A plethora of studies give us dramatically different sides to ponder when discussing legalized recreational cannabis.
Opioid addiction tumbles. Or it doesn't. Fewer people drive under the influence. Or maybe more are. Traffic incidents increase. Or do they? Minds are destroyed. Or not. Marijuana helps with physical pain management and mental health management. Or else those idiots just want to spend their lifetimes high.
The letters to the editor we receive, the posts on social media, the conversations we all have with one another – they all cite different studies or personal experiences or observations. One of the biggest issues is people who have already made their minds up, and pick and choose news stories, reports and rumors to inflate their side of the argument.
The studies we have so far suffer from flaws in size, length of time or bias. The federal illegality of recreational marijuana essentially prevents extensive studies. Fewer organizations are willing to fund the examination of an illegal product.
People have been drying, burning and inhaling leaves for millennia. It stands to reason that different substances affect different people in different ways. Yet our laws often only allow for one definition of overdoing it. Just because an individual thinks they can drive as well at .15% alcohol content as others at .08%, Illinois' legal limit, doesn't mean it's OK for them to do so. Illinois' legal limit for THC in blood for drivers is 5 nanograms/ml. Law enforcement officials have yet to find a field test that measures THC with enough accuracy.
Poorly mixed liquors are as old as mankind. One of the terrors solved when prohibition was lifted in the United States was drinkers were better informed about the amount of alcohol in their drinks. Because alcohol was regulated, users were less likely to go blind or die because someone wasn't careful enough when mixing moonshine.
In the early 1970s, comedian George Carlin astutely observed that an entire generation of women were being used as guinea pigs for birth control pills. “If every lady who use(s) them gets to 61 and one leg gets shorter than the other one...better call the pills back,” he said.
But we as an editorial board don't have the same fear of marijuana. We've had centuries of illicit use of marijuana, yet except for the comical “Reefer Madness” film, there have been limited examples of people whose lives were destroyed by the drug, especially as compared with alcohol, tobacco and overeating, to name just three examples.
There have been a number of surveys conducted about marijuana use and legality. In every survey with any scientific or mathematical integrity, the majority of people surveyed supported legalization of recreational marijuana. That's both in Illinois and in the United States.
Certainly, those surveys don't measure the enthusiasm of the respondent. A strident, vigorous “no” registers the same numbers as a shrugged “yeah, whatever, I don't care.” They don't measure claims of mental relief, physical recovery, or even whether it's a gateway drug.
As we mention gateway drugs, we again emphasize that a long-term need is trying to figure out exactly why individuals feel to need to self-medicate in such increasing numbers.
The people speaking the loudest now are the ones with the most stake in the conversation: law enforcement, medical practitioners, those excited and anticipatory, those saddened and convinced Armageddon awaits. All groups can easily find a study to support the extremity of their position.
The best way to evaluate reports of studies and other information about what legalization means and will do is to pay attention to who's holding the megaphone.