I thought it was harmless

My drug of choice is chocolate. I’ve always hated the taste of alcohol and the one time I got drunk I found it to be a very distasteful process, whether I was looking at the actual drinking part (blech) or the subsequent hangover (double blech). I’ve also gotten stoned once, which I found a horrifying experience. The way time and space became completely fluid was deeply unpleasant and not an experience I ever hope to repeat. And that’s my entire life history of mind altering chemicals. As I said, give me chocolate any time, and perhaps an old musical or a good book. Those will alter my mind more than enough.  I devoutly hope that my kids grow up with the same attitude I have towards these things, and that they’re able to find psychic escape in fairly innocuous pastimes.

For many years, the fact that I don’t like drugs, and don’t want my kids to use them, however, didn’t mean I thoughtthat they should be outlawed — at least not the soft drugs. I always held to the libertarian principle that informed adults should have a certain leeway here, and that marijuana should be treated like alcohol.  However, two articles that I read recently have indicated that marijuana is nowhere as harmless as its proponents would have us believe.

The first was an article about the fact that the Dutch are beginning to question the societal damage done by the drug cafes that have for so long been legal in that county:

Prostitution, abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage and magic mushrooms have long been legal here, and soft drugs such as marijuana are technically illegal but are sold with official sanction in small amounts in “coffeehouses.” In recent years, however, uneasiness over an influx of Muslim and black immigrants as well as a lifestyle that many believe has gone too far have shifted the Dutch mood away from tolerance and infinite permissiveness.

In 2006, parliament stopped coffeehouses from selling alcohol if they sell marijuana; now, legislators are negotiating to have them located at least 250 yards from schools. This year, a ban on the sale of hallucinogenic mushrooms goes into effect.


Like most natives, Van Tulder [Holland’s “Cannabis King”], 35, doesn’t use marijuana often, but he is concerned that conservative politics will kill Dutch culture: “Listen, these people want to put their religion in society, and I think Amsterdam is dying because of it. It’s nice to escape a little from reality.”

Joel Voordewind grew up in this city reveling in the punk music scene, and playing drums in a band called No Longer Music (because it was so loud). But he never felt comfortable with Amsterdam’s drug use and prostitution and as a kid avoided its red-light district “because you’d get in trouble there.”

Now this tall, boyish-looking son of an evangelical pastor is 42 and a member of parliament. His Christian Union Party, which bases much of its policy on biblical doctrine, is trying to remake a government that in his estimation has been morally adrift. Although his party controls only two of 16 ministries, it aligned with liberals to fight for refugees, poor families and the environment while also condemning homosexuality, euthanasia, abortion and youthful experimentation “with everything.”

“The people are fed up with the lazy attitude of government. We call it, ‘If it’s forbidden, we let it go.’ Like soft drugs. It’s forbidden, but we look the other way,” he said, sipping coffee in a bar at the Amsterdam train station. “We have a lot of that kind of policy, and it has given people the feeling that the government was telling them to go their own way.”

Although tolerance and diversity have long been a matter of national pride, a series of shocking events has made the Dutch more open to “a firm government with outspoken norms and values,” he said.

The killings of maverick populist politician Pim Fortuyn in 2002 and filmmaker Theo Van Gogh two years later, both of whom fanned fears of Islamic extremism, have traumatized this predominantly white, Christian country.

The outward-looking Dutch welcomed the newcomers — and their mosques and Islamic schools — but have grown less tolerant toward those who don’t share their brand of tolerance. And they’re also asking themselves why they’re inviting tourists to get stoned in their parks and allowing graceful neighborhoods to devolve into lurid Disneylands with sex clubs and massage parlors. (Emphasis mine.)

There is no doubt that Holland’s famous laissez faire attitude has spoiled the fabric of its cities. My mother grew up part of her life in Holland, and remembers Amsterdam as an immaculate city, whose homeowners were required to scrub their stoops every day. Even when she went there after WWII, when the City was still recovering from the effects of the war, it was still an exquisite city, kept clean by the famous Dutch housewives. However, when she and I went there in 1980, she and I were both shocked by what a decayed place Holland was — the streets were dirty, and every neighborhood looked like a tenderloin, with whacked out youths lying on the street in their own filth. I’m surprised that it took the Dutch more than 25 years of living this way to start pushing back.

