Thursday, August 23, 2007

Peggy goes potty again


In response to Health Minister Tony Clement's recent announcement of a new anti-drug campaign, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente once again indulges in some deceptive propaganda and rhetoric about the dangers of the demon weed. I suppose we should be glad she doesn't engage in the same casual racism as her last piece on the subject - which I responded to here.

I know a guy who does a lot of weed. It's not a happy story. He started smoking dope in high school. After university, his friends began working hard and building their careers. He smoked dope instead. His friends got married and had kids. So did he. But he couldn't ever keep a job for long. He had lengthy spells of unemployment. His family was always broke, because he inhaled every cent they had. Eventually his fed-up wife threw him out. Today, well into middle age, he's scraping by somewhere, living in some basement.

So don't tell me marijuana is harmless. Don't tell me marijuana doesn't destroy people and their families. It does.

So Peggy, do we really have to explain the difference between correlation and causation to you? This is freshman logic. Do the many examples of hard working, successful people who like to relax at the end of a productive day with a joint mean marijuana smoking is a sure path to success and happiness? No more than Wente's example proves the opposite.

Then she trots out the 'it's much worse than it used to be' tripe again:
Today's pot is to the stuff I used to inhale as whisky is to beer.
This has the combined charm of being pompously hypocritical and simply and flatly untrue; this Slate article effectively demolishes this popular myth.

Then there's the 'pot makes you crazy' meme, Wente devoted so many column inches to last time:
Recent research indicates that some people, because of their genetic makeup, react badly to the chemicals in cannabis, and are at heightened risk of psychosis. More commonly, the effects of regular indulgence include apathy, self-centredness (sic) and disengagement from life in general.
Not surprisingly, the study Peggy is referring to showed no such damn thing:

First, there is no new study. The paper published in The Lancet is a meta-analysis -- a summary of seven studies that previously appeared in other journals, including some that were published decades ago. Second, the touted association between cannabis and mental illness is small -- about the same size as the link between head injury and psychosis. Finally, despite what some new sources suggest, this association is hardly proof of a cause-and-effect relationship between cannabis and psychosis,

So why the sudden fuss?

Part of the answer is political. New British Prime Minister Gordon Brown longs to stiffen penalties against marijuana users. One way to justify this move involves convincing the public that The Lancet proved that puffing the weed will make you batty. Of course, that's not what the article says at all.

In fact, investigators actually reported that cannabis use was associated with a slight increase in psychotic outcomes. However, the authors emphasized (even if many in the media did not) that this small association does not reflect a causal relationship. Folks with psychoses use all intoxicants more often than other people do, including alcohol and tobacco.

Wente also is worried about our lungs:
It's not too good for your lungs either. A couple of joints inflict about the same damage as a pack of cigarettes.
Except no pot smoker smokes as much pot as a tobacco smoker smokes tobacco. Studies on the small percentage of pot smokers who don't also smoke cigarettes could find no clear cancer link. In fact recent studies have shown that marijuana may actually have anti-cancer effects by among other things, killing off damaged cells prone to cancerous mutation.

No substance inhaled in burning clouds is good for the lungs. Of course pot users have other options such as cooking it into food or inhaling it from vaporizers.

Wente acknowledges that 'wars on drugs have a bad name these days' - but barely confronts the long record of failure and repression that have given them that bad name, and brushes aside any opposition to expensive and futile new anti-pot campaigns by the 'reefer lobby'.
Influencing public behaviour is no mystery. You start by changing public attitudes. You try to get everyone - government, the media and schools - to give the same message: No. And if that message is too righteous for you, please recall that cannabis is the lifeblood of your friendly street or biker gang. You know, the ones with guns. Have a nice day.
I don't especially object to righteousness. Stupidity and mendacity annoy me however, and of course the fact that marijuana is a cash crop for organized crime is a more compelling argument for legalization than anything else, but this kind of basic logic seems to continually escape Wente.

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