Episode 22

  • Why is marijuana illegal anyway?

  • What’s the difference between legalization and decriminalization?

  • What implication does this have for therapists?

The debate over legalization of marijuana is all around us. It’s a complex issue and there are a lot of terms used that we should know and understand. This podcast explores the origins of the ban on marijuana and talks about the reasons for and against legalization. 

Helpful Links

**These links represent what I read and where I got information. Some information is conflicting, but included to show the full spectrum of information considered.

Marijuana as Medicine DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Is there a link between marijuana use and psychiatric disorders? | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Marijuana Use and Insulin Resistance in Patients with Obesity

Big Tobacco 2.0: Big Marijuana – Smart Approaches to Marijuana

8 incredible facts about the booming US marijuana industry | Markets Insider

What Is CBD? Everything You Need to Know, According to Experts | Health.com

Is marijuana safe and effective as medicine? | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Researching the Potential Medical Benefits and Risks of Marijuana | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Top 10 Reasons to End Marijuana Prohibition

Recreational Marijuana – Pros & Cons – ProCon.org

Self-described pothead looks into the science and public policy around marijuana and addiction — WHYY

Ten Things to Know about Medical Cannabis | Epilepsy Foundation

Does CBD help with arthritis pain? – Harvard Health Blog – Harvard Health Publishing

AKT1 genotype moderates the acute psychotomimetic effects of naturalistically smoked cannabis in young cannabis smokers

Scientists Identify The Gene Variant That Influences How Much Cannabis Affects You

Other states show why legalizing marijuana is a bad idea – Hartford Courant

The US Officially Admits Marijuana Isn’t So Bad. So When Is Federal Legalization Coming?

Drug Policy Research Center Hot Topic: Marijuana Legalization | RAND

Medical Marijuana and Marijuana Legalization

Cannabis legalization: Did we make a mistake? Update 2019

How THC Gets Into Your Brain – And How To Increase It – Prof of Pot

Cannabidiol (CBD) — what we know and what we don’t – Harvard Health Blog – Harvard Health Publishing

What are marijuana’s long-term effects on the brain? | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Marijuana DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Marijuana Potency | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Marijuana Concentrates DrugFacts | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

What 20 Years Of Research Has Taught Us About The Chronic Effects Of Marijuana

Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use

Health Effects | Marijuana | CDC

Study shows marijuana’s long-term effects on the brain – Center for BrainHealth

Know the Risks of Marijuana | SAMHSA

Is marijuana addictive? | National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

How Marijuana Works | HowStuffWorks

The Science of Marijuana: How THC Affects the Brain | Scholastic: Nida

How does cannabis get you high? | Live Science

What Does It Feel Like to Be High on Marijuana? Smoking and Vaping

Marijuana Legalization and Decriminalization Overview

Legalization, Decriminalization & Medicinal Use of Cannabis: A Scientific and Public Health Perspective

Legalizing Marijuana | Bernie Sanders Official Website

A Just and Equitable Cannabis Industry | Elizabeth Warren

Political Issue: Marijuana | The Institute of Politics at Harvard University

Johns Hopkins expert shares his thoughts on the legalization of marijuana | Hub

Marijuana Legalization: Latest News, Top Stories & Analysis – POLITICO

What Congress’ vote to decriminalize marijuana means for you – ABC News

House Passes Landmark Bill Decriminalizing Marijuana – The New York Times

The Ultimate Guide to Marijuana Legalization in the US | Leafly

Marijuana Legalization Poses a Dilemma for International Drug Treaties

U.N. Reclassifies Cannabis as a Less Dangerous Drug – The New York Times

Nixon adviser Ehrlichman explains anti-left, anti-black war on drugs

Shafer Commission Report on Marijuana and Drugs, Issued 40 Years Ago Today, Was Ahead of its Time | HuffPost

Marijuana: is it time to stop using a word with racist roots? | Cannabis | The Guardian

