Sullivan on Pot

Andrew Sullivan has a great piece today discussing David Frum’s article/follow-up regarding cannabis legalization. Frum on Pot

Andrew gets to the right stuff very quickly, rightly criticizing the emphasis on nit-picking details, when the big picture is ignored completely.

What interests me is David’s assumption that smoking marijuana is self-evidently bad for people. He cites a study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. My italics. It has no section for responsible drug use. It does not consider in any way the possible notion that cannabis, like alcohol or coffee, can also be a personal and social good.

Exactly. And all of us need to be reminded of this now and again. Even here, we often get so wrapped up in debunking the latest attack on marijuana or legalization that we forget to remind people (and ourselves) of this very important point:

And what is so dangerous about imagination? What is so fatal about temporarily slowing your mind down and letting it meander creatively in a culture fixated on materialism and anxiety and greed and pride? Are not hyper-competitive, insanely complex modern societies actually begging for some mental relief? And what’s exactly wrong or socially damaging with giggling?

Some of our greatest music was written under the influence: would David stop that? Jazz might not exist without it. All of our recent presidents were stoners at some point – and the current president in his teens was an enthusiast even by Hawaii standards in the 1970s. Does David think that the man who wrote Dreams From My Father suffered from impaired memory? Does he believe that Michael Phelps who smoked pot and became the most decorated Olympian of all time didn’t do one of those two things? Can we not discuss drugs rationally, rather than with this vast super-structure of boomer-era culture-war synapses attached to it?

Very nice job.

Update: In a similar vein, this program airing next Wednesday looks interesting: Thinking Allowed, Intoxication. In a special programme, Laurie Taylor explores the role and meaning of both alcohol and drugs in human life. Why do so many people chose to alter their consciousness with stimulants, whether legal or illicit? Professor James Mills, the author of ‘Cannabis Nation..’ is joined by Dr Fiona Meesham and Professor Chris Hackley.

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26 Responses to Sullivan on Pot

  1. N.T. Greene says:

    I swear, I see the wall coming down — each passing day sees another brick or two smashed away, while the establishment desperately tries to cement them back in place.

    The resistance is becoming more vocal and much bigger… it is only a matter of time. Perhaps not even that much time.

  2. ezrydn says:

    Meanwhile, all the bricklayers are scurrying around, looking at old battered bricks, trying to find one that still fits. Have there been any reports of pieces of sky hitting anyone in WA or CO? NO! Has the Sun refused to rise? Have auto accidents skyrocketed in the last month in our two TEST states? Has my Cockatoo gone strange over his new seed diet? Again, no. But give a Prohib a moments rest and he’ll quickly spout another non-truth. So, tell me again. Who are the Losers?

    • claygooding says:

      There was a report of a huge UFO seen by a satellite,,I figure it’s the harvest ship. The aliens that seeded this feedlot with self maintaining meatbags harvest purty quick now.

      /anyone else having a 20th party?

    • Cliff says:

      “So, tell me again. Who are the Losers?”

      EZ, I feel like I lost even though we have won a smidgen of our freedoms back here in Colorado. I have a daughter I haven’t seen in 12 years and 4 grandchildren I have talked to but never met in person. She and her family live in the backwoods ass, hillbilly, bible thumping, primative thinking state of Oklahoma. (Sorry to any Oklahomans who read this blog, but it’s your laws which are stupid and I can only work to change the laws in my state :()

      I was planning a trip to Oklahoma for Christmas, but then I did a little research that made me change my mind. Oklahoma does not recognize MMJ or Colorado’s cannabis legalization other than for PC to bust someone like me with a late model car and sporting a pony tail.

      I refuse to fly down there, for obvious reasons (TSA, etc). So I looked into how drivers with Colorado plates are treated in the border states. I found a blog that related stories of harassment by Kansas State Patrol and other sites talking about county sherrifs in Oklahoma looking for any reason to pull over a driver with Colorado plates and there were enough reasons to give me second thoughts.

      Then I read the per se laws for cannabis in Oklahoma and they can piss test you and charge you with DUID for any quantity of THC metabolytes in your system. Of course that is after the cop “smells something” or sees “something suspicious” even if you aren’t holding. There is an automatic assumption that as a driver with Colorado tags means you are automatically guilty until you prove otherwise.

      I would have to cut off my hair, stop responsibly consuming cannabis for 30 days and still have to put up with the threat of harassment any time I drive in either Kansas or Oklahoma. Therefore, I have decided that I can’t go spend Christmas with my daughter and granchildren.

      Before Colorado legalized cannabis, I would have never given going to Oklahoma a second thought. I have been to Oklahoma several times in the past and never had any problems. However, I refuse to go someplace where I am constantly under suspicion and scrutiny because of the plates on my car. Merry Christmas.

  3. claygooding says:

    I keep hope that the ASA will hear something after the New Years,,I realize if the three judges hearing the case are really researching the medical efficacy of cannabis it may take a bit longer,but longer means they have already found enough to look deeper.

  4. Dante says:

    “Why do so many people chose to alter their consciousness” ?

