Lately, I've been reading lots of student essays about the benefits of legalizing marijuana--it would save government and consumers billions of dollars, it would help alleviate over-crowded prisons, it has great health benefits, etc.
While I do not necessarily disagree with my students (I voted for Prop 19) and the proponents of legalization, I feel I must balance all this with personal experiences and observations of real-life marijuana use--which have not been good. Here are a few examples:
1.) I have a chronic mental illness called Depersonalization Disorder, which began with a single night of marijuana use. Granted, there are other factors in this disorder, but marijuana was a clear triggering factor. My experience is not unique. The films Numb and Tarnation explore Depersonalization Disorder and, in both films, it was triggered by marijuana use. My therapist has a colleague who is schitzophrenic, and her illness was also triggered by marijuana use. Anyone who has experienced the interior hell that is Depersonalization Disorder or schitzophrenia would not wish it on their worst enemy. Because of this, I am hesitant to support the legalization of marijuana. There have been scholarly articles written on the connection between marijuana and mental disorders. Here's one, but you have to subscribe to the American Journal of Psychiatry. Anyone know of places to access free articles on this subject?
2.) When he was in his early 20s, my father smoked marijuana regularly for about three years. He described these years as "the least productive years of my life." When he stopped smoking pot, he went back to college, got a degree in journalism, and has since had a successful career in writing, marketing, and pastoral ministry.
3.) I have a number of friends who have smoked marijuana regularly, and, based on my observations, the marijuana has an adverse affect on personal and social motivation.
4.) My favorite writer, David Foster Wallace (RIP), had quite a bit to say about marijuana use, mostly negative. His novel Infinite Jest explores, among other things, drug dependency, including marijuana. Here's an excerpt from a scene in a NA recovery group devoted to recovering marijuana users:
"Everybody who raised their hand to share concurred on the insidious ways marijuana had ravaged their bodies, minds, and spirits: marijuana destroys slowly but thoroughly was the consensus...the NAs took turns concurring on the hideous psychic fallout they'd all endured both in active marijuana-dependency and then in marijuana detox: the social isolation, anxious lassitude, and the hyperself-consciousness that then reinforced the withdrawal and anxiety--the increasing emotional abstraction, poverty of affect, and then total emotional catalepsy--the obsessive analyzing, finally the paralytic stasis that results from the obsessive analysis of all possible implications of both getting up from the couch and not getting up from the couch--and then the endless symtomatic gauntlet of Withdrawal from delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol: i.e. pot-detox: the loss of appetite, the mania and insomnia, the chronic fatigue and nightmares, the impotence and cessation of menses and lactation, the circadian arrhythmia, the sudden sauna-type sweats and mental confusion, and fine-motor tremors, the particularly nasty excess of saliva--several beginners still holding institutional drool-cups just under their chins--the generalized anxiety and foreboding and dread, and the shame of feeling like neither M.D.s nor the hard-drug NAs themselves showed much empathy or compassion for the 'addict' brought down by what was supposed to be nature's humblest buzz, the benignest substance around" (p. 503-504).
I am not saying that these factors necessarily outweigh the obvious economic and social benefits of legalizing marijuana, I just feel that these factors have not really been included in the discussion. I think people are, in general, embarrassed to talk about mental illness, but I think it is so very common and serious that it deserves more inclusion in public discourse, like in the marijuana debate.