U.S. Won’t Prosecute in States That Allow Medical Marijuana – The New York Times

The Limits of Pledging Prosecutorial Discretion: The Ogden Memorandum’s Failure to Create an Entrapment by Estoppel Defense | Yale Law & Policy Review

Free Treatment Tool https://betsybyler.com/treatment-tool/

In this Podcast

You’re listening to the All Things Substance podcast, the place for therapists to hear about substance abuse from a mental health perspective.  I’m your host, Betsy Byler and I’m a licensed therapist, clinical supervisor, and a substance abuse counselor.  It is my mission to help my fellow therapists gain the skills and competence needed to add substance use to their scope of practice.   So join me each week as we talk about All Things Substance.

Welcome back to the All Things Substance Podcast.  

This is episode 22 and the final part of our three-part marijuana series. In part one, we covered the basics about marijuana: what it is, how it’s used, short and long-term effects, and withdrawal potential.

In the second part of the series, we covered the common things that people say about marijuana and now we come to the last part. We can’t talk about marijuana without talking about legalization. This topic is complicated and fraught with a lot of controversy. My goal here isn’t to convince you on one side or the other. It’s to help us as therapists know what things mean and consider these things for ourselves. .

Marijuana Legalization: A history

We always start with history. Where did this come from and how did these laws evolve over time? During the last election, a number of Democratic candidates had marijuana as part of their policy reform.  If you read those policy statements, a lot of the candidates talked about the racialization of marijuana and the implementation of the war on drugs and how it disproportionately affected communities of color.

What they’re talking about is where the marijuana  laws started.  In the early 1900’s marijuana was seen as causing a lot of trouble, especially in Southern border states.    This wasn’t like now when a politician couldn’t say these kinds of things out loud; they said them loudly  and they said them proudly. 

One Texas lawmaker was quoted as saying “All Mexicans are crazy and it’s marijuana that makes them crazy”.  This is the kind of stuff that was getting talked about  and that I’m guessing wasn’t really questioned. Today, at least in the mainstream, you couldn’t say those kinds of things , without someone raising the alarm.

In more Southeastern states, there were large Black populations and it was accepted public opinion that the Black community was using marijuana. Fear was being spread that marijuana was going to lead these black communities to do violent and criminal things.

Marijuana was scapegoated as prompting, murder, rape and general mayhem among black people in the South.  It was suggested that marijuana was going to lead white girls to want to seek “relations” ( and no, I’m not kidding, things actually said that) ]with men of color, and this was seen as a really bad thing.

In 1936, a film called Reefer Madness was produced. Originally, the title was Tell Your Children.  The film was intended to be a moral tale  and to provide  “moral guidance” on how to deal with marijuana. As you can imagine something with that title it wasn’t accurate, honest and was designed to scare.  

In the film people are led astray by marijuana and their previously promising futures cut short either from crime or because they ended up dead.  By the time that Reefer Madness came out, most States had banned marijuana. In 1937, the federal government passed the Marihuana Tax of 1937. This law was designed to  ban marijuana for non-medical uses. Later federal laws would list marijuana as a schedule 1 substance banning it for all purposes.

Marijuana Legalization: The War on Drugs

As we move into the sixties the “war on drugs” began. For many of us, when we think about the “war on drugs” it brings to mind Nancy Reagan with her ” just saying no to drugs”.  But where it started was with Richard Nixon.

John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s top aid for domestic affairs, was convicted in the Watergate scandal. In 2016 he spoke with an author who was writing a book about the “war on drugs”. He stated that he had “little left to protect”.  In that interview he’s quoted as saying, “You want to know what this was really about” (referring to the war on drug)?  

“The Nixon campaign in 1968 and the Nixon White House had two enemies. The antiwar left and black people. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to either be against the war or black. But by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news.  Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

We need to remember that just because they used this reason to interrogate hippies and black people at the time  it doesn’t mean that those people were actually doing anything. They used it as a way to harass people and to interrupt the things that they were trying to do in the communities.  This is still the civil rights era and those protesting against the Vietnam war.  Racial profiling was definitely in effect.

