Blowing Smoke: Why Pot it NOT the Same as Alcohol

October 28, 2014

The Dark Ages were also the Beer Ages.  Life in the open sewers of Europe made it a little dangerous to drink from common water sources. Beer, having been distilled and containing anti-bacterial ethanol, was the preferred beverage. It didn’t enhance your functioning, but it didn’t kill you either.

2obama-bongAn article in Mother Jones recently exposed the “dark, not-so-eco-friendly, energy-sucking, toxic side” of the agri-pot industry in the United States. But trust me, the earth-worshiping hippies will reject their Mother Gaia for the high any day.

As potheads from across the fruited plain congregate in Denver and the smaller burgs throughout Colorado, I can’t help but wonder, “what the hell happened to our culture?” A majority of Colorado voters opted to legalize pot in November of 2012, many swayed by the argument: “Well, why is alcohol legal and pot isn’t? Alcohol gets you high and trillions of people die each year in drunk driving crashes!”

The answer is pretty simple, but it’s also logical, so if you’re a champion of cannabis, you might want to step out of the room so your head doesn’t explode.  Let’s take a stroll back in time…

The first bender probably took place beneath a fruit tree where early man overindulged on some rotting fruit, and felt happy. Early man’s early wife tried it too and found that it made her forget, for a time, about the insects living in her hair.  Peach Schnapps was discovered.

Jump ahead to 5,000 B.C. and Pyramid Pale Ale. The Mesopotamians and Egyptians became more sophisticated in their quest for the best brew and they began to distill alcoholic drinks from grain and other starchy staples.

The Dark Ages were also the Beer Ages.  Life in the open sewers of Europe made it a little dangerous to drink from common water sources. Beer, having been distilled and containing anti-bacterial ethanol, was the preferred beverage. It didn’t enhance your functioning, but it didn’t kill you either.

Alcohol has been around since humans first developed the concept of  cause and effect.  I consume this or that, it makes me feel happy, I want more, can you drive me to the liquor store?  Humans have had tens of thousands of years to learn how to assimilate alcohol.

Human tradition, especially Western tradition, is the point juncture at which alcohol and pot diverge. Alcohol is found everywhere, and virtually every culture has a set of traditions which dictate its use.  Even the Mormon Church, which prohibits the drinking  of alcohol, finds value in its use as a cleansing agent and disinfectant.  The green energy industry will even turn feed corn into booze and sell it to you at inflated prices to put in your gas tank.  Because alcohol, with its many uses, is so a deeply rooted in Western culture, the culture itself has a developed a framework entrusting its management to the personal self-control of its users.

This implicit self-management of alcohol arrives through religion, social norms, and laws set forth to protect the public from those who abuse it, the most important of which is family tradition.  This makes sense since families are the best agents of personal habit, but a variety of studies further prove that values taught early in life have great staying power.  Adult patterns of alcohol use begin in homes of origin, so alcohol abuse is often an inherited trait.  But if his parents applied strict limits and protocols pertaining to alcohol use, the adult drinker is more likely to have good self-regulation. If alcohol was prohibited by the family because of faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for example, or because of a simple desire to avoid its bad effects, the adult is likely to reflect those same values and abstain completely.

Teenagers will often stray from the patterns and rules of alcohol use set forth by their families before making a determination about what their life courses.  It is a statistical fact that more often than not, that once in adulthood those errant teens will return to the standards with which he was raised.  Families, not government, are the best regulators of alcohol consumption. The West inculcates family traditions which deal with booze at the most personal levels. Regardless of how government attempts to legislate alcohol, it is a permanent fixture in Western society and it best regulators are parents.

Pot is not the same as alcohol. American society has no norms for the open social use of pot and other drugs.  Whereas alcohol has been with mankind for thousands of years, drugs have either destroyed the populations who used them, or they are so new to the mainstream that there exist no norms for their socially acceptable use. Across the Atlantic, permissive European drug laws have done more to harm culture and erode national identity on that continent than the prior centuries of alcohol consumption.

There are tribes scattered throughout the world, from the Amazon to Southern Africa,  that use drugs for healing or religious rituals.  They often employ ancient traditions that regulate the use of the drugs for specific uses in rituals and social exchanges.  However, looking at these egalitarian cultures one has to wonder, “Would they be building hospitals and sports stadiums instead of scratching their subsistence out of the earth and living in mud huts if they weren’t burdened by superstitions and the hallucinogenic rituals that adorn them?”

If pot is legal, why not cocaine, meth, heroin, LSD, and all their ugly counterparts? Giving a legislative wink and nod to marijuana as a socially acceptable substance would increase abuse of other, harder substances, domestic violence, property crimes, and since Americans are reluctant to allow people to languish in the gutters of their broken lives, it would also, of necessity in a compassionate society, increase the size of government.

By Marjorie Haun  10/28/14

  1. Eric Wardowski

    I disagree with a couple of points but you write a very clear, coherent, and excellent article. Thank you for opening my eyes to a couple of new things and providing a great resource for parents who know less.

    Personally I hate having to take any medicine and would not want pot around me. On the other hand, as a crop for fiber and fuel, I’d fully support legalizing it and running it in competition with other industries. If there are medicinal uses, legalizing the medicinal use should be available.

    Keep up the great writing – I always enjoy your work!

    • Thanks Eric. I actually have a friend who is the CEO of a hemp fiber company which is completely legit. It all boils down to human judgment. These plants and substances all have uses which benefit mankind, on the other hand, when used unwisely they destroy lives!

  2. eric niederkruger

    Hey Reagangirl, hope all is well. ft the pot was grown in America, by a medical grower, it is morally different from mexican cartel stuff. But don’t automatically kick out the baby with the bathwater about pot. Jews don’t eat pork, but they aren’t going to try and throw you in jail for eating it. Trust your constitution whenever in doubt.

