This post, A Not-So-Harmless Drug, by Kent Scheidegger, first appeared on at http://www.crimeandconsequences.com/crimblog/.
The book was seeded one night a few years ago when Berenson’s wife, a
psychiatrist who evaluates mentally ill criminal defendants in New
York, started talking about a horrific case she was handling. It was
“the usual horror story, somebody who’d cut up his grandmother or set
fire to his apartment–typical bedtime chat in the Berenson house,” he
writes. But then, his wife added, “Of course he was high, been smoking
pot his whole life.”
Berenson, who smoked a bit in college, didn’t have strong feelings
about marijuana one way or another, but he was skeptical that it could
bring about violent crime. Like most Americans, he thought stoners ate
pizza and played video games–they didn’t hack up family members. Yet his
Harvard-trained wife insisted that all the horrible cases she was
seeing involved people who were heavy into weed. She directed him to the
science on the subject.
We look back and laugh at Reefer Madness, which was pretty
over-the-top, after all, but Berenson found himself immersed in some
pretty sobering evidence: Cannabis has been associated with legitimate
reports of psychotic behavior and violence dating at least to the 19th
century, when a Punjabi lawyer in India noted that 20 to 30 percent of
patients in mental hospitals were committed for cannabis-related
insanity. The lawyer, like Berenson’s wife, described horrific
crimes–including at least one beheading–and attributed far more cases of
mental illness to cannabis than to alcohol or opium. The Mexican
government reached similar conclusions, banning cannabis sales in
1920–nearly 20 years before the United States did–after years of reports
of cannabis-induced madness and violent crime.
None of this is surprising to those of us who have followed the legalization debate and the misrepresentations of harmlessness by the legalization lobby. What is surprising is where this article is published.
Berenson is well aware that many people won’t want to hear his message, particularly on the left, at a time when prominent figures from presidential hopeful Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) have endorsed legalizing pot nationally. There’s a huge difference, he points out, between decriminalizing weed to fight mass incarceration and turning cannabis into a recreational drug as cheap and easy to obtain as booze. “If you look at what’s happened with opioids in the last 20 years, legalizers should be looking at that and saying to themselves, ‘Maybe drugs are actually the problem,'” Berenson says. “I feel like I’m going to get jumped on just for saying that.”* * *
He suspects legalization is to the left what climate change is to the right–an issue around which even the most solid facts may not change minds. “I know I’m going to fail on this, but I really view this as a book about medicine and science,” he says. “This comes out of really smart people doing really careful research and trying to figure out how to tease out correlation and causation, and they got an answer. I believe the people I talk to. They don’t have any agenda other than trying to promote the public health.”