Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pandora's Box: The Price of Prohibition

It's pretty widely known about me that I support the full legalization of marijuana. I have many reasons for my stance and I've exhausted myself with presenting the same tired reasons for why we should repeal the prohibition of an essentially harmless substance. I speak a lot to deaf ears and moderates who choose to close their eyes instead of take action (activism has a price sometimes you know). Well finally after years of prohibition would-be users of marijuana have a legal fallback (for how long I don't know). But unfortunately that fall back has an unknown price.

For those who are not closely involved with anyone who uses illicit drugs you may not be aware of the synthetic cannabinoids that have flooded the market. They are commonly referred to as Spice, but they have many names such as K2, space, spike and countless other names. One brand name gets pulled off the market and ten pop up to replace it. Most of these blends are marked as "not intended for human consumption" or as "incense blends", people disregard these warnings, knowing that these herbal blends are laced with synthetic cannabinoids, they pack these herbal blends into glass bowls, bongs, or roll them up into joints and light them up and inhale. These new blends don't show up in a drug screening (as they are not illegal) so many people who used to smoke marijuana but are now in professions where they get drug tested frequently are now turning to these blends to get the high they once got with marijuana without the consequences.

These people are just thinking about the high and not thinking about effects. It has been documented that user synthetic cannabinoids experience a different high from that which you would receive from THC (the chemical in marijuana that give it its psychoactive qualities). It has been documented that users of what I will refer to as Spice for the rest of this entry for the sake of brevity, are more prone to agitation, elevated heart rate and nervousness than a user of marijuana would be. When smoking spice you don't get the calming effect that you would get from smoking marijuana.

Possibly the most troubling things about these compounds is the lack of testing that has been done on them. These chemicals are research chemicals that were made in a lab at Clemson University in South Carolina (my home state). Even John W. Huffman, the scientist who created these chemicals does not think that they are a good substance for recreational use, citing that there have not been an adequate amount of peer reviewed studies on these chemicals. Because of the lack of research on these compounds there is no real way to know what the long term effects of ingesting these chemicals on a regular recreational basis are.

These chemicals (mainly jwh-018 and jwh-073) were created to mimic the medicinal effects of marijuana without the psychoactive effects. The jury is still out on weather these chemicals yield the right properties for fulfilling the medicinal capacities that marijuana can. The fact is that we don't know enough about these substances to know if they are safe or not. We don't know what will happen to someone ten, twenty, or thirty years down the road as a result of the habitual use of spice. We don't know if a build up of these chemicals will cause disease or organ failure. We won't know until the people who have been turned onto these untested compounds start presenting the long term side effects that may or may not be the result of these chemicals.

These herbal blends that are being smoked in the stead of marijuana are made in a fashion that leads to even more questions. Most of the packaging for these herbal blends don't list ingredients (remember they "aren't intended for human consumption" wink wink nudge nudge COUGH). You don't know what the herbs are that you are smoking, you don't know what the concentration of the chemical is, and you don't know what other little untested psychoactive treats have been thrown in there, so when you open up a fresh package of spice, even if you religiously use the same brand (although its kinda hard to given the fact that brands come and go) you could be smoking a totally different cocktail of drugs every time. You are inhaling god only knows what in the pursuit of a high.

Many people start smoking spice because they think its just like marijuana, but its not. It's not something that occurs in nature like marijuana is. It's effects aren't fully documented or known (unlike marijuana, which people have been using for thousands of years with no significant medical problems). Most importantly when you smoke spice, you have no real way of knowing what it is you are smoking (unlike with marijuana, where if you are smart you know what you are ingesting).

This is the price of prohibition. All these unknowns would probably never even be questions if not for the need to replace THC. For a long time I'm sure scientists have wanted to create a synthetic version of THC but were limited by the science of their time, so Pandora's Box did not open until just recently, but now it is opened, the world of synthetic cannabinoids is just starting to gain steam and now an untold number of consequences will plague our society because of backwards laws that make criminals out of innocent people.

