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The Stoner Nation 

The activists behind the frenzy to legalize cannabis did not let the truth get in the way of their agenda.
(Mitch M/Shutterstock)

There is nothing more valuable than the human capital of a nation. An educated and healthy population determines not just the faith and destiny of a society, but more importantly, it is through it that the greatest civilizations are built. The degradation of human capital is the first sign of the degradation of a nation.

Indeed, one should not expect much from a society the majority of whose youth is addicted to drugs and so many other harmful substances; the faith of such a society is known in advance. What is unknown, however, is why the current political apparatus is succumbing to a fabricated pressure not just to legalize a drug, but to create false narratives and eccentric reasons to legalize it. What is also unknown is why a drug was legalized and its consumption normalized when the evidence of its supposed goodness is so shaky.

Over the last few years, recreational use of marijuana has been legalized in 18 states, as well as in the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam. Interestingly, medical purposes were the first suggested advantages of such progress. The result of approving the use of medical cannabis could have been to define a very narrow and niche population that would benefit from it, to address diseases such as HIV/AIDS or epilepsy, and chemotherapy-associated pain symptoms. In practice, however, it resulted in the approval of the use of cannabis no matter what the motive was, regardless of age or precedents of drug abuse.

Any motive can fall into therapeutic or medical use; the category itself is too vague. This highlights an underlying issue: Unlike many drugs, it is difficult to determine how a physician would prescribe cannabis. According to Samuel T. Wilkinson, M.D., of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine: “The ways in which medical marijuana has been approved, prescribed, and made available to the public are very different from other commercially available prescription drugs.” Moreover, the evidence proving the efficacy and safety of cannabis and cannabinoids in pain management for patients who suffer from HIV, epilepsy and other illnesses is lacking.

Lack of data and evidence aside, what pro-marijuana activists fail to grasp are the long-term impacts of cannabis consumption on youth. The normalization of cannabis has had, and will continue to have, disastrous consequences. Our brains are not fully developed until around the age of 25, which is four years past the legal age in states that allow recreational marijuana. The use of marijuana at an early age hinders the development of key parts of the brain responsible for memory, learning, attention, decision-making, coordination, and emotions.

The recreational consumption is not just a public health masquerade, but a socio-economic bomb, as several studies showed how, along with alcohol and tobacco, the consumption of cannabis is associated with job loss. This is an expected consequence, since the use of cannabis is associated with irreversible declines in cognition, given that long-term cannabis users perform poorly on tests of memory and attention. Cannabis will not just create a stoner generation, but an addicted and numb youth deprived of its vitality. Many politicians and activists try to “debunk” this claim by referring to I.Q. when the question is about cognition, which is not a surprising attempt since the whole legalization package revolves around blurriness and vagueness. Unlike cocaine or heroin, the effects of cannabis consumption are hidden and can only be measured over the long term, which the activists calling for legalization completely disregarded.

Another myth propagated during the campaign for legalization is that, unlike opioids and other drugs, cannabis is not addictive—an obvious lie and a poor attempt to gain public support after years of disappointment and mistrust. Indeed, cannabis is not only addictive, but its very normalization will trigger a wave of addictive behavior. Addiction to marijuana is possible and is even more likely if an individual begins to use the drug prior to age 18, and everyone knows how easy it is to access marijuana at high-schools nowadays. In Colorado, a few years after cannabis legalization, the state ranked first in marijuana use by minors. The future that awaits other states is not too difficult to predict.

But the most arrogant claim among all the ones that fueled the legalization of cannabis is that normalization would steadily eradicate black markets and reduce the malign activities of the cartels. In Colorado, where aggressive legalization took place, evidence shows that illegal activities have increased. In 2016, the representative of the Colorado Attorney General’s office noted that legalization “has inadvertently helped fuel the business of Mexican drug cartels…cartels are now trading drugs like heroin for marijuana, and the trade has since opened the door to drug and human trafficking.” This is exactly the type of advancement one should expect from reckless policies.

The activists behind the frenzy to legalize cannabis did not use science. Their arguments certainly did not proceed from a genuine concern for the future of America’s youth, nor did they question the impact legalization would have on crime and law enforcement. The pro-cannabis campaign had one goal: turn America into a stoner nation, a stoner civilization. Perhaps, like with opioids, in a few years we will discover which company is benefiting the most from this farce and hear the desperate lamentations. We can already make a list of politicians we should hear apologies from. We can also be certain that the next drug-related Netflix series will be on weed. The same scenario and cycle will happen again.

Zineb Riboua is a master of public policy candidate at Georgetown University. She is also a writer and artist; she publishes her work on her Substack.