Friday Takeaway: High anxiety

  • Bill Dwight poses in front of the Pie Bar

For Hampshire Life
Published: 2/8/2019 10:54:01 AM

Marijuana is legal in Massachusetts now. The guess is that there will be a total of 30 states where that will be the case in the next couple of years. The paradigm has shifted, for better or worse. 

Massachusetts’ emergence from the prohibition has been cautious and considered. And, as of this writing, the total revenue generated in the Commonwealth from the legal sale of cannabis products since the middle of November is very close to $24 million. Lines of people waiting in the worst weather imaginable are on the decline. The opening of more retail shops and the inevitable waning of the first-to-get-an-iPhone zeal have led to more reasonable circumstances. Still, the change has prompted concerns as change tends to do.

I first got high on weed as a teenager. (That’s right: I inhaled. And then I exhaled … and inhaled again.) The pot I smoked, a relatively weak strain of Mexican leaf, was nothing like the slick high-potency pot packaged and sold today. But it felt exotic. For me, it was as much about the transgression as it was about the buzz. If I was going to alter my consciousness, it was going to be with something a lot more taboo than beer. I eventually gave up the stuff in my mid-twenties because, to be honest, I hated the cyclical loop of inane thoughts it induced, and I really couldn’t cope with the banalities of stoner culture. So, snobbery straightened me out. Not a moral or political opposition to ganja.

Prohibitions are problematic. We humans apparently have a primal urge to change our consciousness and, by golly, we’ll go to any lengths to achieve that. From kids spinning around until they fall down dizzy and giggling to deep spiritual explorations to chemically arousing concoctions, we do tend to find a way to mess with our heads, regardless of the consequences. The regulations we have created to control those behaviors have not been very successful, to say the least. That’s probably due to the fact that they were not inspired by reason but, rather, by fear. The laws banning marijuana were especially pernicious and were created in a frenzy of ignorance, racism and classism. Science had nothing to do with them.

What prohibitions do succeed in is creating a pure libertarian capitalistic model where the “Invisible Hand” is holding a Glock, unencumbered by oversight. Ironically, the super-hybrids and myriad of efficient means to cultivate and consume cannabis are direct results of its illegality. Aspiring criminal entrepreneurs developed workarounds. The same thing happened with alcohol prohibition. The soft drink industry, cocktails and stock cars wouldn’t exist as they do today without the creative scofflaws who devised ways to make home-brewed bile more palatable or vehicles to outrun “revenooers” on the back roads of the rural South. Speedboats were all the rage back in the “Miami Vice” era because they were evolving in the battle between cocaine runners and the Drug Enforcement Administration, both groups striving to make the fastest boat. Now, I’m not going to argue that any of these innovations are hallmarks of advancement in our culture. But they do serve as reminders that if there’s wealth to be gained, there will always be someone willing to go to any lengths, including killing people, to realize it.

A recent op-ed piece in the New York Times by Alex Berenson titled “Don’t Ignore the Risks of Pot” reports that recent peer-reviewed studies demonstrate the potential for increased risk of schizophrenia and psychosis by frequent consumers of marijuana. He also hints that acts of violence and opioid addiction possibly increase with chronic use of the modern versions of consumable cannabis. And that is cause for concern and continued study. Studies, by the way, that are authorized now that universal legalization seems inevitable and which can be funded with revenues from regulated sales.

Arguably the greatest harms that marijuana inflicted historically were the consequences of its criminality rather than its use. I’m not making an argument that it's benign. Hell, water isn’t benign. But compared to the sanctioned use of cigarettes, guns, alcohol, prescription drugs and automobiles, it certainly appears less ruinous.

The reactions to marijuana’s new legitimacy have included consternation about a possible increase in stoned drivers absent any test to determine whether marijuana contributed to the intoxication. But impaired driving, just as is the case with distracted driving and just plain bad driving, is actionable. Impaired driving can result in removing the driver from the road. Violators are just not as likely to go to jail or lose their licenses as someone who fails a Breathalyzer test. Then there are the pro-cannabis folks who make preposterous claims that those cannabinoid preparations are a virtual panacea and that we are about to embark on a new era of serene good health, peace and fulfilling relationships. To hear them talk, grass is the new cold-fusion combined with the ketogenic diet.

Marijuana has been around and used for a very long time by an awful lot of people. The miraculous curative values really haven’t panned out. Nor has the destruction of civil society. The biggest change here is that instead of imbibing in a 4:20 moment with a product from a criminal cartel, you can now partake in the inspected wares of a regulated big corporation. You know… a chartered cartel. And some proceeds from the sale will go back to the host communities and the state, purportedly to be applied toward de-stigmatized addiction treatment, education and peer-reviewed research.

As I said before, though, for me the thrill is gone. Now marijuana is no edgier than golf. These days I get a buzz from just standing up too fast. That’s enough for me, thank you.

Bill Dwight is a Northampton city councilor and a pie wrangler at the Florence Pie Bar. 


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