The Importance of Education and Why it is so Hard to Break Down the Myths of Marijuana Legalization
If you smoke enough to know what a t-break is, it might be time to take one. But if not, the idea behind a t-break (or tolerance break) is pretty simple: stopping partaking for an extended period of time to cleanse your body and mind. People take them for a variety of reasons: to pass a drug test, to reset their susceptibility or just to provide a little clarity. With ongoing processes occurring across the country to decriminalize and legalize whose proponents and opponents have both been clouded by years of propaganda and lore, we need a dialogue that is as clear-headed and focussed about this new industry as possible.
In New York, where medical cannabis has been legal since 2014, there has been a strong push by both the public and governing officials to get recreational usage on the ballot this session. In January, Governor Andrew Cuomo released his proposed Cannabis Regulation and Taxation Act. The act includes a comprehensive plan that would allow the sale of cannabis to anyone 21 years of age or older and seal the records of those who had been priorly convicted for possession. According to a breakdown of the act by Rolling Stone, the bill, as it’s written, calls for the creation of an Office of Cannabis Management and a comprehensive public education program.
The plan, when it was initially brought before the Senate, was met with a significant amount of support, yet the status of legalization is still in question for New York. The hope was to include legalization as part of the state’s budget for this upcoming year, according to Doug Greene, the legislative director of the Empire State branch of NORML (or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws). Yet, legislators have hit a few snags in working out the specifics about how it should be rolled out.
“We don’t know what will happen,” Greene said. “With next year being an election year it might be difficult. [Senator] Diane Savino has said that if it is not done in the budget it won’t happen until 2021.”
This is because, as Greene said, legalization is a “complex issue.” Legalizing cannabis in any capacity requires a multifaceted approach where legislators must consider public health and wellness as well as the significant amount of complications that arise from regulating and taxing a new industry. It is often difficult to balance the wishes of the consumer with those of the state, especially when the amount of concrete research on cannabis in general in the U.S. is lacking. This is why similar measures in New Jersey just recently failed to pass.
Public health seems to be the largest point of divergence in the often-polarizing narrative of legalizing weed. There is the group that treats the plant like a miracle food, those that have been indoctrinated by years of D.A.R.E and Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign, and those that wish to see it regulated in the same ways that alcohol and tobacco are.In reality, the schism that we see in this public discourse stems from a lack of reliable knowledge on the issue.
Since cannabis is still federally listed as a Schedule I drug (alongside drugs like heroin), attempts to research its effects on the body and their larger social implications have been extremely limited. According to the DEA, studies of Schedule I drugs require approval from at least three federal agencies before clinical trials can be conducted. Cannabis specifically is limited further, only able to be obtained from a single federally legal grower and distributor, the branch of the National Institute for Drug Abuse at the University of Mississippi.
Stewart Auyash, an associate professor and chair of the Department of Health Promotion and Physical Education at Ithaca College whose work focuses on drug policy, said there is potential for danger in the unknown.
“People think it’s just like, smoke a little bit of weed no big deal, no harm. A problem lies in what we don’t know,” Auyash said. “One of the issues with the federal government is that we haven’t been able to study cannabis effectively. That small batch they grew in Mississippi is not an acceptable standard. We know that there are over 90 cannabinoids in cannabis, but we really only know two of them, THC and CBD.”
What this has created, Auyash said, is a cycle of conflicting information. Many of the studies being done on topics such as teen usage and impaired driving rely heavily on circumstantial evidence and self-reporting. For example, a recently published study in The Lancet Psychiatry found that high potency weed can be linked to increased psychotic episodes. The study made connections between cities like Amsterdam, London and Paris where high-potency weed (i.e. greater than 10% THC) is prevalent, correlating with the amount of new cases of psychotic episodes. The study also looked at the prevalence of usage. What the study does not take into account is causation versus correlation. There is no mention of whether or not the study inquired about existing mental health conditions or other drug use. Auyash said it is difficult to draw concrete conclusions when there are so many contributing factors.
“Many of the studies I’ve seen, especially on teens are, are based on voluntary statements of what they’ve consumed. Those kinds of studies have their limits,” Auyash said. “They haven’t really been testing people in a controlled environment and saying ‘Okay here is this marijuana, it has 17% THC and 5% CBD, let’s see what it does to this person.’ Those kinds of studies are just starting to be done.”
As long as research is limited, legislators will be made to rely on information that is presumptive at best. Greene said education, like Governor Cuomo’s plan, which has yet to make progress in the senate committee, has not been emphasized due to it’s heavy focus on education over economics. For now, he said, it is on everyone from the consumer to the politician to self-educate.
“Things can be peer-reviewed and still be flawed,” Greene said. “We have to look at the data and at how the study was done. People have to look to credible sources, and that is one thing that NORML is trying to do.”
Ben Kaplan is a senior journalism major who is interested in marijuana legalization for purely journalistic intentions.