Why Can’t Texas Cash in on the Marijuana Bonanza?

I rail against my native state Texas for the wellspring of stupid politicians we have been seeing over the last few years but the state does have some economic benefits for its citizens.  So why can’t they see the financial gold mine that other states are beginning to realize by legalizing pot?

marijuana-posters

In a depressed economy where politicians are unwilling to raise taxes to pay for vital social services and equally vital infrastructure, you would think they could get beyond outdated taboos and unreasonable fears to find the necessary resources to sustain such services.   There’s a natural product out there that’s been around for centuries that suffers from this stigma.  One that not only has medicinal benefits to it but when properly regulated could reduce crime and prison populations while generating revenue to put people back to work in construction and the essential public services of education, law enforcement and firefighting services.

Marijuana has long been the victim of social biases that prevents its entry into the market place along the lines that alcohol and tobacco have.  The alleged “evils” of marijuana have always overshadowed its economic value.  The hemp cultivated from the Cannabis plant has the ability to produce seed foods, hemp oil, wax, resin, rope, cloth, pulp, and fuel.

devils_harvest

movie poster for “Devil’s Harvest”, a 1942 film about an investigator who goes after the people who are corrupting the nation’s youth by spreading the weed of Satan–MARIJUANA!!!

There are, like any controversy, pros and cons to marijuana’s use as a euphoric substance.  But before we tackle the facts and myths about marijuana lets come to terms with two arguments that hang over the use of any drug.

The Social Stigma of Marijuana  cannabis

Any mind-altering chemical can impair judgement where some choices under the influence could jeopardize your health and well-being.  But if the effects of the buzz that marijuana gives you was the only reason to prevent legalizing it, then alcohol and caffeine would have to be banned as well as other controlled substances (and some not so controlled) that currently make million$ for chemical and pharmaceutical companies.

There’s also the point of view that getting high in any fashion seems unnatural and thus unnecessary.  Only weak-minded people want to get high, or so the argument goes.  Yet natural states of high are built into our physiological system so that argument has little merit.  Socially acceptable highs that don’t consist of controlled substances are the high we get from sugar and food.  Getting “high on Jesus” or the high we get from winning a competitive sporting event are responses that many promote, not condemn.

There will be a propensity to induce this natural high, even by artificial means, to reduce the ill-effects of stress in today’s world where depression is reaching epidemic proportions.  Alleviating excessive stress is necessary for sound health but not everyone can attain a state of nirvana through exercise and yoga therapies, not to mention the time it takes to achieve these states by using such tactics.  Life styles that develop and sustain healthy diets, exercise, 7-8 hours of sleep and are filled with healthy doses of sex and genuine love for other humans, usually avoids the need for getting high from manufactured sources.  But finding such ideal conditions in today’s fast-paced world has become more a thing of the past.

I don’t dispute that natural processes have advantages that unnatural measures haven’t but I am only making the point that getting high is not an innate evil and avoiding it is not necessarily something that should be done at all costs.  Making marijuana illegal is not going to stop anyone who wants to try it.  It does increase the risk of providing a product that has unsafe levels of THC, not to mention other toxic elements that get picked up through the less than ideal conditions of growing, harvesting and handling it from producer to consumer.

Considering the Facts  weed-infographic-1

So, considering these two overarching points let’s look at the myths and facts on marijuana put out by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), that governmental agency that currently supports what most assume is the general consensus of the American people.


Myth #1:  Marijuana is harmless

This is a straw man that of course can easily be knocked down but is not a myth that anyone sensible would argue.  Depending on where they got their marijuana, what one’s existing health conditions are and the frequency they use it, marijuana like anything else can be harmful.   Drinking too much water can be fatal.  Too much Jesus and too much Mohammad can and has been fatal since the days of the Crusades.  Too much food or the wrong foods can be fatal.  So suggesting that proponents of legalizing marijuana are claiming that the weed is harmless is simply a red herring that ignores the caveats that apply.

One of the claims the ONDCP makes here is that the health threat is greater based on  “the fact that the marijuana available today is more potent than ever”.  The potency currently is regulated by drug lords whose sole aim is to make it more addictive and thus more profitable.  When licensed pot dealers who are regulated by U.S. inspectors meet standards that control potency, where this is a threat, it then becomes contained.  But how big of a threat is this really?

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) notes that “Although marijuana potency may have increased somewhat in recent decades, claims about enormous increases in potency are vastly overstated and not supported by evidence. Nonetheless, potency is not related to risks of dependence or health impacts. According to the federal government’s own data, the average THC in domestically grown marijuana – which comprises the bulk of the US market – is less than 5 percent, a figure that has remained unchanged for nearly a decade.”

Myth #2:  Marijuana is not addictive

I can personally vouch for this but again that doesn’t mean this applies in all instances.  The government claims that “recent research shows that use of the drug can indeed lead to dependence.  Some heavy users of marijuana develop withdrawal symptoms when they have not used the drug for a period of time.”

