Guest Column: Is legalizing pot the answer?
September 2, 2014
I have enjoyed Dr. Whyman's columns the past several weeks on drugs and his endorsement of legalizing pot.
According to Whyman, "it will lead to a number of positive social changes" including, "increase personal freedom" and "provide a pleasant social and personal experience without the prospect of criminal behavior."
I think Whyman's story and conclusion has already been told in the Cheech and Chong 1978 classic pot film "Up In Smoke," where a down-and-out young musician and a small-scale drug dealer team up for a glamorized romp through drugs, dumb cops and a vodka-drinking judge, climaxing in a hashish-induced car crash leaving them afire or "up in smoke," but happy and enjoying a "pleasant social and personal experience."
In 1978 at the height of the "Free Love and Drug Movement," I was a young community mental health director working with cities, counties, school districts and law enforcement to deal with the explosion of runaways, teen pregnancies, suicides, kids stoned at school and AIDS.
Our goal was to help kids stay healthy, keep them out of the criminal justice system and as needed into treatment programs. Despite all of our best efforts, crime continued to go up, with the common causative factor being; drugs (legal and illegal) and the breakdown of the family.
Providing "ready access to treatment," as Whyman offers as a solution to those who can't handle recreational drug use, was not a problem, as billions of dollars went to "the war on drugs." The reality is that the traditional mental health system that Whyman advocates, and the alternative "street treatment programs" that I championed i.e., "New Connection" drug detoxification and "Genius House" therapeutic residential communities, have been long-term failures.
The result of our professionals' failure to produce a "treatment cure" naturally resulted in an overreaction of the community to protect itself with strict laws.
A "recovery" programs that does work is Alcohol and Narcotics Anonymous (AA/NA). This self-help group receives no public money, has no staff or facilities and offers a simple to understand 12 Step life time recovery plan for millions of people.
The most effective "prevention" programs seem are found within the faith based life principles of Christians, Jews and Muslims. Many of these principles are considered intolerant of "personal freedom and pleasure," thus counter to the "marijuana and drug awakening movement."
I support research into the medical benefits of marijuana and changing our criminal justice policies that are no longer relevant. However, as a health care professional, I think it is irresponsible for us to advocate more drugs simply for the real and imagined ills, anxieties, fears and stresses of normal life.
It seems to me that we are intoxicated with a focus on "personal freedom and pleasant social and personal experience," when we should be advocating and teaching individual and societal responsibility to advance our culture and country in a positive direction, so it does not go "Up in Smoke."
J. Michael Gallagher is an Incline Village resident.