While most of us understand that racial profiling exists now and support efforts to  stop it from happening in the future. In the seventies this was running rampant.  The arrests that were being made were largely in communities of color.  This doesn’t show that the communities of color were causing problems or using marijuana in larger amounts than white people. It’s just that they were the ones being targeted. 

Our research tells us that the focus during the war on drugs  was on young people using marijuana. Our research over the years has told us that young people use marijuana pretty much the same, no matter what race they are.  Communities of color were being targeted while white people who were using marijuana were able to continue, for the most part anyway,  going about their business and using marijuana.

There are people who will say “Well, they were breaking the law. They should have gone to jail”. That’s not the point. The point is, is that the law wasn’t being applied fairly. The rhetoric painted communities of color as being the problem with marijuana and its stoked fears about what marijuana  would cause those people to do and the havoc they would wreak on white communities. 

The law is supposed to be applied evenly and it hasn’t been.  I’m not placing the blame on law enforcement for this.  The men and women who are in law enforcement  represent their communities where they come from. Our overall attitude as a country hasn’t shifted away enough from painting Latino people and African-Americans as being the primary users of marijuana. We know that research doesn’t support that, but for some reason that persists

Marijuana Legalization: Decriminalization 

This brings us to the first part under the overarching umbrella of legalization and that is decriminalization.  Decriminalization is not the same as legalization. Decriminalization means that a state repealed or amended their laws to make certain acts criminal, but no longer subject to prosecution. This means that individuals caught with small amounts of marijuana, for personal consumption, won’t be prosecuted and won’t receive a criminal record or jail sentences.

In many States, small amounts of marijuana possession is treated like a minor traffic violation. Possessing larger amounts or selling marijuana  still have significant potential penalties attached. Along with decriminalization, many propose that all previous convictions for marijuana possession use and sale be re-evaluated.  

Different candidates and groups suggest different levels of decriminalization. Some want  all previous marijuana convictions to be expunged or re-sentencing to occur. The idea being that there are people who are  serving a tremendous amount of time for possessing small amounts of marijuana or other types of marijuana activity and that the sentencing was disproportionately harsh or unjust in general.

I think the idea of decriminalization  gets more broad support because most of us want the law to be fairly applied. And if  somebody’s got an unjust sentence, we want them to have a sentence that is just. Now, what “just” means is really up for debate and very, very different, depending on who you’re talking to.

Marijuana Legalization: A definition

Legalization refers to making marijuana legal for public consumption and sale. It means you can’t be arrested ticketed or convicted for using or possessing marijuana, as long as you follow the state law in terms of age, place of consumption and purchase.  You can still get arrested for trafficking marijuana if you aren’t following the state laws  for licensure and taxation.

So the comments on state law are important because we have federal law that always supersedes state law and this has been a confusion for a lot of people.  So when we have a law, a state law and a federal law, the federal law overrides the state law.  The constitution declares federal law the supreme law of the land. This is known as a preemption.  If you’re in a state and the state has a  particular law, you can follow the state law, but the feds could decide to stop you.  

In the case of the first states to legalize, Washington and Colorado, their state laws allowed marijuana sales, the federal law prohibited it. And this was causing quite a bit of conflict. The rest of the country seems to have been doing the “wait and see” how this all plays out.

The push right now is to legalize marijuana on a federal level, so that states can be free to choose for themselves what they want to do. Because if the federal law says it’s legal, the states could choose to put different kinds of regulations on it. 

One thing that prevented marijuana from being legalized until very recently  was that the US is  part of the United Nations.  Up until recently the United Nations and the treaties therein  had marijuana recognized as a dangerous substance. Therefore, any attempt to legalize marijuana would be going against the treaties in the UN.    These treaties  were the product  of the conventions in 1961, 1971 and 1988.

