Is marijuana responsible for John Patrick Bedell's suicidal assault on the Pentagon? Yes, says Washington Post blogger Charles Lane, although his theory of the plant's criminogenic effects is slightly more sophisticated than Harry Anslinger's. Instead of obtaining "effective treatment for his obviously serious mental illness," says Lane, Bedell sought help for his insomnia from a California physician, who gave him a recommendation for marijuana. "Bedell's loved ones' anguish at his death," Lane writes, "may be compounded now by the knowledge that, at one important moment in his troubled life, a doctor gave him help obtaining more marijuana—as opposed to real help." Lane believes this incident illustrates his point that "the legalization of physician-recommended pot in California is a prescription for disaster because it authorizes the 'treatment' of a wide range of real maladies with a spurious 'medicine'…that might be ineffective or actually harmful." Although Lane thinks marijuana's medicinal benefits are generally fictitious, he is willing to let cancer and AIDS patients use it, as long as they're dying. Furthermore, he wants to "debate legalizing marijuana as a recreational drug." In short, Lane is prepared to consider a legal regime that would have allowed Bedell to obtain all the pot he wanted (something he apparently managed to do anyway), as long as no one called it a medicine.
Lane is right that a lot of recreational pot smoking is masquerading as medical use in California, and he is also right to suggest that general legalization would be better than the current situation. But given his confidence that Bedell's maladjustment, wacky beliefs, and violence were all symptoms of a disease that psychiatrists know how to treat, I'm not sure how Lane can so readily reject the idea that people are using marijuana as a medicine when they use it to alleviate such quotidian psychological problems as stress, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Psychiatrists do treat such problems with government-approved pharmaceuticals, after all. Lane cites one psychiatrist who "knows of no research to support the notion that marijuana is a safe and effective remedy for chronic insomnia." The psychiatrist agrees pot "can be a sedative," but adds, "You could say the same thing for alcohol." Well, yes, you could. And you would be right, unless everyone who has ever taken a nightcap has been imagining its effectiveness. Likewise, marijuana surely helps some people who have trouble getting to sleep, which is the problem for which Bedell sought medical assistance. If marijuana were treated like alcohol, there would have been no reason for Bedell to seek a doctor's recommendation entitling him to purchase it, but that would not have changed the nature of the benefit he got from it.
Lane suggests Bedell's California physician was negligent. But it sounds like he gave Bedell what he wanted, and Bedell was pleased by the results. I can see how that might offend those who believe doctors should treat patients like children instead of paying customers. Did marijuana use compound Bedell's problems or, as he believed, relieve them? I don't know, but I am willing to entertain the possibility that marijuana, like psychiatrist-prescribed pharmaceuticals, can improve people's ability to function as well as impair it. If Bedell had obtained whatever "effective treatment" psychiatrists thought appropriate but had nevertheless shot guards outside the Pentagon, would Lane have blamed that prescription for the attack?