In a column published yesterday, Bob Tyrrell, founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator, explains why alcohol is better than marijuana. Both drinking and pot smoking are "coping mechanisms," he concedes, but alcohol is clearly more "civilized" because people can enjoy the taste, drink while reading or conversing, and imbibe without getting "blitzed." All this is either impossible or quite rare among cannabis consumers, Tyrrell asserts with the confidence of someone who has no idea what he's talking about.
Pot prohibitionists have been pushing this argument for many years, utterly undeterred by how ridiculous they sound to anyone who is familiar with cannabis or with cannabis consumers. If Tyrrell were merely defending his own tastes, there would be no point in arguing with him. But he is doing more than that: He is defending the legal distinction between alcohol and marijuana, insisting that his tastes should be forcibly imposed on everyone else. Given the boldness of that demand, the frivolousness of his argument is striking.
"I have never heard of a connoisseur savoring a joint for the taste," Tyrrell declares. But the fact that Bob Tyrrell has never heard of something does not mean it does not happen. Like Tyrrell, I prefer the taste of Scotch to the taste of pot, and I am not a cannabis connoisseur by any means. But even I know that different strains of marijuana have different smells and tastes, that people can discern and appreciate these differences, and that the distinction Tyrrell draws is a figment of his imagination. Likewise his insistence that there are no gradations of marijuana intoxication and that people smoke pot only to drop out, never to engage with others or to enhance edifying (or merely entertaining) activities. Even if Tyrrell's distinctions were valid, it is not clear why he imbues them with moral significance, let alone the kind of moral signficance that would justify using violence to stop people from making drug choices Tyrrell deems inferior.
Delving further into the subject, Tyrrell reinforces the impression that his entire experience with marijuana consists of reading fear-mongering op-ed pieces by Bill Bennett. "One smokes it for the effect," he writes. "One takes it in a brownie or cookie for an even more immediate effect." Actually, to the extent that marijuana edibles pose special hazards, it is mainly because their effect is anything but immediate, and the lag can make it difficult to gauge an appropriate dose.
Tyrrell not only does not understand how marijuana works; he does not understand how percentages work:
With contemporary marijuana the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) rate, that is to say the psychoactive ingredient in the drug, is about 15 percent higher than it was in the 1960s or 1970s. The increased level of THC makes the drug at least five times more powerful and brings with it increased medical problems. This little known fact hints at how widespread our ignorance of marijuana really is during the current debate about marijuana, or I should say the current non-debate?
Evidently when THC levels increase by 15 percent they become five times higher. That is one magical chemical. Still, Tyrrell is certainly right that the ignorance of some people who pontificate about marijuana is remarkable.
Tyrrell worries that "recent polls indicate increased tolerance for a drug that until recently was considered malum prohibitum across the nation." His explanation: "We have been fighting marijuana and other drug use for years, and it seems to me the country is fatigued with throwing up the same arguments." Is it possible that people simply are not persuaded by the same old arguments because they are so clearly false when measured against real-world experience?
Perhaps sensing that he has not quite clinched his case yet, Tyrrell argues that the real problem with marijuana is that it makes you stupid and psychotic, which is what killed Michael Brown—a conclusion that may puzzle readers who thought Brown's death had something to do with six bullets fired from a policeman's gun. Tyrrell closes by warning that "recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, may just be a harbinger," because "as Colorado goes so goes America." I am not sure what that means, but I will give Tyrrell this much credit: It is an argument I have not heard before.
[Thanks to Paul Armentano for the tip.]