In the fall of 2020, the UN passed a resolution to reclassify cannabis as a less dangerous drug. This doesn’t really have an immediate impact on international controls because governments in each country still have jurisdiction over how they classify marijuana. However it does pave the way for the United States to make different choices about marijuana legalization.

The first real legalization efforts that were being passed happened during the Obama administration. Because of that, there were a couple different memos that were  providing guidance to states about what the federal government’s role was going to be.

These memos basically declared that it’s not a federal priority to interfere with the states on the subject of marijuana. That’s a super oversimplification  and it’s far more complicated and totally not something I want to delve really deeply into.

Now under the Trump administration, they wanted to reverse these memos that provided guidance and backtrack.  Some of the commentary coming out of the Trump administration sounded eerily similar to some of the things  that we see in history when people are talking about the dangers of marijuana.

Marijuana Legalization: Distinctions within the law

So there’s basically two kinds of legalization. One is legalization for medical marijuana, and two is just basically legalization for recreational use.  Medical marijuana laws have been popping up all over the country for several years. In some states,  this was regulated fairly closely and in others seemed like a veiled way to legalize marijuana and say that it was for “medical reasons”  but actually felt like a joke to a lot of people who said they needed it for this or that illness and really it was just to get a medical marijuana card so they could use it legally.

The problem with this is that if we’re going to call something medical I want to know if it works. I want to see some research. I want to know that that’s the best medication and the best treatment that we have for whatever given ailment. We use opiates, we use morphine, we use other things that are “ abusable” and we do have research about those things. We haven’t had the research about marijuana being used medically. That’s what we talked about in the last podcast, because marijuana is being promoted as having a ton of medical benefits, but we don’t actually have research to back that up.

That’s not to say that legalization is a problem or shouldn’t be pursued or is a bad idea. It’s only that if we’re going to say that we’re doing it for medical reasons, we should have some research to say this is why we’re doing it. Not because we have just anecdotal evidence.

So we ranged from prohibition which is criminal penalties for marijuana activity across the board to decriminalization, to medical legalization, all the way to legalization. Legalization would be changing state law to make cannabis activity no longer a crime. This often involves taking cannabis  off of a state’s controlled substance list and adding new rules for commercial cultivation, distribution, testing, and sale.

Part of the reason that legalization is so difficult to determine is not about whether or not marijuana is dangerous or not ( although that is definitely part of the conversation) it’s about how it would get implemented. So in the first part of this series, we talked about the different forms of marijuana.

So when we talk about legalization, what are we talking about?  Are we talking about legalization of the plant only? Are we talking about edibles? Are we talking about THC oil? Are we talking about wax? If we’re going to regulate those things,  who’s deciding what the concentration should be? Who decides what and appropriate serving size is those sorts of things. 

So let’s think about alcohol for a minute. Alcohol is just alcohol. It can have whatever proof it has;  it just has to list it.  It could be of good quality, or it could be of terrible quality and people are allowed to make it at home. So when we talk about legalization of marijuana, a lot of the things people are talking about have some really intricate details about how it would be regulated.

I’m not sure how each state is going to respond to that and to me, it’s just confusing. Even considering:  can you buy eight ounces of this, but only two grams of that?  I can’t even imagine. If we’re making it legal; if it’s going to be declared not a scheduled substance, then wouldn’t people be free to make marijuana products however they wish and just label them as such?

As I began to ponder what it would look like so many new questions were popping up. Things that I hadn’t really thought about before, about what that would look like. When you look at the statements about legalization, they typically have to do with risks, adolescent and child use or access to marijuana, racial justice issues and potential revenue for communities and governments. 

If you recall, when we talked about alcohol, part of the reason that prohibition was repealed was because we were in the great depression era and the amount of revenue that could be generated because of alcohol sales from tax and also from creation of jobs, seemed to many,  like an obvious answer to the financial problems of the day. 

