The one with all the marijuana - part 1: the grimness of gradual triumph in The Amalgamated Aggromulator

  • July 8, 2015, 11:35 p.m.
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Attention Deficit Disorder periodically involves an inability to remember whether the pills that one just swallowed included the Attention Deficit Disorder pill.
I remember opening the two bottles containing the two blood-pressure pills, but did I complete the set? Were there two pills or three? The filmstrip of my life has gaps. (Yes, I swallow them all at once. When my mother ambushes me with a full complement of vitamin supplements, I somehow swallow those all at once, and that’s around ten big pills.)

For today it’s not important. Today we are going to the beach. :-)

I’m up very early, and thought I would write an entry in the hours before we leave. I was going to write about how my cat alternates between my mother’s windowsill and my dresser in looking out our respective windows into these long, long summer predawns, but the dark lump on my dresser that was going to be my muse turned out to be a small traveling bag I don’t remember. The cat is probably in my mother’s room.

This may be boring. It’s all unspooled. I don’t know what part to lead with.

There will be a lot of talk about marijuana in this entry. (“Marijuana” is a perfectly good word, as is the mostly-British spelling “marihuana” [I always see muttonchop whiskers when I read it] - although I’ve discovered the word “cannabis” has apparently been gaining ground among the cognoscenti here.)
On whim, I’ll specify that up to now it has been a very occasional indulgence for me, so much so that a small amount given to me has sometimes lasted over a year when a regular smoker might have made it disappear in a week or so. (Maybe this will change in the future. Certainly it has changed for a little while, as you’ll see . . . ) My major intake lately - that is, up to the events I’ll be discussing - has just been in helping my mom to light our glass pipe; she has severe arthritis in her shoulders, and puffs of pot have made the pain go away. For her part, she has reported that she rarely feels any “high” from it.

So, marijuana is legal in Oregon now.

The change went into effect as of July 1st.

(I mourn my Open Diary archives on the subject. I could have linked around to my earlier writings well. Man, few things have given me a taste of mortality like my OD being taken down!)

You can take for granted that I approve. There is one aspect of it for me that I will write about because it may be less predictable - a bittersweet aspect - with a side of bitter. The progress toward this legalization has been like a long, slow culmination of common sense . . . but one that in a way has been a long-term defeat for me, specifically for my original high expectations for how decision-making was supposed to go.

Back when I was in high school, the National Academy of Sciences released a report about marijuana, surveying lots of research, that showed how doubtful the various claims of horrible harm were.

That was in 1983. Before that, there was Nixon’s National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse, who wrote an absolutely fascinating report, a rigorous analysis of marijuana research and of the social options, that recommended what we would call decriminalization (Nixon rejected it, of course). I am trying to remember the name of a marvelous British report that covered the same ground, and gave a similar general recommendation, sometime closer to 1900.

All of these documents were masterpieces of institutional rationalism, you could say (and I would call them that even if I disagreed with them). The idea was that you intellectually take up the whole matter, and you go through it all and grade it all and balance it on explicit terms, like a huge equation, and you derive your best answer.

In my marijuana-activist period in the late eighties, I could not get a single person to actually read the copy of the NAS report that I’d happily ordered.

And the long, slow swinging around in America toward legalization (still very incomplete, I should say) has seemed to me to have very little to do with people approaching things on that level.
The change been much more like (Mr. Snuffleupagus voice) “ohh, I guuuuuuess it’s okayyyyyyyy.” Mind you, there have been the discussions and arguments over the apparent facts, going along continuously and furiously, and there has been great indigestion in some quarters over SWAT raids during which people have been shot dead in the confusion, over marijuana for crying out loud - it hasn’t happened totally amorphously factlessly . . . but there has sort of been a slow contagion of people simply getting used to the idea that other people around them didn’t mind it very much, and a slow, slow accustomization to the fact that more generations had been smoking pot all their lives at all levels of income, IQ, and achievements and did not always completely hide it. What did not seem noooooormal began to seem more nooooooormal, and, if much of the public did not find it desirable, that segment slowly got more and more used to the idea that the prohibition approach not working really did mean that the prohibition approach wasn’t working. The aspect of personal freedom vs. its proper limits vs. intrinsic disapproval similarly did not undergo any clear think or rethink, such as I thought I saw rising so gloriously in the east after the gay-rights Supreme Court verdict in Lawrence v. Texas.
It has all been a bit like the opinions on this subject of one Josh Marshall, who at one point completely stonkered me with a “regardless, my belly button kinda says no” rejection of pot legalization (GOOD GRIEF I MISS MY ONLINE OD WRITEUPS) - and then later came around to the reverse point of view in exactly the same fashion, which sort of bugged me just as much.

