When it comes to the arguments about legalization, the truth is I don’t give two shits. What I care about is that we have a 25-year-old age limit. As a sober addict and someone who works in treatment, I believe it’s the only socially responsible move.
Why Smoking Weed Young Is a Bad Idea
I’ve spent a lot of time reading the work of Dr. Dan Siegel—a Harvard-trained physician who is currently the clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, where he is on the faculty of the Center for Culture, Brain, and Development and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center. His most recent book, Brainstorm, is already a New York Times bestseller. In it, he argues that the adolescent brain (and he defines adolescence as between the ages of 12 and 25) doesn’t stop maturing until around the age of 25. He describes in detail how the brain not only continues to develop from the ages of 21 to 25 but also how adolescents don’t have the capacity to truly understand the long-term impact of their choices. It’s simply a matter beyond their developmental capacity.
Let’s be straight. Marijuana is addictive, especially when people begin to use it in their teenage years, but it’s also less harmful in the short term than prescription drugs. It’s certainly less harmful than alcohol, as the president and Attorney General stated.
What’s reprehensible is that although white males and black males use marijuana at about the same rate, black males are almost four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts. Is the enforcement of drug laws furthering a racist agenda, either overtly or unconsciously? Perhaps so.
A Destructive, Depressing Cycle
But the part I haven’t really heard anybody talk about is this: since it’s so difficult for the majority of Americans to get ahead at this time in our history, who wouldn’t want to be stoned? Who the hell wants to go through the immense poverty that we have in this country lucid? Home foreclosures. Long-term joblessness. Record numbers of people becoming dependent on supplemental food programs while food stamp benefits are being cut. Watching your children do without basic necessities. It only makes sense to want to escape this poverty trap and getting stoned is a cheap way to do it.
But I believe there’s a certain learned helplessness in the majority of these continual pot smokers—a basic “What’s the use?” belief that they can’t improve their circumstances.
Look at it like this. For every Bill Maher or Willie Nelson, there are at least a thousand 20- and 30-somethings still living at home with their parents, waking up at noon to a big fat bong load. They’re unemployed or underemployed and they’re screaming for their mothers to make them a sandwich.
Facing the Counterproductive Side Effects
For the vast majority of continual marijuana smokers, a profound lack of motivation sets in—almost a paralysis to do anything whatsoever to be productive. We tend not to talk about that, instead focusing on the few geniuses in our culture that are so immensely gifted that they can get inspired by getting stoned or use it to enhance their creativity. Many think they can emulate them when really we are a nation of depressives who have been beaten down by our inability to succeed and feel like we can justify getting high.
If you want to get high, go get high. I don’t really give a shit. But let’s give the youngest among us—the most easily influenced, the ones whose brains aren’t even fully developed yet—a shot at a life worth living. We’re supposed to be getting better as a society, aren’t we? We don’t smoke in restaurants anymore because we know second-hand smoke is harmful and we’re now required to wear seat belts because we know they saves lives. So come on people, let’s do the right thing here. We need an age limit of 25 on marijuana legalization.
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