Today, those same arguments are being made. They’re proposing  that a marijuana industry would have a huge impact on creating jobs and generating tax revenue.  I’m not sure that that’s the reason for legalization. Although the issue is about public opinion. What do people want the government to do? 

Marijuana Legalization: Current state of affairs in the US

Recent legislation passing through the house  is called the MORE Act: Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act. The bill would federally decriminalize marijuana and mandate and assessment of prior marijuana convictions, among other things. Now this bill was passed during the last Congress session and didn’t get passed  by the Senate and so it will have to start over. It does seem like a matter of time though before that is passed and it’s a really big step in the move of decriminalization. It is just a step though and legalization isn’t just on its heels.

One of the reasons being cited somewhat often from people that are proposing full legalization, is the idea that it might help prevent  opiate overdose. So there was some research that was identifying the amount of marijuana use in a given population and specific geographic area and the number of overdose deaths  each year.   When they looked at the outcome data, what the trend seemed to look like was that if there was higher marijuana use than there were lower overdose deaths and so a parallel  line was drawn suggesting that marijuana might help reduce overdose deaths.

I think most of us want opioid deaths to go down. Having worked in this field and having experienced clients dying from opioid overdose, it is tragic and heartbreaking. I think that the argument that opioid overdose can be lowered or prevented by marijuana use, I don’t totally get that.

Opioid overdose isn’t from withdrawal. Opioid overdose is from using too much opiates in that moment. They may not be doing it on purpose and most of the time aren’t. It’s because you can’t tell what’s in it and we have issues with fentanyl and carfentanil. I’ll cover all that stuff when we go over opiates and heroin in future podcast. 

Opioid overdose isn’t about people choosing to use marijuana over heroin. Those are completely different things. The data didn’t give us causation;  what it did was bring up more questions of what does that mean?

I don’t know that we can conclude that therefore use of marijuana is going to lead to less overdose deaths.  Like that doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s not that I don’t want to pursue the things that have to do with opiate overdose. I just don’t want to use reasons for legalization that aren’t actually accurate.

So there was a group of comedians on a YouTube show that were just kind of hanging out, they were talking about weed. This guy said “you know what?  I’d love to be able to smoke weed, but every time I do, I wake up with a needle in my arm”. He doesn’t mean that marijuana is bad. He doesn’t mean  that he uses needles to shoot up marijuana. What he means is that he starts smoking weed and then it leads him back. Because the man is an addict and he knows that.  He is very clear about the fact that he would love to be able to smoke weed.

For addicts I do not believe that they will be able to use marijuana without problems. Addiction is not limited to the substance of choice. The brain doesn’t actually care which substance it is. The pathways in the brain are getting hijacked. .

It doesn’t matter whether it’s weed or cocaine or heroin or pills  or gambling. Those pathways are getting used and that’s cross addiction. And it sucks. I can’t tell you the number of people who are heroin or meth addicts, and they want to be able to just drink alcohol on occasion.

They weren’t alcoholics. They never use alcohol really to excess, but they find that they can’t drink normally. And it’s not because alcohol is inherently evil. It is because they are addicts.  The addiction switch has gotten flipped and so it generalizes to other things.

There are a lot of people who will say, well, it’s harm reduction and yeah. Okay. It’s harm reduction.  Eventually  it’s not going to stay in that place because of progression. Progression is going to happen. It is a guarantee and it sucks. 

I was not an alcoholic. I did not drink a lot. I drank only when I couldn’t find my drugs of choice. What I found out after I quit using drugs is that, Hmm, I don’t really drink normally.  Every time I drank, I drank more than I intended and didn’t make super wise choices.

I found that my brain acted the same way. Because in my brain, I don’t understand just having one or two. Like logically I understand that people do that. I am married to a normal drinker who drinks extremely rarely and really does understand the idea of “ I like the taste. I’m just going to have one” or whatever. For me, my brain does not function that way.

