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  • Christopher Smith, Editor-in-Chief

Is the Dogpile on Malcolm Gladwell's Pot Story Justified?

The internet is atwitter (yep, it is) about Malcolm Gladwell's latest litany-of-unanswered-questions essay about cannabis, published this week by the New Yorker, "Is Marijuana as Safe as We Think?".

Many have suggested that Saint Malcolm laid an egg here. And while he's a writer we usually find to be without peer in blowing our minds by revealing that stuff-we-thought-we knew-already is exactly- the-opposite, we agree.

Since we considered him our very smart and cool peer, it feels more like Eggs Benedict.

Gladwell starts out making a point with which we strongly agree: that the health effects of cannabis have not been tested enough to be understood conclusively. It's a fair point to make with mainstream New Yorker readers, some of whom might still not be aware of the Catch-22 of Cannabis Research.

Since Nixon's War on Drugs, the Powers of Prohibition have made research impossible because a) to do research, a research lab (at Hocking College or Harvard, say) must possess cannabis (which is dementedly situated on Schedule I with heroin, while cocaine and meth-am-fucking-phetamine are on Schedule II).

However, b) to possess cannabis is to break the law AND, c) any researcher possessing cannabis could be arrested, the lab shut down, and its university could have its federal funding pulled, for breaking this law...

Threaten their tax breaks and PhDs will quietly ponder pollywogs all day long.

Soon, however, Gullible Gladwell gets over his head, grasping for connections that don't exist. For example, he quotes a Rand Corporation researcher about how much more THC is in pot these days ("This ain't your dad's pot..." we know! we know!)... and THC potency is connected to nothing, by the way.

But then, the guillotine:

Sweet Innocent Gladwell then dives into the deep end of The Putrid Pond of Pure Propaganda - quoting the new screed that could have been ripped from William Randoph Hearst's cold dead typewriter: Beresford's "Tell your children: the truth about Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence"

(The Gladwell article hit the same week that this steaming pile hits booksellers and the NY Times... Coincidence? - No publicist worth her salt would deny it.)

Speaking of Hearst, let's recall the opening of the Hearst-produced "Reefer Madness", which begins with a written Foreword:

"The motion picture you are about to witness may startle you. It would not have been possible, otherwise, to sufficiently emphasize the frightful toll of the new drug menace which is destroying the youth of America in alarmingly-increasing numbers. Marihuana is that drug -- a violent narcotic -- an unspeakable scourge -- The Real Public Enemy Number One! Its first effect is sudden, violent, uncontrollable laughter; then come dangerous hallucinations -- space expands -- time slows down, almost stands still... fixed ideas come next, conjuring up monstrous extravagances -- followed by emotional disturbances, the total inability to direct thoughts, the loss of all power to resist physical emotions... leading finally to acts of shocking violence... ending often in incurable insanity. ..... the dread Marihuana may be reaching forth next for your son or daughter... or yours or YOURS!!!" (emphasis added)

Before you get too scaredy-scared, let's get back to Gladwell, quoting the Berenson book:

"Berenson begins his book with an account of a conversation he had with his wife, a psychatrist who specializes in treating mentally ill criminals... They were discussing one of the many grim cases that cross her desk—“the usual horror story, somebody who’d cut up his grandmother or set fire to his apartment.” Then his wife said something like “Of course, he was high, been smoking pot his whole life."

Well lookie here, it's the same frickin' story as Harry Anslinger's fall-guy Victor Licata!!

Victor Licata (c. 1912 – December 4, 1950) was an American murderer who used an axe to kill his family in Ybor City, Tampa, Florida, on October 16, 1933. The killings, which were reported by the media as the work of a "axe-murdering marijuana addict", were used as prima facie evidence that there was a link between recreational drugs, such as cannabis, and crime. This led to the killings being used in 1930s anti-drug campaigns against marijuana"

(Licata was not high, by the way he was schizophrenic and killed himself in jail.)

Garbage then, garbage now. But Berenson forges on, and drags Gladwell along for the ride. Bursts of data interspersed with weasel words like "not conclusive, but..."

Gladwell even fluffs the chance to once-and-for-all expose the illegitimate causative link between mental illness and cannabis. This trope states that cannabis causes mental illness, rather than that people with mental illness self-medicate with cannabis (and lots of other things).

Gladwell catches Reefer Madness and runs the streets screaming - pulling schizophrenia data from "the northern parts of Finland" - (really?) - and then makes a quick jump to "The delusions and paranoia that often accompany psychoses can sometimes trigger violent behavior..." - - (Therefore... cannabis causes violence...? Sometimes...?)

The rest of the Gladwell article plows through belligerent data like a bulldozer at the town dump, pushing and smoothing endless mounds of random garbage around the page.

You've broken our cannabis-loving hearts, Malcolm Friend.

What's worse, you've been had.

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