Salvo 04.20.2022 5 minutes

The Dope Makes the Poison

People congregate on Union Square for Annual Cannabis rally

Legal marijuana makes America dumber and more violent.

Woo-hoo! Today is April 20, or “420,” the unofficial Day of Marijuana Appreciation. This is the day when people who smoke marijuana every day…smoke some more? Smoke more of it than usual? Talk about it more than usual? That part is unclear.  

It’s also Hitler’s birthday, in truth an unrelated coincidence, except for one important thing. If you meet anyone today who is celebrating either Marijuana Appreciation Day or Hitler’s 133rd birthday, it is a certainty that they will have a room-temperature IQ, a terrible sense of style, and some questionable political opinions.   

I’m writing on this topic because I live in New York City, where marijuana was decriminalized last year, and it’s interesting to think about how the culture around marijuana has changed since then. Technically, it still can’t be bought in smokable form anywhere legally, because licensed shops haven’t been accredited yet. But every day in Washington Square Park one sees “youths” with T.V. tray tables, openly selling ready-mades or loose leaf.   

When licensed stores finally open, what will happen to these street entrepreneurs? Presumably the official stores will have fixed costs for rent, security, labor, and taxes, and will have to charge a premium for their product. Will the licensed vendors accept the presence of untaxed, black-market dealers selling what is, essentially, a commodity product, right down the block? Or will they demand that the police protect their legal franchise by arresting the purveyors of tax-free goods—the way Eric Garner was targeted because he was selling loose cigarettes outside a candy store that sold them with the proper stamps?  

Should make for some intriguing interactions. Can’t wait for the howls of outrage from both sides.  

As America transitions from prohibition to full legalization of marijuana we cross through an amusingly hazy status of semi-legality known as “medical marijuana.” This is a legacy of marijuana’s decades in the wilderness, when “normalization” advocates harped about the plant’s miraculous capabilities to cure a wide range of illnesses and diseases.   

Any ailment you name could be treated with marijuana. Insomnia? Check. Lupus? Definitely. Multiple sclerosis? No problem. Severe PTSD? Yes. Irritability and anxiety, which are themselves caused by marijuana withdrawal? Absolutely! At the same time, we were told that marijuana is perfectly safe, with no side effects and no lethal dose.  

The funny thing about medicine is that, as Paracelsus told us, “the dose makes the poison.” Powerful medicines work when correctly titrated; otherwise, they harm. Marijuana is apparently the only exception to this rule. It is a fantastic medicine that can cure or treat anything, and there’s no danger of overdose!  

That sounds like the sort of thing that was said about patent medicines in the pre-Pure Food and Drug Act days, when anyone could brew up a tincture of opium, wormwood, arsenic, and rosewater, bottle it, and call it a universal cure for worms, impotence, hay fever, and cancer.  

It’s funny, though, that the medicinal basis for legalizing marijuana has dropped out of the rhetoric around it. Now that New York has joined California and Colorado and other states in legalizing it, isn’t it surprising that the advocates aren’t citing improved health outcomes as a reason for the rest of the states to take the pledge? One would think that the need for universal Medicare would be obviated by the wide availability of marijuana.  

Obviously, the medicinal benefits of marijuana were always a ruse. Same as the promises of unlimited rivers of tax revenue, hemp-based building material, empty prisons, etc. To be fair, though, I must say that the total legalization of marijuana at least spares us from having to listen to beat-down, bleary-eyed stoners whine about their “medicine.” There’s nothing more depressing than hearing an addict insist that their drug is the cure, not the disease.  

Under full decriminalization, New York has become both more stupid and more violent. If you want to watch someone go blue in the face with indignation, suggest very gently that marijuana—contrary to years of propaganda that is now celebrated as rigorous fact—makes people unreasonable, brittle, and psychotic. Reporter Alex Berenson crossed the line when, in his book Tell Your Children, he averred that every violent criminal in prison was a marijuana user, and that marijuana causes violent crime.  

All the smart people were chuffed at this obvious error in logic. “Ho ho! Correlation does not imply causation! Violent criminals may have used marijuana, but they also listened to the radio and ate hot dogs. Which of these independent activities ‘caused’ their violence, hm?”  

It’s true that correlation does not necessarily imply causation—though you won’t get far explaining that to a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion coordinator who insists that black underrepresentation in boardrooms or overrepresentation in prisons is prima facie evidence of racism. But New York City offers an interesting laboratory-style experimental setting. Since the decriminalization of marijuana, violent crime has shot up, and continues to rise in a troubling manner. Of particular concern is the increase in sudden, seemingly random street attacks, often involving knives, that characterize the flaring of hostile, unconstrained impulses.   

Nationwide, automobile fatalities are also up sharply. Are the increases in violent crime and car crashes connected to marijuana use? The advocates would argue that there’s little data to support that hypothesis. Well of course there isn’t—because it doesn’t serve the agenda of the people who legalized marijuana to study the negative societal effects of the policy as implemented.  

Anyway, today will surely be marked by smoke-ins in parks and other areas, where every marijuana enthusiast may, as Shakespeare said in Othello, “put himself into triumph: some to dance, some to make bonfires, each man to what sport and revels his addiction leads him.”   

But the Rabelaisian fun of “420” seems kind of forced now, in this age of legalized/medicalized marijuana. The Boomers pretty much defined the terms of the use of marijuana and its place in the culture, so smoking pot is as hip and transgressive as watching a PBS doo-wop fundraiser; it’s about as novel a thrill as putting on a pair of adult diapers and soiling yourself.   

Well, let a thousand flowers bloom, as some guy in a cool jacket said. Marijuana—as intensively farmed and environmentally expensive as foie gras or any other luxury product—isn’t the worst thing happening in America today. It’s just sad.

The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.

The American Mind is a publication of the Claremont Institute, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to restoring the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. Interested in supporting our work? Gifts to the Claremont Institute are tax-deductible.

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