The air in Brooklyn, New York, is rarely fresh and invigorating. Between the exhaust from vehicles and often-muggy weather, it is frequently malodorous. Nevertheless, when my friend Sharon and I stepped onto the local college campus, a slightly sweet and sickening odor that we had never previously met assaulted us.
We were high school seniors taking part in a program allowing us to attend classes at a local college. We quickly discovered that the smell of marijuana was as ubiquitous as blue jeans. We just as quickly discovered that we had been leading a blessedly sheltered life at our Jewish school.
Fast forward a few decades and the legalization of marijuana is spreading across the country. Many of the Democrats vying to be president include federal legalization as part of their platform. They cite data showing that states that have legalized marijuana have seen a reduced rate of deaths from opioid addiction.
That information intrigued me. A few minutes research revealed that states with legal medical marijuana did, indeed, see a substantial reduction in opioid use. Isn’t the next reasonable step making it legal on a federal level?
This is a great example of a broken political system catering to an ill-informed electorate. Over the past few years states have leap-frogged over the issue of medical marijuana to legalize the substance entirely, for any use at all. The negative consequences of legalizing medical marijuana that were noted in the same studies cited above were simply ignored. Extrapolating from medical marijuana to general legalization is treated as a minor, irrelevant detail.
How many articles have you read recently about the percentage of the population who develop psychosis from smoking marijuana, making them a threat to themselves and others? How many articles have you read about overwhelmed hospital emergency rooms dealing with repeat visits from people having bad reactions to marijuana use? How about studies exploring the damage to developing teenage brains or the increased potency of what’s available?
On so many issues, politicians present only the information that supports their own inclinations. The press has overwhelmingly opted out of the business of honest reporting. Voters only hear one side of a story. Nuance, honesty and reality are increasingly absent.
There are rational arguments for making marijuana legal on a federal level. At the same time, there are rational reasons for not doing so. Pretending that state legalization has been an unqualified success is foolish and foolhardy.
On the list of problems facing Americans, marijuana legalization is in the junior league. If we can’t have fact-based discussion and debate on an issue like this, if decent, well-intentioned people can’t admit that there are two sides that must be balanced, then we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves completely incapable of doing anything other than screaming at each other when it comes to more difficult and contentious topics. It should give us all pause that while marijuana is still widely found on college campuses, too often intellectual openness, debate, thinking skills and factual inquiry are not.