    Can’t speak for everyone here, but I do it for the same reason I have sex, or eat, or sleep, or listen to Led Zep, or blare my horn at inconsiderate drivers who cut me off after running a stop sign:

    It feels good and I like it.

    • claygooding says:

      Hell,if they would outlaw masturbation look how much health costs saved in no eyeglasses.

      • Duncan20903 says:


        Master baiting is the gateway to forcible rape as well as kiddie diddling. I’ve never met a rapist or pedophile who didn’t masturbate first.

        OK, OK, to the best of my knowledge I’ve never met a rapist or a pedophile. So sue me.

        • claygooding says:

          There are only two kinds of liars about masturbation,,the ones that say they never have and the one’s that claim they never will again.

  5. Opiophiliac says:

    Here’s a fairly comprehensive list of why people use drugs, from Project Narco by Derek Meyer.
    Why Do People Use Drugs?

    Most anti-drug fundamentalists espouse a moralistic view of drug use. They are adamant in their belief that the desire to alter ones consciousness is by no means a normal component of the human condition, and that such desires indicate ungodliness and immorality. Meanwhile, most of those in the treatment, prevention, and recovery world are just as passionate in their own belief that the desire to alter ones mind is pathologically abnormal, supposedly indicative of a brain disease.

    Both the moralistic anti-drug fanatic, and the paternalistic treatment-official, are misguided in their conclusions. We cannot and should not continue to categorize the use of drugs by the reductionistic dichotomy of “use” vs “abuse”; nor can we rightfully make judgements as to which use of a drug is right and which use of a drug is wrong.

    The symbolic divide often drawn between therapeutic use and non-therapeutic use (i.e. “abuse”), is not nearly as fine a line as it’s made out to be. In fact, one could argue that no such line actually exists. In terms of the motivational context (i.e. ones reason for taking drugs), drug use exists on a continuum.

    There are likely as many reasonable motives for non-sanctioned (illicit) drug use as there is for legal, medically advised drug use. For the sake of easing the indoctrinated mind into what may be an unsettling reality, here are simply a few…

    To cure and self treat illness and disease (outside of a sanctioned clinical setting)

    To palliate pain.

    To temporarily improve our physical and mental performance in order to meet the demands of life, family, & career

    To palliate undesireable states of being, and to avoid aversive symptoms of the human condition (pain, anxiety, dysphoria).

    To suppress painful realities and to blunt the affective state caused by traumatic memories.

    To recover repressed memories of the past.

    To temporarily alter our point of view, think outside of the box, and facilitate creativity or abstract thought.

    To explore the unused portions of our mind or “spirit”, to discover unique dimensions of consciousness.

    To experience euphoric states of well being and excitement; to enhance our mood.

    To promote sociability, affection, and empathy, or to distort our perception of others in a way which mimicks the sense of empathy.

    To induce hypnosis, and sleep, and to induce a sense of physical and mental relaxation.

    To create a temporary surge of motivation and fuel productivity in our everyday lives.

    To satisfy curiosity.

    To experience exciting distortions of consciousness, and perception – i.e. hallucinations, dissociation, or lucid dream-like states; as a recreational activity (much like a mountain climer seeks to experience new and exciting terrain, or as the skydiver seeks the thrill of falling from the sky).

    To facilitate spiritual and religious experiences. To facilitate meditation.

    To unthinkingly fall in line or conform with religious and cultural tradition.

    To alter self perception and induce a sense of self confidence in ones appearance, performance or abilities.

    To produce a behavioral state in which one may portray to others a sense of calm, collected, self confidence.

    To inhibit cognition and to slow ones thought flow.

    To enhance attentiveness and interest in otherwise boring activities.

    To induce a temporary state of wakefulness, alertness, and energy.

    To cope with social, familial, or romantic struggles, to suppress the emotional manifestation of interpersonal conflict, friction, and turmoil.

    To immerse ones self in the culture of others, in an adventurous or experimental sense (much like a traveler might eat the food of an ethnic tribe during his visit).

    To satisfy boredom and occupy idle time.

    To conform with peer pressures and to seek the acceptance and approval of ones peers.

  6. Steve says:

    > …explores the role and meaning of both alcohol and drugs in human life…

    “…both alcohol and drugs…” God I hate that!

  7. divadab says:

    Here’s an interesting map of the voting in Whatcom County, WA on I-502. Over 80% turnout, 55.2% in favor, only 41.9% against. Good sense rules!

  8. Tony Aroma says:

    Please don’t perpetuate the misunderstanding by saying alcohol AND drugs. That’s like saying apples and fruit.