By making marijuana illegal we have created so many problems for ourselves that would easily be solved if we stop deluding ourselves into believing nonsensical puritanical things about drug use. We need to as a society look in the mirror and realize collectively that we were wrong. We have problem with that phrase in America, we don't like to look in, we don't like to admit that we made a poor assessment, we like to hold onto our morals and remain static, but we can't afford to be static anymore, we can't afford the price that we are paying through the nose for prohibition.

What anti-marijuana advocates refuse to acknowledge is that it is a part of human nature to want to change our consciousness through various avenues, some of them through substances. As long as there have been people there have been substances used which served this function. Some people do this through drinking, some through marijuana, some through hallucinogenic substances, different people favor different substances.

The problem is that for some reason, in our society we have taken to condemning behaviors which come naturally to humans as being indicative of an abhorrent lifestyle (mainly drug use and sexual unions which occur outside of committed relationships). People who advocate for the legalization of marijuana are painted with the broad brush of being extremists, not being intelligent and being addicted to drugs by society. Because our society is greatly based upon how your standing is perceived by others many people who would advocate don't because they fear their actions will be a threat to their livelihood. There are a lot of advocates who hide in the closet, there are a lot of users who hide the closet with those advocates.

Because being perceived as an advocate of marijuana is sometimes a risk to great for some people to take, public opinion and public policy do not match up. We all saw the famous clip where President Obama LAUGHED when asked if he would legalize marijuana to rebuild the economy despite the fact it was the most popular question asked. Public opinion has shifted to the point where many people don't take issue with the idea of legal marijuana, if you've turned on your TV recently you can figure that out, marijuana is not demonized in the media the way it once was when I was a child. The problem is public opinion was way too late and the government won't change the laws until we beat them over the skull with the notion of legalization (I mean that purely as a metaphor, I do not advocate for violence in pursuit of the cause).

Because marijuana was made illegal under completely false pretenses, the market is controlled by thugs, drug cartels grow strong while our government wastes man power, money and resources on fighting a war that will never end. Weakening an already weak economy Along with fighting against ever present threat of gangs, we now have a new potential problem. The results of the recreational use of these chemicals in spice.

The need for Spice would never be present if marijuana had been legal this whole time. We know that there are no serious medical side effects from the long term use of marijuana. We know that it doesn't make people violent and we know that it has a lot of uses aside from its psychoactive properties. We would be living in a cleaner more efficient world if not for this senseless prohibition, and the need for spice would have never existed.

But now its too late, because the box is open. We can try to make jwh-018 and jwh-073 illegal and try to close the box back up but just as with the different name brands of spice which come and go, different chemicals will replace the ones which have become illegal and the illegal ones will go join all the other illegal drugs on the black market. All we can do now is damage control, we can't undo the past and go back in time and make marijuana legal so that spice was never a necessary invention, all we can do now is legalize.

The sick irony of all of this is that most marijuana users would never touch spice if not the issue of marijuana's illegality, and that all these problems would not be here if we had never banned it in the first place. But as they say hindsight is 20/20. This is the price of prohibition America, people pursuing highs on unknown chemicals, innocent people getting locked up for victimless crimes and an unprecedented amount of resources wasted in the pursuit of keeping a harmless (and quite useful) substance illegal. Are you still willing to pay the price? Or do you want to see just how deep and dark Pandora's box can get?  Will you stand up and say to your government that legalization needs to be a priority or will you let your silence speak for you?    

To me the price of prohibition and silence are too great to not speak.

Love and Respect,


1 comment:

  1. Hi. You mentioned the economy , yeah from govenment's pov its being regulated for tax purposes. Gourmet cannibus stores with Stuckbuck type names for their new goods will want to cash in but not with Spice. But if the market for Spice just gets bigger than the regulated market then I guess Pandora's Box has/had been opened