When future archaeologists dig up the remains of California, they’re going to find all of those gyms their scary-looking gym equipment, and they’re going to assume that we were a culture obsessed with torture.
The Coupland quote is not entirely perfect but it does go toward illustrating the absurdity of life in California, a state often seen as odd, sometimes good, sometimes bad, and now a place that paradoxically hosts the anything goes dream factory that is Hollywood, was first in expressing and accepting gay lifestyles and now still the front runner when it comes to being narrow-minded and repressive with respect to health.
Take Proposition 65 which requires warning labels for any measurable levels of hazardous substances in foods (but as many non-Californians are aware, 1. few foods are entirely free of hazardous substances and 2. how much of it is in there matters a lot more than whether it is at all) which has been criticized for confusing consumers about real hazards especially when they appear on the same goods with FDA labels which attempt to provide more realistic guidelines. (See here.) These labels have not only given rise to many spurious lawsuits but have helped increase the already thriving toxiphobia with the healthiest bunch of people in history checking behind each door for some new threat to their goal of living forever.
And it is of course California which is the home of Stanton Glantz and his Soviet style actions to remove smoking images from the movies and from recorded history as well as the hotbed of the disreputable overstatement of 2nd hand smoking effects on heart attack rates. (Note to self: submit treatment to Hollywood re Glantz as deep cover Russian mole working to undermine American freedoms.) And while I am singling out this preposterous state, it is clear that the lunacy is no longer localized, that there is serious competition from Illinois (home of Pediatrics, the proud inventors of 3rd hand smoke), Washington (Banzhaf), New York (Bloomberg) and so many more.
And now the latest from that most interesting place. (And in the interests of transparency, every time I have been to California I have had a great time. But living there must be frustrating.) California (and some other states) has been seriously considering making marijuana legal partly because so many people are already using it without it bringing civilization to its knees and even more because of the budget shortfalls and huge deficits that state is in the throes of. And thought the millions still flow in to fund anti-tobacco research, they are otherwise desperate for money, partly to pay for incarcerating so many drug users.
In the LA Times, the article If pot becomes legal, California’s health will suffer Stanford expert says, the main issue is that there would be increased health costs (could certainly be if more people use it but not if current users simply shift over from the illegal market). Fair point. However what is interesting is the political cant coming from this clinical psychologist (Keith Humprhies):
he says his No. 1 fear is that it would create a lucrative product line for tobacco companies or create an industry that would stand “shoulder to shoulder with them lobbying against every anti-smoking restriction and expansion of public health and every taxation initiative.”
So, the worry here is not so much about health but that legalizing marijuana might lead to 1. some people pofiting from a new lucrative legal product (that sounds pretty anti-American to me), 2. that an existing legal enterprise would expand its product lines (ditto) and that 3. they would express themselves in a legal and time-honored fashion within a supposed democracy.
I have mixed feeling about no smoking policies (many I approve of for purely aesthetic and selfish reasons, and some I don’t for a more defensible live and let live policy) but to be active within a democracy is to hold an opinion and to express it. Though less smoking is without a doubt better for public health, it does not follow that the only reasonable political position is no smoking. Smoking is only one of many things to be juggled to maintain a society which is built partially on respecting self determination.
Psychologist Humphreys should be worried though. Grass smokers are not quite the timid bunch tobacco smokers are. Though active criminals, they have not been stigmatized into inaction; they tend to be much more vocal, and if the statistics are right, they are close to outnumbering smokers.
In terms of harm reduction, legalization is almost always a good thing. Controlled production means quality control which has the potential of decreasing the risks of using. And though anti-smoking is rife with mythologies of all sorts, the effects on smokers themselves are reasonably accurate and this would be a welcome development in terms of marijuana where many users have some pretty strange ideas about how healthy it is. An open licit market means we can better determine how risky it is and how better to minimize those risks, and it makes it easier to educate people about safer alternatives.
-Paul L. Bergen