On January 1, 2014, The Mile High City truly became The Mile HIGH City. We now have our own little version of Amsterdam nestled next to the Rocky Mountains. But no matter where one stands on the issue of legalization of marijuana, it is clear that the legislators in Colorado did not think through the unintended consequences. In fact, it appears that they hardly thought through the law itself. Trying to explain the subtleties of pot law reminds me of the infamous scene from Pulp Fiction where a greased-back Samuel Jackson (Jules) attempts to fill in a doughboy John Travolta (Vincent) on the intricacies of Amsterdam’s rules on hash:
Jules: Okay now, tell me about the hash bars?
Vincent: What do you want to know?
Jules: Well, hash is legal there, right?
Vincent: Yeah, it’s legal, but is ain’t a hundred percent legal. I mean you can’t walk into a restaurant, roll a joint, and start puffin’ away. You’re only supposed to smoke in your home or certain designated places.
Jules: Those are hash bars?
Vincent: Yeah, it breaks down like this: it’s legal to buy it, it’s legal to own it and, if you’re the proprietor of a hash bar, it’s legal to sell it. It’s legal to carry it, which doesn’t really matter ’cause – get a load of this – if the cops stop you, it’s illegal for them to search you. Searching you is a right that the cops in Amsterdam don’t have.
Jules: That did it, man – I’m f****n’’ goin’, that’s all there is to it.
Vincent: You’ll dig it the most.
But now that the floodgates have opened, the most basic question is what have we done? Have we sent society down the slippery slope from one minute smoking a J and the next shooting up with heroin? Is marijuana a gateway drug?
In order to address this question, a definition of “gateway drug” is in order. There are many variations, but most definition describe a gateway drug as a habit-forming substance whose use may lead to the abuse of drugs that are more addictive and/or dangerous. Typically, alcohol, cigarettes, and cannabis are cited as one-way tickets into drug hell. But is pot getting a bad wrap?
Numerous studies have shown that booze, tobacco, and pot are the three drugs people most frequently try first. For those unfortunate souls who may have a predisposition toward substance abuse, any of these three agents may introduce them to mind-altering effects that trigger the desire for more. In fact, studies show a strong link between marijuana use and the use of other, more dangerous, drugs.
What these studies fail to examine is whether such findings are evidence of correlation or causation. Other factors are obviously at play. One is simple logistics. Even before the New Year, each of these substances was relatively easy to obtain. The same can’t be said for harder drugs. Doesn’t it make sense that people would start with the stuff that they could get their hands on without too much effort? Taking the easy way out doesn’t necessarily imply that using one causes advancing to another. If that were the case, my excessive Diet Pepsi consumption would have long ago propelled me into a life of three Venti double espressos every day. The Pepsi is right there in my fridge, but driving to Starbucks and standing in line takes work. It’s not worth it to me.
Another factor to consider is the previous illegal status of marijuana. Up until eight days ago, most marijuana was obtained illicitly through drug dealers. It may not be that the drug itself is a gateway drug, but the method in which one had to obtain it led to the exposure of and access to more dangerous drugs. Case in point: in Amsterdam, the acceptance and legalization of marijuana use has actually led to a decline in the use of harder drugs.
And what about the fact that millions of people around the world smoke pot? Yet, the number of individuals who move up the chain to cocaine, heroine, and the like is much smaller. If marijuana is truly the first domino that cascades into a life of perilous addiction, then why don’t more pot smokers make the leap?
In essence, whether or not marijuana is a gateway drug appears to be more of a philosophical and personal issue than a scientific one. Does access to cookies compel someone toward obesity? Maybe or maybe not. And one could easily argue that although the health repercussions of each are vastly different, they are potentially no less serious.
The next year will be an interesting time for Colorado and the country as a whole. We have unleashed the giant. It remains to be seen whether the giant will be friend or foe.
Author’s note: For the record, I did not inhale.