If I’m going to drink, I’m going to get it done. Why would I just have one or two if I’m not going to get buzzed?  I had to stop drinking.  It wasn’t a huge chore for me because I only drank maybe six times a year. But I know where that would lead for me because I’m an addict.

The hard part about the message of marijuana being an alternative to opiate overdose is that you can use marijuana safely as an opiate addict and it’s going to be okay. And that can’t be the message. This is not to say that I don’t think heroin addicts are safer using marijuana. Of course they are. I also know it’s not going to stay there because the underlying habits, the underlying brain pathways are all activated.

This isn’t a reason to not legalize marijuana, though. It’s just one of the reasons that gets brought up.  I really wanted to comment on it because I think it’s promising things that it can’t deliver. .

I want to talk about the market for marijuana.  Some of the rhetoric I’m seeing is really tone deaf, I think, to the  inequality in terms of  race, opportunity and systemic racism.

The way things stand now, the market for marijuana is going to be run by white men. In order to get in on the market, there has to be a number of things true. You have to have the opportunity. You have to have the credit in order to get loans from a bank, you have to have the capital to be able to start something like that. The idea is that the market will promote opportunity for growth and the entrepreneurial spirit of the American dream.

The idea that I keep seeing is that  it’s an even playing field. It’s a new industry and so everybody has a chance to get in.  For some people, they do have a chance to get in, but if we step back a minute, there are some very serious problems with that assumption.

Current marijuana industry is run by white men, period. There probably are people of color mixed in there, but that is not the statistics that we’re seeing in general of who is owning and running the top level of these operations.  The university of California Davis  released a paper called The Colors of Cannabis: Race and Marijuana. It is an excellent read and I’ll put the link in the show notes.

In it, the paper talks about the different factors that contribute to the lack of diversity in the marijuana market. One of them is the reluctance of banks to supply credit to marijuana entrepreneurs for fear of being seen as enabling the business that’s still illegal under federal law. Marijuana entrepreneurs have to use their own resources or their connections with family and friends.  The vast disparities in wealth between white people and people of color combined with the  high startup costs of a marijuana business give white entrepreneurs the advantage over people of color to get into this market.

The paper goes on to say that another part of the racial disparity is that racial minorities are already  being over scrutinized and so putting themselves out there to participate in this market when they’re still this federal state- law trap, that’s just unwise. That’s not fair that they’re not able to have the right to participate in a market the way a white person would. So it is not a level playing field at all.

One of the things you’ll hear in the legalization debate is the idea  that the marijuana industry will turn into big tobacco 2.0.  I absolutely think that’s going to happen. Not because marijuana is somehow evil or bad, but because our country is run by capitalism. I’m not making statements about  we should all be socialists, not getting into that debate on the podcast. Ever. 

What I am saying is that the idea that it’s a free, fair market trade and that people are going to be responsible in their advertising and not focus on kids  and not misstate the truth or have “alternative facts” about different risks associated with marijuana use. I just don’t believe that that’s going to be the case.  I think what’s going to happen in the marketplace is exactly what happens  in every other industry in the United States. 

One of the most radical ideas that Bernie Sanders had  was the restrictions and the guidelines that he was suggesting for the marijuana industry. Here’s just a couple:  he wanted to incentivize  marijuana businesses to be structured like nonprofits in order to create jobs and economic growth, but it removes the profit margin.  Which if you read some of the comments from people getting into the marijuana industry, that’s what they’re after. They see dollar signs when they think about getting into the marijuana trade.

He wanted to prohibit products and labels that target young people. He wanted to ban tobacco and cigarette corporations from participating in the marijuana industry.   That is huge. You better believe big tobacco wants in on the marijuana business. The thing that big tobacco did in the forties, fifties, and sixties was to normalize tobacco use, to make it seem like it’s ridiculous to suggest that there’s any kind of danger, to say that people are just trying to take away your fun and to try to make it look healthy. That’s exactly what’s happening now. When we think about legalization, we have to think about the ramifications on all sides. 

