Israel up in smoke: Middle class myths about marijuana use

Ignoring the potentially profound after-effects of decriminalizing or legalizing pot is intellectually dishonest, morally suspect and politically craven.

Earlier this month, the Israeli Cabinet approved the decriminalized use of marijuana. According to the proposal formulated by the Public Security and Justice ministries, first-time offenders in possession of up to 15 grams and smoking publicly would be fined and not receive a criminal record. The fines would continue until the fourth offense, when the possessor of the marijuana can be indicted. First-time minor offenders would be referred to a treatment program.

My initial reaction to the news, undoubtedly fueled by a small government, Libertarian streak, was positive. After all, the effects of prohibition, from wasted resources to ruined lives, have been disastrous. And occasionally toking up isn’t any more addictive than taking a long drag on a cigarette, right?

But behind the romantic notion of marijuana as magical mind bender, legalization is disproportionately affecting one group: the lower class.

A recent study by Steven Davenport of RAND and Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon notes that “despite the popular stereotype of marijuana users as well-off and well-educated . . . they lag behind national averages” on both income and schooling.

Case in Point

Meanwhile, the same people who have been pushing for decriminalization and legalization measures tend to refrain from getting baked much. After all, first reaching and then remaining in the middle and upper classes is usually based on being responsible enough to hold down jobs and care for families. However, getting high on a regular basis makes it more difficult to focus, remember and behave responsibly.

Case in point: Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson revealed during an interview that he had decided to abstain from using marijuana during his White House run. “I want to be completely on top of my game, all cylinders,” Johnson said.

Since Johnson’s showing was the best in Libertarian Party history, one can only imagine how well he would have performed had he stopped smoking dope earlier than six months before Election Day.

Another study, conducted in 2016 by an international team of researchers led by Magdalena Cerdá at the University of California, Davis, Health System, and Avshalom Caspi and Terrie Moffitt at Duke University, followed children from birth up to age 38. The research revealed that people who smoked cannabis four or more days a week over a period of many years ended up in a lower social class than their parents.

As far as employment, regular cannabis smokers wound up in lower-paying, less skilled and less prestigious jobs, compared to people who did not smoke regularly.

Indisputable Evidence Regarding Health

Beyond the potential socioeconomic consequences of legalization, it’s also worth noting that, despite a growing cultural acceptance of pot use, the evidence is indisputable regarding the fact that smoking marijuana leads to changes in the brain similar to those caused by cocaine, heroin and alcohol. Another inconvenient truth: there is 50-70% more cancer causing material in marijuana smoke than cigarette smoke.

And while Israel took a great leap forward in smashing the taboo surrounding pot use, a 2015 survey by the country’s Anti-Drug and Alcohol Authority found that marijuana use among Israeli teenagers is soaring as perceptions about the danger of the drug change. In addition, the anti-drug agency conducted a survey of Israeli university students from 14 different campuses, which revealed a sharp increase in marijuana use. The number of students who reported using marijuana in the preceding 12 months jumped to about 40 percent in 2014, from 31 percent in 2013.

These disturbing figures point to a powerful correlation between first perceiving a drug as not being dangerous and then using it.

So, even though I buy into the Libertarian argument for legalizing marijuana, based on a belief that people own their bodies and what they choose to put in them, let’s not pretend that decriminalization or outright legalization will have no negative ramifications for society.

Ignoring the potentially profound after-effects of decriminalizing or legalizing pot is intellectually dishonest, morally suspect and politically craven.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m running late for a date with a beautiful lady and a glass, half-carafe or entire bottle of Chianti. However much I decide to imbibe, rest assured, dear reader, that I accept full responsibility for my well informed choices…

By Gidon Ben-Zvi, Freelance Writer