The other article I read is one that came out of England, which recently made marijuana possession a minor legal sin on the principle — I’m sure — that it’s not a “big deal” drug:

The public health impact of the Government’s decision to downgrade cannabis is disclosed today in official figures showing a 50 per cent rise in the number of people requiring medical treatment after using the drug.

Since cannabis was downgraded from a Class B to a Class C drug, the number of adults being treated in hospitals and clinics in England for its effects has risen to more than 16,500 a year. In addition, the number of children needing medical attention after smoking the drug has risen to more than 9,200.

Doctors say cannabis abuse can contribute to a series of mental health problems

Almost 500 adults and children are treated in hospitals and clinics every week for the effects of cannabis.

Its health toll is revealed in official data compiled by health authorities and obtained by The Daily Telegraph.

Drug campaigners last night said the figures proved Labour’s decision to reclassify cannabis in January 2004, which made the penalties for its possession less severe, was badly mistaken and had sent out the wrong signals about it being a “soft” drug.

Doctors say cannabis abuse can contribute to mental health problems including forms of psychosis, paranoia and schizophrenia. There can be harmful physical side-effects, disrupting blood pressure and exacerbating heart and circulation disorders.

In other words, marijuana is not the harmless, feel good stuff that is portrayed in every movie where people get stoned and pleasant.  Whether this is because marijuana was never that harmless or because the current crops of marijuana are dramatically more potent than the stuff used 40 years ago, I don’t know.  I do know, though, that any discussion of marijuana policy in America has to take into account the fact that it’s not innocuous.  That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be legalized.  Alcohol, after all, is not innocuous either.  It does mean, though, that we shouldn’t pretend that there aren’t consequences to taking away the stigmas attached to drugs that have the potential to bring with them social decay and serious health risks.

I’ll wrap this post up with a story told to me by a family friend who was a very serious hippie in her time.  She hit Berkeley in 1964 with the Free Speech Movement, and graduated in time to join all her fellow American classmates as they headed to Morocco in search of drugs.  Her memories of the late 1960s and the early 1970s were hazy at best.  She was, however, an incredibly bright young woman and, though she always retained her hippie-dippie attitude towards life, she was too smart to sit around in a drugged out haze.  She eventually got a Masters in English and went on to have a good career.  Although she was some years older than I, she and I became good friends, and she told me the story of how she came to quit smoking pot.

It seems that one day she and a friend got seriously stoned.  In that rarefied state, they got involved in a deep discussion about the meaning of life.  They were amazed at how profound they were, and believed that they had achieved several serious philosophical insights.  Recognizing that they might not remember these insights once they came down from their high, they dragged out a tape recorder and recorded their conversation.  Next day, when they listened to it, they discovered an hour long tape filled with long silences that were intermittently punctuated with such meaningful statements as “Yeah, man, that is so deep.”  My friend realized then that pot, rather than enhancing her brain and her understanding, had the potential to destroy both instead, and she stopped smoking for good.


5 Responses

  1. Hmmm – 500 a week? From marijuana alone? I am hardly a defender of going through life stoned, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to be a little skeptical about that one. In fact I just flatly don’t buy it – what’s reported is clearly not the whole story. Marijuana’s been around since the cavemen were cooling out around the fire after a hard day of whatever it was cavemen did; we pretty much know how it works. 500 ER visits a week, well – seems kind of “Reefer Madness” reportage to me.

    But I’m with you on the llibertarian front. Roughly eighty percent of police work in the United States has to do with the regulation of our private morals. By which I mean, controlling what we eat, drink, smoke, put into our veins; and regulating with whom and how we indulge in sex, and with whom and how we gamble.

    Eighty percent. FAR too much.

  2. Let’s throw lung cancer in the mix as well, shall we.

  3. […] to worry about marijuana Posted on January 29, 2008 by Bookworm A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the societal problems fully legalized marijuana has brought to Holland. Those facts ran counter to the “marijuana is harmless compared to hard drugs” line of […]

  4. Holland’s problems are more deeply ingrained in the immigration issues than the fact that pot is sold in coffee houses.

  5. Maybe if so many weren’t so stoned and nodded off they would have seen the Muslim infux comming that has caused so much grief there.

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