Irrational Arguments for Drug Prohibition

Dominique Browning in The New York Times Book Review:

Julie Myerson, a novelist living in London and the mother of three children, was finally forced to throw her eldest son out of the house — and change the locks — when his cannabis habit so deranged him that he became physically violent. He was 17 years old.
“I am flattened, deadened. I have nothing in my mind except the deep black hole that is the loss of my child,” she writes in “The Lost Child: A Mother’s Story.” Myerson undergoes a crash course in drugs. Her son is smoking skunk, she learns, a strain of cannabis whose THC content is much more potent than garden- variety pot — except that it has become garden variety. I had never heard of skunk either, but a quick search online led me to a souk of seeds for the home farmer, advertising up to a toxic 22 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content in some strains. My shopping cart remained empty as I browsed in disbelief. Even as stronger varieties are being bred and marketed, medical research is linking cannabis use to behavioral and cognitive changes reminiscent of psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and anxiety disorder. And yet we find ourselves arguing about whether pot is addictive or a gateway drug or should be legalized.

So the current drug policy, where narcotics are illegal, produces a world where particularly potent strains of marijuana are being produced, an evolution incentivized by the need to smuggle it. A teenager, who wouldn’t be able to get pot legally even if drug prohibition ended, gets it under the current regime, and does damage to his life. This anecdote is cited as an obvious argument against legalizing pot.

I am unaware of evidence linking particularly potent marijuana to psychiatric disorders, but if that kind of reaction were happening, due to a particularly virulent strain seeping into the enormous market for illegal pot, there would seem to be two options — continue the failed policy of prohibition as though it might magically start working, or enact a regime of legalized marijuana where dangerous varieties could be mostly regulated away.