- - Sunday, April 23, 2017

Marijuana has gone mainstream, its reputation hardly recognizable from the 1930s when a popular movie called “Reefer Madness” depicted in melodramatic fashion the dangers of smoking cannabis. “Reefer Madness” portrayed high school students driven mad by the addictive powers of the drug, rocking from automobile accidents to rape and suicide.

Now 28 states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana medical use, with no doctors’ prescription needed, and 7 states and the District have approved pot for “recreational use.” A Marist University survey finds that more than half of American adults have tried marijuana at least once, or say they have, and 55 million adults say they have used it within the past year.

Potheads, and particularly the growers of marijuana who think they’re about to make millions on selling the weed to upscale legal users, are alarmed that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions may begin enforcing federal law against growing and selling the weed. President Trump’s views are not clear. He once praised the legalization of the weed, but since he was elected he has tempered his implied views. Mr. Sessions, however, is a long-standing foe of legalization, and said in a speech to the U.S. Senate just before his appointment as attorney general that “you can’t have the president of the United States [meaning Barack Obama at the time] talking about marijuana like it is no different than taking a drink. It is different. It is already causing a disturbance in the states that have made it legal.”

Pot in America has always been associated with high times and Hollywood. Robert Mitchum was busted in the home of a starlet named Lila Leeds in the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles in 1949, a decade before “Reefer Madness,” and he thought he was finished. “Well,” he told the arresting detectives, “this is the bitter end of everything, my career, my marriage, everything.” His career survived and he went on to movie fame and fortune. Lila Leeds was not so fortunate. Her budding career cratered and she became a trivia question.

Marijuana has a tax constituency now, and officials in state governments see it as a source of tax revenue, and will give it up reluctantly. Ironically, tobacco cigarettes have little social and health acceptability now, and marijuana smoke has many of the same toxins of tobacco smoke, including those identified as a key factor in lung cancer. This toxin is found in smoke tar, and the tar in one marijuana joint contains more than four times the tar found in a cigarette.

Researchers have found a surprising number of pot smokers among those with lung cancer and cancers of the mouth, pharynx and larynx. Some medical researchers suggest that pot is at the root of some mental disorders, including bipolar disorder, psychosis, schizophrenia and panic attacks, which in further irony, is one of the conditions marijuana is sometimes prescribed to treat. Mental disorders associated with the use of pot now has its own category in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association.

If the Justice Department moves vigorously to enforce federal law, it will set off a spirited defense by the potheads and those who sell marijuana to them. Reefer madness is so 20th Century, but political madness over reefers is probably just beginning.

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