in other ways than through smoke. Now as for marijuana, Brigitte I learned this morning from the New York Times that it may be eaten as well as smoked. Indeed, says the Times, “Major New York publishing houses and noted cookbook authors are pondering marijuana projects.” It’s just a short step from pondering to action. Soon, in a store near you, those cannabis cup cakes will be ready for purchase. Meanwhile one can still chew on a cigar…

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