Seattle’s first retail outlet for marijuana opened in July, some 20 months after Washington state voters passed Initiative 502. Legalization as defined by I-502 is now becoming real — but it doesn’t apply to people under age 21. How will law enforcement deal with underage smokers at this year’s Seattle Hempfest?
In the past, young and old would openly smoke herb as they strolled the 1.5-mile strip of parkland along sparkling blue (or drab gray) Elliott Bay. Seattle police would maintain neutral visages, which became friendlier over the years as it became obvious that smoking pot doesn’t make people violent. The Seattle Hempfest — which grew from a vigil protesting the Gulf War in 1991 — has been like the forest in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a “green world” where the usual rules don’t apply. Friendliness and mutual respect are in the air, along with aromatic terpenes.
“The city has expressed concerns that Hempfest shares to some degree,” says lead organizer Vivian McPeak, “about young people smoking at the Hempfest and young people being exposed to smoking at the Hempfest. So we’re doing something a little historic. We have two fenced-off areas, not exposed to public view, in the southern portion of the event that will be adult smoking lounges. We’re going to ID people going in there. And we’re going to suggest and request that people 21 and over use those places to imbibe.”
“Now I don’t expect that everybody’s going to do that this year,” McPeak went on, “but we’re introducing the concept. We’re cooperating with the city’s suggestion, because if we can make this work at the Hempfest, conceivably, at every large public event in the state of Washington there will be a place similar to a beer garden where adults will be able to smoke pot.”
This year’s Hempfest runs from Friday August 15 through Sunday August 17. Vivian McPeak does not expect any citations to be issued. As Wanda used to say, “Be there or be in DARE.”
Because so many Prohibitionist mouthpieces are liars, it’s hard to take seriously their assertions about marijuana use harming “the developing brain.” Much of the alleged evidence involves studies in which young rodents were given stupendously high doses of THC. Then there’s the flimsy, flawed study attributing an eight-point decline in IQ to heavy, early marijuana use. The politicians and the corporate media treat this IQ loss as a well-established and significant fact. To cite one of a thousand ready examples...
Earlier this month, after the New York Times editorial board came out for legalization, “Meet the Press” host David Gregory asked Times columnist David Brooks for his expert opinion. “I have two basic issues,” Brooks pontificated with his evil-chipmunk grin. “One, the effects on the teenage brain really are pretty significant...” He made the assertion with total confidence, knowing Gregory wouldn’t ask him to cite any relevant research. Nor would the host of “Meet the Press” ever say anything rude like, “You didn’t care about their developing brains when you cheered under-21-year-olds on to battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, did you, David?”
Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post chimed in: “I’m with David. I think I don’t have a huge problem with letting states experiment. [Thanks, Ruth.] But I think for states to decide to go the full legalization route is a problem precisely for my mommy reason... Everybody knows who has teenagers like me, the fact that alcohol is legal increases their access to alcohol. Making marijuana readily, legally available will increase their (laughing into the monitor) my kids are at home laughing at me.”
This was a double falsehood: U.S. teenagers have readier access to marijuana than to alcohol, and if her kids were watching, they were groaning in embarrassment. Marcus then bolstered her “mommy reason” with a cliche and an untrue fact:
“A big social experiment is going on. We do not know the outcome except that the best evidence is that you lose, if you use marijuana as a teenager regularly, eight IQ points.”
The segment ended with the evil chipmunk — though there is no greater lover of individual freedom in theory — advocating “government playing some role in restraining some individual choice just to create a culture of healthiness for especially the teens.”
Dr. Grinspoon’s Line
O’Shaughnessy’s asked two trustworthy physicians for their line on “underage” marijuana use.
Lester Grinspoon, a professor of psychiatry emeritus at Harvard Medical School and the author of several pro-cannabis books, acknowledges, “There is evidence that the brain is still developing until about 21.” Synapses and myelin sheaths (insulation) may still be forming. Unused neural pathways are still being pruned into the 20s.
“But I have seen no evidence that marijuana is causing harm,” Grinspoon went on, “in contrast to alcohol, which is a proven neurotoxic. The whole question of ‘underage smoking’ has to be viewed in the context of alcohol, which is the college kids’ alternative to marijuana.
“Alcohol is proven to be harmful, and the people who drink a lot of it can harm themselves. Women who drink a lot while they’re pregnant will risk Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in their children. If I had to choose an intoxicant for 18-to-21 year olds, I would far prefer marijuana to alcohol. My official position is: ‘remain virginal until age 21.’ But we live in the real world, and that’s not going to happen. And therefore, if one says anything negative about adolescents using marijuana, parents have to add, ‘If he’s going to use something, it’s far less harmful than alcohol.’
Grinspoon adds that prohibition creates “the-seeking-of-the-forbidden-fruit phenomenon.” Also, he notes, “if you get too stoned, you get anxious and you never want to do it again.
Dr. B's line
Dr. B is an experienced pediatrician with a loved one about to start high school. She told us, "I’ve had many discussions with him. He is not sick. He has no diagnosis. So he shouldn’t be putting anything into his body or brain. That is not wholesome and healthy. I’ve explained to him that chemicals — even natural chemicals, even though cannabis is natural — it’s still a biologically active compound that can and does work in the brain and the body. I’m not saying 'No,' I’m saying 'Wait. Let your brain develop become the human being that you’re meant to become. Your job right now is to go to school, get an education, participate in sports and live a drug-free life.
“'Later in life if you feel that this is something you want to do, and your brain is developed… I’m not going to have any control over you. For now, let your brain develop the way it should.'"
"It would be different if he was sick.
"He and his father stop by my office from time to time and he’s seen some of the young people that I take care of. He’s a nice, sensitive kid. He’ll say, 'Mom what’s wrong with that patient?' Or, 'Does CBD help that patient?' He gets what I do and he gets it that the cannabinoids have a strong effect on the brain.
The Imaginary Party Line
If your real goal is to minimize marijuana use by healthy young people, your strategy has to be education (see above), not prohibition. Demand can overwhelm prohibition. Education can reduce demand.
Isn’t “legalization” supposed to mean the end of prohibition? Why maintain it for those under 21? Why assume that marijuana prohibition — which everyone now recognizes as a “failure” — is somehow going to succeed if focused on people under 21? It makes no sense.
We have to ask: who has the biggest stake in maintaining Under-21 Prohibition? Answer: the helping professionals — addiction specialists, psychiatrists, psychologists, and a diverse array of therapists and counselors.
Under-21 Prohibition also guarantees an ongoing role for law enforcement and the criminal justice system. The helping professionals require, businesswise, that treatment for marijuana addiction be compelled by the courts.
Bottom line: Under-21 Prohibition means say goodbye to our peace dividend — a big part of it, anyway.