It’s good to be smart. Nearly everybody craves the company of the brainy and bright. Smart people usually surround themselves with the intelligent gadgetry of modernity — smart phones, smart cars, smart watches, smart TVs, even smart fridges that can recite recipes and stream video on demand. It is true, of course, that gadgets can be become addictive. Then acquiring the latest expensive iFrill is not so smart.
So it’s a bit odd that many Americans are increasingly enamored of a smelly ingredient of modern life that promotes the very opposite of smartness. Marijuana use is going mainstream, despite the fact that it reeks of dumb and dumber.
The speed with which the U.S. appetite for cannabis has reached the fruited plain would make kudzu an ecological slowpoke by comparison. Michigan will vote in November whether to join nine other states and the District of Columbia in legalizing “recreational” marijuana. Utah will decide whether to join 31 states and the District to remove all prohibitions on using the weed for “medicinal” purposes. Pot as a remedy for pain first became a thing in 1996 in California (naturally) and subsequently vice became a virtue, so called, in many precincts.
Tax revenue seduces bureaucrats everywhere. Colorado, which legalized cannabis in 2012, funneled $230 million from the weed sales into the state school system between 2015 and 2017, according to the Drug Policy Alliance. California and Massachusetts, which just said yes to recreational pot sales this year, promise to promote social justice by channeling a portion of their tax proceeds into “communities of color” harmed by “unequal drug law enforcement.” The virtue signaling from legalization advocates may be heartfelt, but enabling the sale of drugs to relieve the damaging effects of drugs would invite a smirk from Sisyphus.
Modern cannabis packs a wallop, with genetic engineering amping up its concentration of THC, the psychoactive ingredient, by a factor of 10 or 20 above the potency felt by smokers of the Woodstock generation. The perceived benefits of the high life, or lack thereof, is a matter of personal opinion. A July study of U.S. attitudes toward marijuana published in the Annals of Internal Medicine find that of the 16,280 persons surveyed, 81 percent of adults believe pot to have at least one positive benefit, while 17 percent believe it has no benefit. Of the 14.6 percent of respondents who reported using marijuana during the past year, 50 percent point to addiction and 42 percent can think of no more common health risk than impaired memory. Risk and reward is, of course, in the bloodshot eye of the toker.
Health issues notwithstanding, Americans are becoming more comfortable with just saying yes to grass. A Pew Research Center poll earlier this year found that 61 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legalized. Democrats lead the campaign for the high life with nearly 70 percent approving. Independents approve at 65 percent, and even 43 percent of otherwise responsible Republicans have rolled for the cannabis campaign.
Lower resistance to pot seems to be rubbing off on the use of other substances as well. The proportion of workplace drug tests detecting the use of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine is up sharply, from 3.2 percent in 2012 to 4.2 percent, according to Quest Diagnostics. With the Trump economy producing more jobs than applicants, some companies are simply dropping pot from their routine pre-employment drug screening. “Employers are saying, ‘We have a thin labor pool,’” employment lawyer James Reidy tells the Associated Press. “So are we going to test and exclude a whole group of people?”
Marijuana, trendy or not, does nothing to eliminate one sobering fact: The drug leaves the human brain a few cards short of a full deck. Short-term effects, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, still include altered senses and moods, difficulty in problem-solving, memory impairment and, with high use, hallucinations, delusions and psychosis. Among long-term effects is adverse brain development, which can cost youthful users an average of eight points off their IQ, according to researchers in New Zealand and at Duke University in North Carolina.
In a world of more than 7 billion of us, the competition for jobs and the best of the good life, is intense and getting more so by the day. For the winners, smart is what smart does. For the growing crop of stoners who can’t seem to otherwise navigate life, it’s the pot, stupid.