Here’s where we step away from fact into opinion. I’ve been in this field for nearly 18 years and I’m a person in recovery.  I know that those things impact my opinion in view of this issue. I think some might be surprised to know that I’m not against legalization. What I’m having trouble with is the reasons that people are saying we should legalize. 


Take the idea that it can provide relief in all these medical areas. We don’t know that and I’d like some research.  To me, that’s not a reason to legalize or not legalize.  We need research  so that the medical community can say, we know that this is a good treatment for this thing. Not because we think it might have some medical benefits that are vague and unknown. I just want research about it. And to me, that’s separate from legalization.

The idea that it’s going to be promoting economic growth. And I want to say for who?  Who is going to benefit from this? There might be some benefit in taxes. Some of the places in Colorado talked about the fact that they were promised a lot of money for their school districts and it ended up being not what they were promised.

I don’t believe that this money that’s made by the marijuana industry is going to be fairly distributed. Because that’s just not how the United States does things, I want us to do those things. I want them to take money that is made from tax revenues or new industries and send it to places that need it, like school and healthcare.

I just don’t believe that’s going to happen. I absolutely believe that the marijuana industry will get corrupted, just like every other industry where profits are being made and it sucks and it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t legalize. .

Then there’s the idea that this is somehow going to undermine the black market and that’s not true. The black market , or illegal trafficking is still alive and well in the States where marijuana is legalized.  Whatever loopholes or whatever the industry isn’t able to cover will be met by the drug trade period. I don’t believe that that will be dismantling some giant empire just because we make something legal. It will just shift. And again, that’s not a reason not to legalize.

Will it create new jobs? Sure. I’d like to make sure that those jobs have a decent paying wage,  the people, part of it is more of a reason to legalize than anything else. I don’t want people criminalized and harassed. I don’t want people targeted and put in jail or prison for things that don’t deserve that.  We know that the number of people who have been charged and convicted of marijuana related crimes is disproportionately people of color. And that is not because they are disproportionately using marijuana. .

I absolutely support decriminalization. Legalization. It’s a little harder. I don’t know that it’s going to remain illegal.  I don’t know that I need to bother being really thoughtful about  how I would want this thing implemented and all the little things that go along  with the legalization of marijuana. I think it’s going to happen.

The issue here is why did it get made illegal in the first place? Why was it placed on a schedule along with like frigging heroin? There definitely was some kind of propaganda. We know that there was, but just looking at it, even if you didn’t know that, like these things are not the same thing at all.

I’ve already said that I believe that marijuana is not as dangerous as alcohol by a long shot. We have alcohol legal and I don’t really have any compelling reasons for people to not legalize marijuana. I’m a little freaked out by what it’ll look like because I’ve grown up in a world where marijuana was illegal and the idea of it being legalized was so far beyond me because public opinion wasn’t even remotely in that place. 

So at this stage in my life, I just can’t imagine what that would look like. And yeah, I think there’d be an initial increase in use, but I think it’ll even out. I don’t know what that’ll look like, but I think it’s going to happen. So I’m not spending energy being against legalization. I’m not exactly sure what I would want, but it sort of doesn’t matter because I think it’s going to happen.  I think the money is going to drive the policy to change because that is what drives policy change in our country is money.

I have one major concern when it comes to legalization and that is testing. At this moment we cannot tell how high somebody is in a given moment. We can take a blood test. We can take a urine test and all we can tell is whether or not that person has ingested marijuana sometime in the last month. And that is a ridiculous measure.

If someone’s going to get pulled over and given a sobriety test, we should be able to tell how high they are and how impaired they are. We are nowhere close to that. Some of the pro marijuana stuff talks about there being less traffic fatalities.  That makes me nuts when I read that.  The idea that somehow legalizing marijuana is going to reduce traffic fatalities is laughable. Like I’m a little speechless when I read stuff about that. 

