Stoner Nation

A while back, I wrote an article about how we were rapidly turning into the society portrayed in the science fiction classic Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, where sex is casual, uncommitted, and strictly for pleasure, where marriage, parenthood and family are such outdated concepts they're considered obscene, where conspicuous consumption is encouraged, where entertainment overloads our cognition and overstimulates our senses and, if all else fails to amuse, where you can dull your mind to the world around you with widely available and easily accessible narcotics. Like the "bread and circuses" of Roman times, we will be lulled into indifference by our appetites, and conquered without a shot being fired. I was thinking about this again as I read more news articles about states looking to legalize marijuana, a policy initiative that seems to have taken on a greater priority than I think it deserves in these troubled times. I know it's a cause célèbre for libertarians and liberals/progressives, and I certainly agree that marijuana should be legal for verifiable medical uses, but as I survey the landscape, it just seems to me that we've got more pressing problems than making it legal to toke for recreational purposes. Of course, I speak as someone who has no interest whatsoever in getting high or drunk. I see no value or fun in intoxication, and even if I imbibed in order to escape my problems, they are guaranteed to still be there when I return from my self-imposed vacation from reality.

The research on the impacts of marijuana is still in its infancy, but recent studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals since legalization in some states haven't persuaded me that the global effects on our society will be negligible. There is an expanding body of knowledge which suggests that marijuana use of just once a week in one's teenage years can lead to cognitive problems and poor academic performance and, because the brain is still in its formative stages at that time, any damage done tends to be permanent.

Adolescence is a time of experimentation and risk-taking, and when society lowers the barrier for access to mind-altering substances, it is foolish to think that teens won't take advantage of it:

Throughout the world, drug and alcohol use has a clear adolescent onset. Alcohol continues to be the most popular drug among teens and young adults, with almost a third of 12th graders and 40% of college students reporting recent binge drinking (four standard alcohol drinks on an occasion in females and five drinks for males. Further, the majority of teens (58%) drinkers also use marijuana (MJ), contributing to frequent comorbidity between alcohol and MJ use disorders. Indeed, MJ is the second most popular drug and is on the rise in teens, with up to 25% reporting past year use. ~ "Dare to delay? The impacts of adolescent alcohol and marijuana use onset on cognition, brain structure, and function." Frontiers in Psychology, 1 July 2013.

Dr. Gregory Tau of Columbia University, even while admitting that more research needs to be done on the long-term effects of early use of marijuana, says "It's not rocket science to think if you smoke weed when your brain is developing, that it can't be 'good' for you, just like any 'toxic' substance isn't good for you." Yet a recent NPR report states that such common-sense advice is largely ignored among the young:

60 percent of high school seniors say they think marijuana is safe, and 23 percent say they've used marijuana in the past month — more than those who used alcohol or smoked cigarettes. Six percent of high school seniors say they use pot every day, which is triple the rate over the past decade. And, the marijuana they smoke is much more potent than it was in the 1970s, with far higher levels of THC, the main mind-altering ingredient.

Dr. Krista Lisdahl, director of the brain imaging and neuropsychology lab at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, warns, "The higher the THC levels, the more brain changes there are and the more there is the risk for addiction."

While we celebrate the expansion of liberty as marijuana legalization proceeds state by state, I worry about the liberty our nation will lose a decade or more down the road as clear-minded elites and the minority of engaged activists exploit those who've "turned on and tuned out ". Regrettably, I don't have to look far to see what a "stoner nation" looks like.

I have a brother who's been doing drugs and alcohol since probably middle school, and he has spent the majority of his life as a prisoner to his next fix and whoever has the means to provide it to him. My younger relatives, nephews and cousins, barely out of their teens, are already wandering the streets with that vacant stare, completely checked out of life and any obligation to anyone else. Some of them have had children out of wedlock and left the child-rearing to the mother because they can't get or hold a job due to their addictions. The ripple effects of their insistence on getting high are touching people who chose not to partake, but are suffering the consequences of their actions nonetheless.

I don't believe prohibition will stand, and the only response available to law enforcement going forward will be to act when harm is being done, and not before. In principle, a nation built on a foundation of free will can't prevent its citizens from indulging themselves. Whether it's marijuana, alcohol, tobacco, food or some other substance, human beings are predisposed to seeking out salves for pain and adversity.

I believe with all my heart, however, that one day, we will be a nation of docile, anesthetized subjects, ripe for manipulation by those with clearer heads and a steelier focus on acquiring and holding power. Regardless of whether you're liberal, conservative or anywhere else on that shopworn political continuum, the people making decisions for the rest of us will be aided by our addle-mindedness.

"I have the right to do anything," you say--but not everything is beneficial. "I have the right to do anything"--but not everything is constructive." ~ 1 Corinthians 10:23