Vaping And The Legalization Of Marijuana

Nov 30th, 2019 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

Medical doctors are beginning to link the devastating wave of lung injuries and deaths to the vaping of marijuana.  [Invented in China in the early 2000s, vaping refers to an “electronic cigarette,” which uses heating elements to vaporize liquids, usually containing nicotine, but now also containing an ingredient from marijuana.]  Scott Gottlieb of the American Enterprise Institute demonstrates that 87% of those recently injured said they vaped tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, from prefilled cartridges purchased from various sources, none of which are regulated.  “A majority of the victims said they used THC every day.  Vaping is now the second most common way to consume THC . . . Because the vape cartridges are prefilled, users don’t know what they’re getting.  To prepare the concentrates, dodgy suppliers are known to add ingredients to thicken the liquids, since viscosity is seen as a measure of the concentrate’s potency. . . some of these can be deadly if inhaled into the lungs.  The liquids can also contain pesticides and other contaminants that, when heated, produce gases that can injure the lungs.”  In the US vaping has killed at least 33 people, injured about 1,500 and is becoming a major health problem in this nation.

So may state legislatures have legalized marijuana that the US is well past the point of blanket prohibition of vaping THC.  But, as Gottlieb shows, “THC is currently illegal under federal law.  Right now there’s no middle ground allowing federal agencies to scrutinize these compounds for their manufacturing, marketing and safety . . . The ship has probably sailed on legalization for recreational use.  But regulation of the potency of THC compounds, the forms they take, how they’re manufactured, and who can make purchases ought to be possible.”  Such an approach is based on what is called “harm reduction:” the idea that it is better “to regulate harmful habits to make them safer than to ban them in the hope of enforcing abstinence, which results in criminals making them more dangerous.”  This is a lesson from the Prohibition era of the 1920s and 1930s.

Permit me to review the history of marijuana’s legalization:  There are three premises used to justify the legalization of marijuana:  (1) It will stop governments from wasting money locking up people who have not really hurt anyone; (2) It will raise tax revenue: and (3) It will put criminals out of business.  In short, the argument goes; legalizing marijuana expands personal liberty and serves the interests of an expanding government.  Further, public opinion has also shifted from 32% supporting legalization of marijuana in 2002 to over 65% today.  Columnist Ross Douthat argues that the spread of gambling casinos has been driven by a top-down phenomenon, largely by states seeking revenue, while marijuana has been driven by a grass-roots movement—driven by activists, activists and Hollywood.  But both have been energized by “the same trend in American attitudes: the rise of a live-and-let live social libertinism, the weakening influence of both religious conservatism and liberal communitarianism, [and] the growing suspicion of moralism in public policy.”  Such attitudes merely reflect the cultural addiction to Postmodern autonomy, so rampant in America today.  The end result is that (in the words of Douthat) they “grease the skids for exploitation, with a revenue-hungry state partnering with the private sector to profiteer off human weakness.  This is one reason previous societies made distinctions between liberty and license that we have become loath to draw—because what seems like a harmless pleasure to the comfortable can devastate the poor and weak.  Or else, with pot and slots no less than bread and circuses, it can simply distract their minds, dull their senses and make them easier to rule.”  America is embracing a damaging level of permissiveness all in the name of autonomous freedom and rights.  For the intellectually honest, this is a disaster—and our children and grandchildren will live with the consequences.  Decadence in the name of freedom will destroy the American experiment.  As we embrace marijuana in the name of personal liberty and the funding expansive government, we must face something rather obvious: If one is intellectually honest, it is silly to think that personal liberty is really a compelling reason for marijuana’s legalization.  Common sense would seem to indicate it will actually produce greater personal enslavement and dangerous behavior as the vaping fad is now demonstrating.  Further, as the various states foster addictive behavior among its citizens, they will in effect be furthering state addiction to revenue from pot.  No matter how one views this set of developments, it is difficult to see all of this as a great advancement in civilization.

How should we think about this grand experiment in the expansion of personal liberty?  Several pieces of evidence indicate that this is not a wise decision for our culture.

  • First, columnist Michael Gerson offers a poignant reminder: “Pot is called harmless, though we really have little information on the health and cultural effects of the widespread legal distribution of modern, potent methods of consuming THC (the chemical name [for marijuana]).    We do know that the substance is addictive in about one in nine cases (more like one in six when use starts in the teens); that it can make structural changes in portions of the brain controlling emotion and motivation; and that regular use undermines memory, attention span, problem-solving skills and the ability to complete complex tasks.  What possible use could these attributes have in a modern economy?”  Furthermore, there is little doubt that an expanded legal market in pot also expands the illegal markets for reselling (or giving) it to children and teens.  As Gerson comments, “The social message of normalization, of banalization, is intended—and received by young people.”  Ironically, about $40 million of the tax revenue Colorado expects to receive will go for public school construction:  “What were once ‘drug-free school zones’ are becoming drug-funded schools.”  Our culture has reached a point where parents no longer expect much help from government in reinforcing the cultural, spiritual and ethical norms necessary to raising responsible, successful children.  Many states are actually actively undermining those very norms—and the marijuana panacea, including the vaping of THC, is a perfect example of just that.  As Gerson argues, “Rather than building social competence and capital, politicians increasingly benefit when citizens are addicted, exploited, impoverished and stoned.  And that deserves contempt, not applause.”
  • Second, Alex Berenson, offers the following conclusions, based on scientific research, about marijuana usage:
  1. “Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use, the greater the risk.”
  2. The marijuana of the 1970s and 1980s generally contained less than 5% THC. Today, the marijuana sold at legal dispensaries often contains 25% THC.  Many people use extracts that are nearly pure THC.
  3. In 2005, about 3 million Americans used cannabis every day. Today, that figure is 8 million.
  4. In 2006, emergency rooms saw 30,000 cases of people who had diagnoses of psychosis and marijuana-use disorder—the medical term for abuse or dependence on the drug. By 2014, that number has tripled to 90,000.  Further, rates of serious mental illness are increasing, with the sharpest being among people 18 to 25, who are also most likely to use cannabis.
  5. Advocates of legalizing marijuana have argued that legalization will actually reduce criminal activity. Has it?  “Because marijuana can cause paranoia and psychosis, and those conditions are closely linked to violence, usage it appears can lead to an increase in violent crime.  The first four states to legalize—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington—have seen sharp increase in murders and aggravated assaults” since 2014, when legalization began.

Legalizing widespread recreational use of marijuana is a panacea now gripping American culture.  It has now spilled over to the vaping phenomenon.  Among other things, it is viewed as a proper expansion of human freedom to pursue the goals of the autonomous citizen.  However, I believe rather confidently that this expansion of freedom will actually enhance cultural decadence and dysfunction.  It is not advancement in the human condition.

See Scott Gottlieb in the Wall Street Journal (11 October 2019); Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal (24 October 2019); Alex Berenson in the New York Times (5 January 2019); David Brooks in the New York Times (2 January 2014); Ross Douthat in the New York Times (3 and 5 November 2013); Michel Gerson in www.washingtonpost.com (16 July 2014); and The Economist (12 July 2014), pp. 25-26.

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