The key term is “heavy users”.  According to the DPA “a federal Institute of Medicine study in 1999, fewer than 10 percent of those who try marijuana ever meet the clinical criteria for dependence, while 32 percent of tobacco users and 15 percent of alcohol users do.”

Perhaps the best argument that disputes the government’s claim about marijuana being addictive is that studies have found that addiction is not the result of some external substance.  It’s a neurological disorder, making addiction a health problem.  Ten kids can meet after school and smoke a joint but none will become addicts unless their brain isn’t wired properly to prevent this health defect.

In his book Clean, David Sheff takes an in-depth look into the causes of addiction.  Though he finds that teens are especially prone to drug use and more likely to become addicted the earlier they start, any addiction that does occur “is almost always a symptom of another illness like PTSD, depression or obsessive disorder that likely doesn’t get treatment during any recovery program”.

 

Myth #3:  Marijuana is not as harmful to your health as tobacco.

This would only be a fact if the average pot smoker toked as many joints a day as the average smoker.  At the height of my smoking days I would consume two packages a day of cigarettes.  During this same period I may have had inhaled a total joint in one week’s time.  I know several people who smoked at least a reefer once or twice a day, everyday.  I’m pretty sure that most smokers I was acquainted with smoked at a bare minimum 10 -15 cigarettes a day.

The ONDCP actually makes this case for me when they point out that “regular use of marijuana appears to be at least as damaging as regular use of tobacco”.  These are their words, not mine.  Notice they say regular use of marijuana, not the casual users or infrequent tokers.    And then they fall short of any absolute by stating that this “appears” to be the case.

This entire argument should be pretty much dismissed because beyond the ONDCP’s claims based on a 1990 study entitled “Pulmonary complications of smoked substance abuse” and published by the Western Journal of Medicine, there is a more recent one from the  University of Alabama at Birmingham and University of California at San Francisco, that finds “Occasional marijuana use does not appear to have long-term adverse effects on lung function.  In fact they found that “cigarette smokers saw lung function worsen throughout the 20-year [study] period, but marijuana smokers did not. “

Myth #4:  Marijuana makes you mellow.

Yes it does but it can also make you anxious and if you are prone to violence without ingesting marijuana, guess what?  You’re going to be even more so at a heightened state induced by smoking the weed.  Again, potency levels can be in play here but the research the ONDCP claims, regarding violence levels and marijuana use, doesn’t make us aware of what the behavior traits prior to smoking marijuana are of the “kids who use marijuana weekly” and who they found to be four times more likely to be violent than non-users.

“According to that study, incidences of physically attacking people, stealing, and destroying property increased in proportion to the number of days marijuana was smoked in the past year. Users were also twice as likely as non­users to report they disobey at school and destroy their own things.”  Was this a pattern of behavior prior to smoking weed and was weed the only drug being used here?  What was the mental health state of these individuals?  We don’t know any of this because the ONDCP fails to make such correlations.

Myth #5:  Marijuana is used to treat cancer and other diseases.

This is another straw man created by anti-marijuana supporters and is mentioned in the ONDCP’s report.  What supporters of medicinal marijuana claim is that it has been proven helpful for treating the symptoms of a variety of medical conditions.  Big difference between implying that it directly “treats cancer” and treating “symptoms of cancer”.  In its report the ONDCP does state “that THC, the primary active chemical in marijuana, can be useful for treating some medical problems. Synthetic THC is the main ingredient in Marinol®, an FDA­approved medication used to control nausea in cancer chemotherapy patients and to stimulate appetite in people with AIDS. Marinol, a legal and safe version of medical marijuana, has been available by prescription since 1985.”

It further claims that marijuana as a smoked product has never proven to be medically beneficial and sites a 1999 study from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that “concluded that smoking marijuana is not recommended for any long­term medical use, and a subsequent IOM report declared, “marijuana is not a modern medicine.”  Yet Several state legislatures appear to have found sufficient evidence that disputes this claim along with the testimonies of many cancer patients who smoke the rope to alleviate their pain symptoms.  It also ignores the fact that Big Pharma gets a cut in the legal sale of Marinol®   In those states that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes patients are allowed to grow their own and thus save the expense of a drug store purchase.

What really caught my eye is the ONDCP’s claim that  “medicines are not approved in this country by popular vote. Before any drugs can be released for public use they must undergo rigorous clinical trials (emphasis mine) to demonstrate they are both safe and effective, and then be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Our investment and confidence in medical science will be seriously undermined if we do not defend the proven process by which medicines are brought to market.”

The image of the FDA as one that looks out for the interests of American consumers has been seriously tainted over the last few decades.  So-called “rigorous testing” is often nothing more than those tests that the companies themselves have done and submitted to the FDA for review.  These tests are then signed off on by FDA officials who are under pressure from corporate friendly directors often appointed by conservative administrations.   One WSJ report noted in the case of Menaflex, a new device to treat knee injuries, that “some senior FDA staff members complained in documents that the handling of Menaflex, made by ReGen Biologics Inc., shows how political and industry pressure can influence scientific conclusions.”

