Opinion | Legalizing Weed: Was It a Harmful Mistake?

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To the Editor:

Re “Call Me Square, but Facts Show the Error of Legalizing Weed,” by Ross Douthat (column, May 19):

Those who desire to return to an era of cannabis criminalization desperately try to characterize state-level marijuana regulation as a “policy failure.”

Public opinion and data do not support this opinion. Public support for legalization has never been higher. Further, none of the 22 states that have legalized adult recreational use have ever repealed or even rolled back their laws. This is evidence that these policies are working largely as intended.

Adolescent cannabis use has not risen in parallel with legalization, despite what many critics feared. According to a new C.D.C. report, the percentage of high schoolers who have ever tried marijuana fell 30 percent between 2011 and 2021.

Another study dismissed concerns that state-level legalization is adversely affecting mental health. Its authors “did not observe a statistically significant association of state cannabis policy level with overall rates of psychosis-related diagnoses or prescribed antipsychotics.”

This is not to imply that cannabis is harmless or that it cannot be misused. However, such risks are best mitigated by regulation and public education, and they are only exacerbated by criminalization and stigmatization.

Paul Armentano
The writer is deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

To the Editor:

I was arrested in 1966 at the age of 18 for purchasing a $5 bag of marijuana, spent the night in jail and was released on $1,000 bail. My light skin color and the fact that my parents were able to hire a lawyer led to the eventual dropping of the charges and erasure of my arrest record.

Needless to say I am strongly in favor of the very long overdue legalization of marijuana. When I worked as a respiratory therapist, I bore witness to the ravages of cigarette smoking. I also bear witness to the ravages of alcohol addiction.

I hope Ross Douthat is aware of the absurdity of critiquing marijuana legalization without uttering one word about the dangers of these fully legal but far more toxic substances.

Jeff Vogel

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat says naysayers on the legalization of weed are made into uncool squares. I am one of those uncool puritanical prohibitionists who was booed at a town meeting after imploring that “clearer heads should prevail.”

This meeting lifted a ban on commercial sale of marijuana in a tiny Cape Cod town. Not only did we get a pot shop but also an indoor cultivation lab. I am hoping that someday our town will wake up, come back to its senses and shut down the pot shop.

Kathleen Geagan
Brewster, Mass.

To the Editor:

As a physician and cannabis specialist, I was mystified when I read Ross Douthat’s description of the effects of cannabis use and legalization. Mr. Douthat’s description of “a form of personal degradation, of lost attention and performance and motivation” is not what I have seen clinically, or personally. If anything, I have witnessed effects that are the exact opposite of what Mr. Douthat is describing.

While cannabis has some clear potential for harms if used by the wrong populations (e.g., teenagers, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and people with psychosis), it is widely and correctly perceived to be a safer alternative for millions of Americans than many of the more troublesome pharmaceuticals. Cannabis helps millions of people with pain, sleep problems, anxiety, spasms, boredom, nausea and anorexia, and, for many, it benefits their lifestyle and creativity.

When Mr. Douthat discusses recriminalizing cannabis, he callously dismisses the suffering of more than 20 million Americans, mostly with Black and brown skin, who have been needlessly arrested and saddled with criminal records for nonviolent cannabis possession over the last half century.

The stigma, poverty and dislocation that this has caused — and is still causing in places where cannabis prohibition has not been overturned — have been a far greater social disaster than any of the flaws of legalization that Mr. Douthat has highlighted, in a somewhat cherry-picked manner, to emphasize some legitimate shortcomings of legalization so far.

We certainly can, and must, do better with our patchwork process of cannabis legalization. But let us not idealize or glorify a past that is littered with racially disproportionate policing and persecution.

Peter Grinspoon
The writer is an instructor at Harvard Medical School and the author of “Seeing Through the Smoke: A Cannabis Expert Untangles the Truth About Marijuana.”

To the Editor:

Ross Douthat finds it convenient not to mention that legal marijuana sales have generated more than $15 billion in tax revenue through 2022. That figure shows that despite the persistence of a black market, millions of users prefer the convenience, safety, variety and legality of acquiring marijuana products through authorized channels.

Richard Roher
White Plains, N.Y.

To the Editor:

I agree that the legalization of marijuana was a mistake. As a nurse in behavioral health I see many patients admitted to hospitals because they substituted marijuana for their psychiatric medication. Often the use of marijuana will precede a psychotic episode.

I see the marijuana business as no different than the opioid business — growing stronger, more harmful strains to capture business.

Lucy Beatty
Oak Park, Mich.

To the Editor:

In my community, there have been many deaths related to fentanyl-laced marijuana bought on the street by teens and others. Legalized and regulated marijuana sales offer a safe alternative to street sales, and I am happy that this is an option in my state. It saves lives!

Stephanie Mott
Soquel, Calif.

Battling Over the Debt, as Default Looms

To the Editor:

Re “Liberals Are Persuading Themselves of a Debt Ceiling Plan That Won’t Work,” by Ezra Klein (column, nytimes.com, May 21):

President Biden has no good options on the debt ceiling. Mr. Klein rightly points out the danger in going to a Supreme Court that “does what it wants to do.” But with public trust in the court near 50-year lows, and with markets likely in turmoil ahead of a decision, some conservative justices would surely be tempted to ride in as white knights and save the day (as well as the court’s reputation, not to mention their own investment portfolios).

Moreover, the Biden administration has other workarounds, like premium or consol bonds, that it could deploy in the event of an adverse ruling. Any of these beats a default.

Mr. Klein is again correct that Republicans are the ones “pulling the pin” on the debt ceiling grenade. But it’s still Mr. Biden’s responsibility to keep it from exploding.

Andrew Barnet
Middletown, Md.

To the Editor:

There are three serious flaws in the Republican argument about the national debt:

1) Budget deficits and the national debt seem to matter to them only when there is a Democrat in the White House.

2) Republicans want to cut spending for the poor, the sick and the elderly, but not make the rich and the big corporations pay one thin dime more in taxes.

3) Republicans seem willing to destroy the U.S. economy in order to save it.

Anthony J. DiStefano
Aiken, S.C.

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