Admit it, marijuana is addictive

Legal marijuana may keep people out of jail, but it comes at a cost. From the Alamosa Valley Courier.


Marijuana is addictive, and only becoming moreso.

To admit this fact flies in the face of conventional wisdom, and is a downright offensive accusation to addicts and marijuana producers. But to ignore the truth prevents intellectual honesty in the ongoing debate over the place of weed in society.

This was an inevitability baked into Amendment 64, which legalized marijuana for recreational use in 2012. Although it eliminated the tragedy of imposing a hobbling and expensive criminal record on people using a drug that our last three presidents have admitted to using, and rolled back a favorite tool of law enforcement to obtain probable cause to search peoples’ private belongings, it was a devil’s deal.

In exchange, Colorado unleashed the monsters of consumerism and marketing on a market that had been – by virtue of its illegality – safely insulated from both.

The heart of the problem lies in what large corporatized producers are capable of turning marijuana into. In the years since Colorado legalized medical marijuana, the potency of commonly available marijuana has skyrocketed. In 1978, the average THC content of marijuana was 1.37 percent. Today, common commercially available strains are in the upper 20s and climbing. This ain’t your dad’s weed.

As weed transitions from a substance granting a mellow buzz to a powerful and stupefying drug, its increased addictiveness naturally follows.

I have many friends in Denver who seldom go more than an hour without marijuana in some form. Many have such a high tolerance that they seldom bother with “leaf” weed, instead opting for even more concentrated and potent forms like “wax” or “shatter,” both products that were generally unheard of before full-scale legalization.

Wax and shatter are as far removed from leaf weed as cocaine and crack are from the coca leaves chewed by Andean shepherds.

The existence and prevalence of these new hyper-concentrated forms speaks to the danger of the capabilities of large-scale industrial manufacturing of weed. Pre-legalization weed growers couldn’t have dreamt of the high-tech scientific processes being employed to distill weed to new heights of potency.

It is the same process that turned tobacco from a gentle and relaxing evening pastime to an expensive, deadly, pack-a-day habit in which the product has been precisely engineered to be as addictive as possible through decades of research and experimentation.

Still, despite the entrance of corporatocracy into a previously underground market, weed continues to enjoy an underdog image, of a latter-day civil rights issue left over from the days when possession meant jail time. This often translates into a perception that smoking weed amounts to civil disobedience, a way to stick it to the man, even though the man is now the one selling weed.

The prohibitionists did themselves no favors with decades of misinformation about weed, with a generation of kids subjected to DARE classes that made outlandish claims about the effects of (low percentage, pre-legalization) weed.

This image is reinforced by a pop culture machine that for years has commodified the dissent of marijuana users, thus making the concept of marijuana addiction sound like another bizarre lie of the hypocrites behind public policy. Imagine if cigarettes or alcohol enjoyed this perception.

Today, with no major political battles still to fight, dissent has devolved into materialism, with Denver’s 4/20 rally turned from an act of protest to a convention jammed with booths selling weed culture gewgaws, all under an aura that buying Cheech and Chong t-shirts is fighting the power.

Marijuana addiction does not look or act like addiction to alcohol or meth. It does not lead people to beat their spouses or commit robberies. But it does rob addicts of autonomy and ambition. Weed addiction looks like people who spend most days glued to a couch, and get panicky and angry when they run out. It looks like a friend of mine in Trinidad who pawned a family heirloom shotgun with an intricate scrollwork barrel to buy an eighth, or a friend in Denver who once dove into a pond to recover a weighted-down sack of weed he had previously thrown in, after an aborted attempt to quit once and for all.

The mindset is growing into a unique doublethink: marijuana-laced edibles, which have a well-known capacity to induce panic attacks if overused, are regarded by marijuana advocates as dangerous “only by people who can’t handle it,” despite their assertions that marijuana is harmless.

And yet these addictions exist within a mutually-reinforcing culture of denial and acceptability, where it’s impossible to be a weed addict, because everyone knows weed isn’t addictive.

The idea that marijuana overuse is funny, or cute, or a form of dissent is music to the ears and money in the pockets of the increasingly conglomerated marijuana industry.

For what it’s worth, I support marijuana legalization. The drug war and incarceration rates are intolerable, and efforts toward mitigating those are laudable. But as marijuana legalization spreads across the country, it is important that we look at marijuana objectively, and that we shed the perception of it as non-addictive. We must admit that 21st century legal marijuana is a potent and powerful drug, with effects that eclipse those of the weed of decades past.