In this case, society in the U.S. appears to be swinging around to what I would call the right decision, but in a way that makes me unhappy about the ways in which society is likely to think through anything.

This isn’t only me mourning my youthful blithe confidence that people were going to read the expletive-deleted Relman Report. It matters going forward, for other things.

If I stay in the area of intoxicants, for example, what about LSD, or Psilocybe mushrooms, or hallucinogenic cactus? I was reading about them during the same period that I was reading about pot.
The safety picture for these three extraordinary substances, and for many of their close relatives, is actually better than the safety picture for marijuana. I’m not joking.

At this late date, marijuana does seem to give pre-psychotic people a higher risk of psychotic breaks and give the already mentally ill a higher chance of relapse or decompensation. (There has also been the recent suggestion in a couple of studies that marijuana use may be associated with a small IQ drop when the young use it, but later studies have not matched this result. The matter may still be churning, though, and I may be biased from too much time watching how these claims are looked at, so I’m putting it in in parentheses.) Also, marijuana can lend itself to a pretty strong psychological dependence.
None of this is true of the major hallucinogens. They’re remarkably safe. The fabled rain of people believing they could fly was a media concoction, and the hyperreporting of a few bad things that have happened over the years has obscured the fact that the rarity of those incidents makes them indistinguishable from the general background. (If a man ate a Cadbury bar and then jumped off the Eiffel Tower, you wouldn’t then announce the discovery that, every few billion times, Cadbury bars cause Eiffel suicide.) A telling example has been that, although mescaline-bearing peyote cactus is generally illegal in the U.S., the government has for decades quietly allowed a long-term exemption for the Native American Church, which uses peyote as a sacrament . . . and there aren’t even any allegations of any medical problems or social ills resulting.

If this is true - and if social policy should, for one thing, be trying to guide people toward the safer ways of chemically changing their consciousness (a sensible thought toward which the accustomizing of Americans to pot has not progressed, despite pot’s fit) . . . then will LSD and magic mushrooms and hallucinogenic cactus also be legalized?

No. They won’t.

Because they are odd. They do not fit into “normal enjoyment of an evening” (whether the conception is alcohol-conditioned or not) the way marijuana does. This makes them much less intuitively familiar - and it means that the number of people who have actually tried them will remain much lower than those who have tried marijuana (or other things that are much, much more dangerous!). They would actually require an intelligent general evaluation and decision . . . and that is precisely what they will not get. Even the studies that periodically (and consistently) demonstrate great promise for psychedelics in the treatment of PTSD and some other conditions have added up to just a “drip . . . drip . . . drip” in the face of the general impression . . . and that’s how it is actually within the medical profession. Outside? It doesn’t matter what the research results are; LSD and its associates are going to remain in the Violent Ward as unreleasable and dangerous inmates. The belly-buttons of the public will continue to feel right about this. The government will keep them there, and disagreement will remain occasional coffee-table conversation, and there it will float.

And this is the more tragic because, unlike with marijuana (except as an alternative to the wet poisonous stuff that makes you drive into other cars), the psychedelic drugs may actually have a non-trivial positive effect on society as a whole. Or have the potential to have one. (Long story, different subject.)
Marijuana legalization was the most likely rational social adjustment that I became intrigued with, but it wasn’t the interesting one.

And what of other things? How do our tummy-tum-tums feel about specific proposals for dealing with anthropogenic global warming?
Or about torture?
What if our collective belly-buttons settle on the wrong things? They sometimes do. That’s how we got into many things that they would then have to get us out of. We cannot trust them . . . but we still have to wait on them - and wait - and wait.

We were supposed to think everything over better than this.

(link to part 2)

Last updated July 09, 2015

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