It is a depressant, it slows down your central nervous system. It affects you. Anyone who’s been high knows that. . Those people who smoke all the time are so used to being high, that they are not able to accurately assess whether their functionality is impaired or not. The same way people who are drinking aren’t able to tell. I would venture to say that most people who get DWI thought they were okay to drive or thought they were okay, enough.

What I’m concerned about is people driving. Is people going to work. I want to know if the place that I’m going has people who are actively high while they’re performing their jobs. I don’t want people drunk at work. I don’t want people high at work either. What they do in their off time. Okay.  

I would like people to be able to tell, is this person high or not?  Smoking weed once in a month we’ll still come up dirty on a drug test. Smoking weed multiple times a day is going to show up as a positive also. And those two things are not the same at all. You can send them to a lab and find out how many nanograms are in there, but that isn’t something that a lot of places are going to do. And that takes time. And anybody who works in a lab will tell you that those nanograms only tell you what’s in the blood or in the urine, not what consumption is. 

Those of us who’ve worked in the field a long time can sort of guess that. 100 n anagrams tends to be a time or two a week.   500 nanograms every weekend, 1000-2000 that’s daily. And that’s a lot by the way. That’s just kind of something that we know over time based on people’s drug tests, what the nanograms are and what we know there use to be.

I don’t hear this more often, because for me, this is the sticking point. The law doesn’t determine what’s safe, a lot determines what’s legal. I do think that there is some rationale for the lower danger of marijuana, as compared to other drugs.   The outcome for people who are smoking weed versus the outcome for people who are using meth, heroin, cocaine, et cetera, are very different.

That cannot be ignored and I don’t think it should be ignored. I definitely think it should be part of the conversation.  We’re talking about what are the reasons to not legalize? There just aren’t a ton with marijuana. 

Public opinion right now across the board is pro legalization or at least neutral. There are people who are certainly against legalization, but more and more, the polls are coming in. People either are neutral  or they’re pro legalization. So I think we’re getting there and I think it’s going to happen.  

As therapists, our job is to figure out what role someone’s substance use is playing in their life. My main issue when talking about marijuana is that  I want us as therapists to not act like marijuana is harmless and that it’s not our business to be talking about. That I think is damaging to our field and potentially to our clients.

We need to explore all the areas of someone’s life to understand a 3d view of them so that we can see what might be getting in the way. My whole desire as a therapist is to bring more hope, healing and freedom to the people that I work with. I want us to be able to assess accurately and appropriately what substances might be doing in their life.

We are not casting moral judgment. We are not looking for ways to try to condemn people. I’m not looking to try to convince everybody that weed is terrible. I just want us to have an accurate view so that we can help people. What they do with the law doesn’t actually change what’s happening in my therapy office.   The law isn’t what I’m thinking about with my client. It’s their life, their relationships, their sense of happiness and peace and purpose. 

Simple statements about marijuana made by therapists. That’s what gets me. I usually have to stay away from those conversations though. Because it’s taken me three podcasts  to explain my stance on legalization of marijuana. It is complicated and there are those of you who won’t agree with me.

And that’s just fine. What I’m hoping is that you were able to get information about marijuana without having to search for it yourself and dig through it because who has time for that, and that you were able to think about it and your clients and decide what, if anything, you should be asking them. And if I was able to accomplish that, then I am happy.

Thank you so much for joining me and the All Things Substance podcast.  Next week we’re going to continue our series talking about substances that get abused. We’re going to cover everything from inhalants to heroin.

I hope to see you next week. 

Thank you for listening to the All Things Substance podcast. For show notes, links and downloads, please visit betsybyler.com/podcast. If you loved what you heard today, it’d be great if you would share those with your therapist friends and colleagues. If there are topics that you think would be useful and you’d like to hear me cover them, please let me know.  Just send a message to podcast@betsybyler.com. I’ll see you on next week’s podcast. And until then have a great week.

This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regards to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher or the guests are rendering legal, clinical or any other professional information.