  9. Opiophiliac says:

    This was a good article by Sullivan. However I have a problem with the graph at the top of the post. This is from a 2007 Lancet article by David Nutt. I actually like David Nutt, he was fired from his position in the UK government for criticizing the decision to reclassify cannabis to Class B from C. That’s right, a scientist who was working for the UK equivalent of the NIDA actually bucked the orthodoxy of “drugs are bad, mmkay,” of course he was sacked for it.
    You will notice that heroin scores the highest on both dependence and physical harm. This the physical harms criteria used in the lancet article:

    Assessment of the propensity of a drug to cause physical
    harm—ie, damage to organs or systems—involves a
    systematic consideration of the safety margin of the
    drug in terms of its acute toxicity, as well as its likelihood to produce health problems in the long term. The effect of a drug on physiological functions—eg, respiratory and cardiac—is a major determinant of physical harm. The route of administration is also relevant to the assessment of harm. Drugs that can be taken intravenously—eg, heroin—carry a high risk of causing sudden death from respiratory depression, and therefore score highly on any metric of acute harm. Tobacco and alcohol have a high propensity to cause illness and death as a result of chronic use. Recently published evidence shows that long-term cigarette smoking reduces life expectancy, on average, by 10 years.9 Tobacco and alcohol together account for about 90% of all drug-related deaths in the UK.

    My main problem with the lancet article is they compare legal drugs, alcohol and tobacco, with illegal ones like heroin. Black market heroin is a dangerous drug because of its unknown purity and possibility of being adulterated with any number of substances, assuming you’re even getting heroin and some some obscure fentanyl analog. Some basic information would go a long way to making heroin a less dangerous drug. For one combining opiates with CNS depressants dramatically increases the chance of overdose. Easy access to naltrexone nasal sprays could save countless lives, without having to call 911 and risk arrest in states without “good samaritan” laws. Disseminating information on safe injecting practices would go a long way to improving users health. Instead we get PSAs with a teenage girl destroying her kitchen in an apparently heroin-fueled rage. Furthermore due to the social stigma of using heroin, most users hide their drug use making it more likely no one will be around to save their life should they OD.

    This is comparing apples to oranges. To compare apples to apples one would have to look at a quasi-legal system. One option would be to compare the physical harms of individuals on heroin prescriptions or physician opiate users. Both use pharmaceutically pure opiates and sterile injecting equipment. In the heroin assisted therapy trials in Vancouver there were ODs, but medical staff quickly revived them. Most importantly there were no opiate-related fatalities.

    Putting aside the potential for an opiate overdose, just how bad for the body is heroin? Dr. Arnold Trebach, writing in “The Heroin Solution,” informs us that “putting aside the problem of addiction, the chemical heroin seems almost a neutral or benign substance. Taken in stable, moderate doses, it does not seem to cause organic injury, as does alcoholism over time.” Interesting, so if heroin were administered in an environment where the chance of ODs were minimized, and with a readily available narcotic antagonist (antidote), heroin would score below alcohol and tobacco, probably just above cannabis. Heroin is the poster child for prohibition making drug use far more dangerous than it would be in a legal, regulated market.

    Rob Arthur writing in his article, “Heroin Is Harmless?” breaks it down the harms further:

    Three aspects of an ingestible substance that can be considered harmful are (1) its potential to debilitate, (2) its effects on one’s health, and (3) its potential to kill via an overdose.

    (1) Like the stimulants, caffeine and cocaine, heroin is not a debilitating drug. That is, moderate usage does not interfere with one’s functioning, e.g. driving ability. This is in contrast to alcohol, in which one’s performance is directly hampered. Extreme usage can interfere just like with caffeine and cocaine, e.g. too much of a stimulant can make it difficult to focus and even cause hallucinations. However, even heroin addicts can moderate their usage so that they can work unimpaired and avoid withdrawal symptoms. For this reason, heroin addicts can and do have successful professional lives in such diverse fields as surgery and law enforcement.

    (2) Long-term heroin addiction is relatively harmless to one’s health. Like caffeine addicts who “need” their coffee in the morning, the side-effects are minimal. Heroin’s long-term side-effects can include constipation and impotency. This is in contrast to alcohol and tobacco which destroy the liver and the lungs respectively.

    (3) Like caffeine, it is difficult to fatally overdose on heroin by itself. (It is easy to overdose when using heroin and alcohol in combination.) The popular image of a dead heroin user with the needle still in his or her arm is misleading. A fatal heroin overdose is usually a long process that takes over an hour and it can be countered within minutes by an antidote.

  10. wiggles says:

    I wish our politians would dress up like nascar drivers, so we could idenify their sponsers

  11. allan says:

    LEAP’s Brazilian judge, Maria Lúcia Karam and UK former MI-5 intelligence officer Annie Machon interviewed on The Real News Network:

    Alternatives to the War on Drugs


    MACHON: I had to work very closely with the customs in the U.K. Of course, there’s a lot of overlap between the import of drugs and the import of weaponry. And one that customs kept saying, look, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack; we just do not make a dent against the free flow of drugs into this country. And also it became very obvious as well that a lot of terrorist groups gain a lot of funding from the drug trade as well. So when our politicians say, no, no, we’ve got to keep prohibition, you know, it’s protecting our communities, it protects our countries, in fact what they’re doing is protecting organized crime and terrorism. So, I mean, from that moment, really, working with customs, it became very clear that something very wrong was going on.


    KARAM: Because I always thought and I think that all laws must be in accordance with constitutional principles, and also principles that are written in the international declarations of human rights. And drug laws are in opposition to these constitutional principles. It comes from the French Revolution. You cannot—in a democratic society, in a democratic state, you cannot punish anyone that’s not affecting rights of the people.

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  13. kaptinemo says:

    Spam filters need adjusting again…

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