How “legal” should pot be?

About 21 states have adopted some form of “decriminalization” of marijuana to date. The legality is, at best, confused. Under current federal law, pot is a Schedule I controlled substance (it has a high potential for abuse, and has no accepted medical use). This is stated in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, and is the law of the land, so to speak. The 21 states and the District of Columbia have “legalized” it, though. Of these, seven have approved it for “recreational” use by adults. Is this a good idea?

Despite a 25 year stint with DEA as a forensic chemist and lab manager, I’m not really a hard liner. I am pretty convinced that pot should be available for medical treatment, if desired. Although there is no “hard evidence” (clinical studies) of its efficacy for conditions such as epilepsy, or nausea brought on by chemotherapy, as examples, there seems to be enough anectodal evidence to suggest it might alleviate these conditions. Lack of clinical evidence is likely caused by, as much as anything else, the lack of profitability, and the difficulty of procuring the stuff for research by Big Pharma in the first place. If you have a child who suffers from multiple daily seizures which is alleviated by pot in some form, who am I to tell you it’s prohibited?

My difficulties with recreational weed lie mainly in that we have not done our homework. We really do not know much about it. For one thing, the stuff available for sale these days is not your father’s or mother’s pot. THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, if you’re into chemical names) potency, the usual oversimplified measure, has increased sharply since the eighties. Street level THC has gone from less than one percent to 5-10% currently. What could have been a pleasant high back then might be a toxic (bad trip) reaction today, particularly in children (or teens). I realize that the laws specify availability to adults only; how has that worked for us keeping alcohol, for instance, away from kids?

To further complicate matters, is THC the only psychoactive substance? Cannabis sativa, to use its biological name, contains about 80 different chemicals. Do any of these make you high? We really don’t know. By comparison, alcohol is extremely simple- we know only too well how much gets you loaded. We can give you a breath test and easily define how impaired you are. Alcohol, being water soluble, is easily excreted within a short time. By contrast, THC, being fat soluble, can take months to be totally excreted. How does one measure impairment on the road? We just don’t know.

Also, for what it’s worth, the US of A is a signatory to the Single Convention on Psychotropic substances, since 1972. Marijuana is on the list, as it were. Were we to legalize it, we would be the only United Nations member to do so. Pot was legal in many Mideastern countries, probably since ancient times. One by one, these nations chose to make it illegal. Many did so because marijuana use appeared to make people apathetic and cognitively impaired. Did they seem to know something we didn’t (or don’t)? Since the early seventies mental health researchers have defined something labelled “amotivational syndrome”, believed to be caused by excessive marijuana use, particularly by teens. Do we really need to have this added to our plates? Don’t forget, it’s not your parents’ weed anymore, but something much more potent.

























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