The deaths of some 60,000 people occurred when the FDA failed to do due diligence with the reports from Merck with their nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug,Vioxx, after it was discovered that they “were developed by the company’s marketing department, not its scientific department.”    

So until the FDA can be shown to once again serve the public’s interests rather than  pharmaceutical lobbyists, we needn’t feel intimidated by the ONDCP’s claims about “our investment and confidence in medical science” is being undermined regarding medical marijuana.   For more on the FDA’s recent history for easy approval on pharmaceuticals read, The Problem with Fast-Tracking Drug Approvals: Pharmas Fail to Follow Up  

Addendum, Ad nauseam  ad nauseam

The remaining five myths posted on the ONDCP’s web page are equally filled with vagueness and misinformation or inadequate information.  Comparing marijuana’s use to the Ecstasy drug is an irrelevant apples to oranges comparison.  And if the main reason the government feels that someone’s marijuana use is hurting those other than users because of the “violent” nature of marijuana trafficking, then it only seems reasonable that we remove this problem by taking it away from unregulated drug lords.

Not only do we remove the violence but we control the conditions its grown under and processed for sale.  The money we save decriminalizing it by removing it from court dockets and emptying prison space will be additionally enhanced by the tax revenue we garner from its legitimate sale.   Then of course there is the additional jobs benefits this new business creates.

Underage kids are no more likely to get their hands on it as a legalized substance than they are in its current state.  Even the ONDCP admits that “if kids want marijuana, they can find it. More than half (55 percent) of youths age 12 to 17 responding to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2002 reported that marijuana would be easy to obtain. The survey indicated that most marijuana users got the drug from a friend, and that almost nine percent of youths who bought marijuana did so inside a school building.”

But here’s the clincher that ONDCP makes.  “[N]early 17 percent of the young people surveyed said they had been approached by someone selling drugs in the past month.  In the 2000 survey, more than a quarter of 12­ to 17­ year­olds (26.6 percent) reported that drug­selling occurs frequently in their neighborhoods”.

It only seems logical that the need to “push” marijuana in locations where kids gather is because there are no legal outlets that can be monitored for underage sells.  Strict regulation and monitoring of known suppliers in a legal environment diminishes, if not removes, this vulnerability to our nation’s youth.

Reality Check  realitycheck

Let’s be clear here though.  Like any controlled substance there are hazards that can occur.  Abuses in all aspects will prevent a scenario where those who shouldn’t have access to marijuana are unable to do so.  Like smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol and eating unhealthy foods, parents and society have an obligation to provide accurate information and utilize all resources to educate our kids about marijuana smoking. Proper education is something we are always obligated to do despite any industry’s effort to circumvent such education to protect their profits.

Rather than using science to appeal to their intellects we will fail as we currently have to prevent inquisitive kids from trying something that society considers taboo.  Taboo not for the right reasons but for the fairy tales we tell them that discredits our authority in their eyes once they discover that they won’t grow horns from its use. There’s nothing to  prevent concerned citizens to diligently educate kids about marijuana  as they do other drugs, especially alcohol, in a child’s formative years; in their homes, their schools, churches and youth clubs.

If a child or young adult then makes the choice to use pot, then clearly there are drivers there that not even attempts to banish its access will stop.  Throwing them in jail may have a “scared straight” effect but it will also give them a criminal record that will follow them in their early attempts to seek gainful employment and could even associate them with a true criminal element that may carry on once they’re no longer incarcerated

marijuana-protest

Once we resolve to act like intelligent adults not motivated by irrational fears, then we can take control of a product that has too long been socially demeaned and its users relegated to a criminal icon.  We remove the stigma and the legal costs that takes this thing out of the dark shadows and make it a profitable source of revenue that creates jobs and funds for the essential public services that the anti-marijuana crowd seem all to willing to cut taxes for.

Now if only these facts will penetrate the thick skulls of the ideologues and bible thumpers here in Texas we may solve our budget issues they created in the first place.

RELATED ITEMs:

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Wednesday, 02 May 2012 08:59

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7 responses to “Why Can’t Texas Cash in on the Marijuana Bonanza?

  1. Superbly thought-through, well articulated argument, Larry.

    The poster reminded me of a 1960’s reproduction we had on our wall at uni: “Pot, weed with roots in Hell!”

    • Thanks John. I remember them showing this movie in the 1960’s at the drive-ins as pot was making its resurgence with the youth at that time. We would go watch it stoned and howl our asses off.

  2. Well done Larry…..my only problem is myth #4….over the years I have been around a lot of weed users and not once have I seen any destructive tendencies……most times the users want 3 things…..snacks, drink and to get laid……

  3. I think we are turning the corner when this becomes legal. It’s certainly no worse than alcohol, and I suspect rather safer. Thanks for a good article Larry.

    • Compared to all the “legal” stuff that’s out there today and the abuses that occur with them, pot will not add to this and decriminalizing it will reduce budget deficits and give people back their lives. We just need to get past the “evil weed” meme.

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