Won't be long before Senator Nick Scutari drops a bill to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use in NJ. I'm guessing his marijuana legalization bill hits the hopper on (or about) March 25th. For folks like me working to end marijuana prohibition, that's good news. But late March isn't far off so we don't have much time to dispel the gazillion or so marijuana myths which curtail our collective ability to enact sensible marijuana policy in New Jersey.
I can't strike down all the reefer-madness but I can draft a top-ten list of myths that animate our current failed marijuana policy.
Marijuana does NOT kill. Notwithstanding the (unlikely) scenario of being murdered by someone named "Marijuana," it's never going to happen. Even America's deputy drug czar can't think of a single example to back up the whole "Pot Kills" ruse. That's because it's a myth. So do yourself a favor and dispel yourself of the notion and focus on stuff that does actually kill. Things like Oxycontin and crystal meth.
Marijuana is a Gateway Drug. Right?
Some drug myths are particularly durable, especially the notion that marijuana is a Gateway to more dangerous substances like heroin or meth. The old "Gateway" canard has been used to justify our failed War of Drugs my whole life. We've all heard it. This false notion -- pot is a Gateway drug -- is usually based on anecdotal evidence: some addiction stories do in fact begin with marijuana use. But correlation is NOT causation. If it were, one could credibly argue that baby formula is a gateway to hard drugs. All addicts nursed as infants, right? But no one's gonna make such an asinine claim without drawing ridicule.
The Gateway Lie is especially pernicious because it undermines the credibility of parents (and drug policymakers) who over-sell the relative dangers of drugs and alcohol. Kids may be naive but they're not stupid. And when we BS our kids about something as consequential as drug use, they're usually clever enough to see through our propaganda.
If we're gonna ignore science and base our national drug policy on anecdotes, other anecdotes exist to rebuke the whole Marijuana-as-Gateway line. For example, when I went to rehab for meth-amphetimines in 2003 the Gateway Thing came up a few times, including a discussion on how/when/were our respective addiction journey began. Not one of my fellow inpatient rehab "colleagues" mentioned marijuana use - instead citing booze and/or pills - as the Real Gateway to their substance abuse issues. My road to meth began with gin. In high school. I didn't smoke pot until college.
What About the Children?
Adults in New Jersey who want to discreetly and responsibly use marijuana should NOT be criminals. That's what this debate is about. I'm a high-functioning marijuana user who didn't start smoking pot until college (when my brain was fully developed.) In retrospect that was a wise move because there's a colossal difference between the brain of a child and that of a grown up. There are even bigger differences between pot and crack cocaine.
Sadly, most marijuana prohibitionists seem constitutionally incapable of even acknowledging these distinctions which is highly problematic. And it's an awfully shaky foundation for drug policymaking. Having an irrational, myth-soaked conversation about pot is NOT going to help our kids avoid hard drugs. We help our kids avoid hard drugs by having an honest conversation about hard drugs.
Bottom line: if the end goal is to help our kids avoid (meth, heroin, crack, et al) then we're doing it wrong. And being honest about grown-up topics (drugs, safe sex, etc) is not a tacit endorsement of said behavior. Because no matter where you stand on legalization, we can all agree that kids smoking pot is not smart. But when time comes and we gently nudge 'em outta the nest, do we send them into the world armed with myths about marijuana? Or with facts about the real dangers out there?
I'll Be Sharing the Road with Stoned Drivers.
Driving under the influence is illegal. Period. That won't change when we end marijuana prohibition.
"We allow adults to use alcohol responsibly, and we punish adults if they use it irresponsibly, and that includes driving while drunk," said Mason Tvert, spox for the Marijuana Policy Project. "We should be doing the same thing with marijuana."
Legalizing marijuana for adults will NOT unleash a mad torrent of absent-minded stoners onto NJ roadways. Dispel yourself of the notion.
Studies of the crash risk associated with marijuana have produced mixed results, says Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
"Not only do we not have consensus on the risk associated with the presence of marijuana — we don't have information on the crash risk for different amounts of marijuana," McCartt says. "We don't even have good information on how many drivers involved in fatal crashes test positive for marijuana. So there's a lot we don't know."
I Don't Want my Doctor Stoned.
I hear not-so-clever rhetorical questions like "do you want your heart surgeon to be stoned?" all the time. For the record the answer is no.
And if I though for once nanosecond that my heart surgeon was so emphatically unprofessional that she'd be doing bong hits before, I dunno, replacing my heart valve I'd behave like a responsible, informed consumer and get a second opinion. If that's not an option and I was still truly worried I would tell my doctor about my irrational fear of stoned surgeons and extract a promise that no one would pull out a joint when I'm under the knife.
Marijuana Disproportionately Affects Inner Cities.
Of all the myths on this list, this one's the laziest. Probably because it involves race and class. And because our current tough-on-drugs policies, black people are disproportionately affected. It is a fact that different kinds of people have different experiences with the criminal justice system. Face it: a rich person from Montclair who gets popped for smoking a joint could throw a little money at it and make the problem go way. The same joint would get a black person arrested. The same joint would get a brown person deported. Think about it. A more liberal approach to our marijuana laws actually benefits most those on the margin, including poor folk in the inner city.
Pot is addictive.
Unlike nicotine, heroin, crack meth, booze, Oxycontin, cocaine, Percocet and Valium, pot is NOT physically addictive. Psychologically addictive? Sure. But then again so is Ben&Jerry's. So let's keep it real when it comes to discussing the relative dangers of any behavior.
Marijuana Advocacy is Politically Radioactive, Fringy
This myth is easy to debunk. And as much as politicians want you to believe they don't mind the polls, most polls wouldn't exist if politicians didn't pay attention. As for marijuana legalization, well, have you seen the latest numbers? Americans know our current War on Drugs is a failure and seem ready to chart a sensible, novel approach. Smart politicians will pick up on that soon enough and campaign accordingly. That's why marijuana legalization is NO LONGER a political liability.
I know this was supposed to be a top-ten list, but I'm suddenly so eager to buttonhole sponsors to Sen. Scutari's marijuana legalization bill that I'm gonna cut it short here and do just that. With any luck, we'll score co-prime sponsors from both parties AND in each house!
Stay tuned to this space.
Jay Lassiter is a political consultant and long-time New Jersey political activist-for-hire. He was a lobbyist for NJ's medical marijuana law and he currently serves on the board for the Coalition for Medical Marijuana of NJ. He's currently available for campaign work and/or shirtless bar-tending gigs. You can follow him on Twitter @Jay_Lass.
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