William C. Moyers
Beyond Addiction by William C. Moyers
Improving our understanding of alcohol and drug addiction
A Pot-Stirring Debate
College campuses are buzzing again as students return to class. But the buzz of "higher" education isn't all about academics.
My eldest son, a freshman at Lewis & Clark College, sent me an email with a link to the website of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a national organization that argues for the legalization of marijuana as an antidote to the futile war on drugs. The local chapter on his campus is recruiting new members and making its case.
Here's part of his email to me:
"Dear Dad: What do you think of this organization? They recently put up signs on campus (and other school campuses) advocating a better way to deal with drugs and alcohol. Some of the policies make sense. However, the two signs we saw talk about a student discovering marijuana for the first time and finding out that it can help reduce the risk of cancer ... probably not a good thing to put up on a campus notice board."
My son, of course, knows that his old man is in recovery from addiction and that my spiral downward began not long after I innocently experimented with marijuana in high school in the mid-1970s. I always have been open about this, warning all three of my teenagers that they are genetically at risk to develop a problem with addiction, whether they smoke pot now, legally use alcohol as adults or take pain medication legitimately prescribed by a doctor to treat an injury.
But I also remind them that they aren't necessarily doomed to become addicted should they use any of those substances. Vigilance is paramount, I tell them, and don't be afraid to ask me for help if you get hooked.
His query filled me with fatherly pride; my son still seeks my input and perspective. Here is my response to him:
"Son: I share SSDP's perspective that the war on drugs has failed and that locking up the 'victims' of this war (those who use illegal substances) isn't the answer.
But legalizing other drugs, including marijuana, isn't the answer and, I fear, would only deepen the hole we're already in. America already has a horrific problem with the legal drug alcohol, and we lack the resources necessary (prevention, treatment and aftercare support) to adequately deal with the use and abuse of it. Until and unless our nation is prepared to expand these resources to meet the problems that will swell if we legalize marijuana, then we should NOT make it easier to acquire or use any other mood- and mind-altering substance, including marijuana.
"In this debate, we must consider these questions:
"Is marijuana addictive? Yes, to some users (like me). Is it a gateway to other drugs? Yes, to some users (like me). Can people use marijuana without causing consequences to themselves and others? Probably (but not me).
"SSDP uses the noble argument that the war on drugs is a failure in order to push its misguided, self-serving and ill-informed drive to make it easier for students to obtain and smoke pot, a dangerous substance that, if made more readily available, would only exacerbate America's No. 1 health problem: addiction to alcohol and other drugs."
Easy for me to say, because addiction as health care policy drives my advocacy work the same way my own experiences frame how I talk to my own children.
And timely, too. Just this week, the Los Angeles Times reported that drugs now exceed automobiles as the leading cause of death in the nation.
I've urged my son to get involved and engage SSDP to foster debate on his campus about the pros and cons of drug legalization. I'm proud of him; when I was a college freshman, I was already gripped by the problem. It took decades for me to finally embrace the solution.
September 24, 2011