    • Eric, this article doesn’t address the differences between the cartel stuff and commercial stuff. It is a commentary on the absence of a sociocultural mechanism for the self-regulation of drugs. I believe in the smallest government possible performing its limited duties. Prohibition failed because alcohol was so ensconced into our culture and we already has ways of dealing with in through parental attitudes and modeling. There is no such framework in the larger culture.

  3. Logic

    Another winner here. Tease us with a story comparing alcohol to pot and then talk about the dangers of every other drug but pot.

    • Ummmm, I hope you read the article because I did not specifically address the dangers of pot and others drugs except for a general reference to their contributions to economic and cultural decline. The article address why Western culture is not yet capable of coping with drugs as part of our societal constitution, whereas alcohol has rules about its use which are set by families. Families who set rules about pot and other drugs other than “just say no,” are irresponsible, criminal, and crappy role models.

  4. Well written but not accurate.

  5. Damian

    Thanks for yet another brilliant and hilarious article, Marjorie! I especially love the statement, “Americans are reluctant to let others languish in the gutters of their broken lives.”

    Since we are both teachers, we see first-hand the destructive effects of alcohol and other drugs, especially cannabis, on developing young lives. I believe that alcohol abuse is one of the greatest issues facing teens in America, and the answer to this problem doesn’t reside in broadening the menu of drugs that are legally available. A clean, clear mind is the foundation of a healthy society, and every drug carries within it the potential for terrible levels of abuse. Cannabis, for example, damages the ambition of young people, and with it the entrepreneurial force of a nation.

    I took a class from USU on drugs in society, a very interesting topic that bridges my degrees in the psychology of religion and neuroscience. A few conclusions were inescapable after a careful study of the history and psycho-physiology of each controlled substance.

    1) If drug laws were written from a purely logical point of view, they would read much differently than they do today. Is the substance physically addictive? Does it create a psychological dependence? Under the influence of this substance, is the user more of a threat to self or society? Using these criteria, the eighteenth amendment (prohibiting alcohol) makes perfect sense.

    2) Drug laws are a reflection of cultural values. The reason that alcohol is still legal in the USA is that it is the drug of choice for the European majority who first settled the country. Other drugs are associated with other minority cultures, and therefore prohibited. Think opium with Chinese railroad workers, marijuana from Mexico and the Caribbean countries, cocaine from South America, peyote and mushrooms from native peoples, etc. So the real history of criminalization in America is far more related to cultural ideals than to specific threats to individual health.

    3) The only reason that drugs work at all is that we have receptors in our brains, central and/or peripheral nervous systems that respond to those drugs. It raises the interesting question: Why? Either from an anthropological or a theistic point of view, the answer is bothersome. My personal conclusion is that all types of drugs have their proper place in a life well-lived. We can create endogenous hallucinogens by staying up for three days in a row, and we can create endogenous opiates (endorphins) by running a marathon. Naturally occurring counterparts of these molecules exist in rotting fruit, poppies, mushrooms, cactus, plant leaves, roots and flowers.

    What is the most responsible way to respond to these facts of nature? It is certainly not overindulgence in one or all. I’ve met a very select few in my lifetime who have found a way to navigate these biochemical foundations of human consciousness in a way that actually helps them become better people — more intelligent, more aware, more connected to others and more compassionate. They call drugs “entheogens,” and rarely or never use them for recreation.

    But my overall impression of people is that the vast majority of us, myself included, don’t start off with the extremely high levels of self- management skills and personal responsibility that this dangerous path requires. I’ve seen so many students over the years vainly deceive themselves, believing that they can manage the complex world of psychoactive substances, both legal and illegal. I’ve also seen too many tragic results when they learn they were not prepared for the traps of addiction and dependence. So clean and sober is by far the best public policy.

    • Damian, thank you. This is a little off topic but it makes for an interesting discussion: I did a short paper once for a psych/addictive substances course which posited that “Brigham Tea,” or “Mormon Tea,” which grows abundantly in the West and is jam-packed with ephedra, helped the Mormon pioneers survive their migrations into the deserts of the West. The Mormons, while crossing the high deserts of the West brewed and drank this very addictive stimulant tea. My hypothesis was that is was an “addiction of circumstance.” In other words, it was a necessary substance, that though addictive, carried the Mormon pioneers through some of the most physically and psychologically strenuous trials imaginable. After the Mormons settled into permanent homesteads the use of Brigham Tea quickly subsided. The stimulant effects were no longer had a benefit so they quit using it.

      Drug use and abuse are complex topics, and fascinating at that. And there are compelling arguments from both sides. But you’re absolutely right with your last statement. The best policy by far, if we want smaller government and better society, is to bridle our appetites and control our own behaviors.

  6. Zeb

    Beer isn’t distilled. Its brewed. Yes, its different. Spirits are distilled. Wine is fermented. Beer is brewed. (Saki is brewed too, although its called a rice ‘wine’; some beverages are fermented then distilled, etc.).

  7. scott yagemann

    Wow! A lot of reactions on this one. All men too I think. Not sure about “Logic”. Sounds like a guy. Lol. I agree with everything except I don’t think it matters whether one is raised in a religious home and taught that alcohol (or pot) is bad for you. An addictive personality seems to be some sort of inherited trait from my experience. There are plenty of Mormons in AA for instance, as well as Catholics and Jews who were raised going to Catholic and Jewish schools (and by good virtuous families). But I’m sure it helps if society encourages alcohol and drug use. I really like the historical perspective. Wow, drinking beer instead of water would not have worked for me but I know people used to do that. Overall a great article that should be posted in other places too. Excellent job, Marge-Marge.

    • Scoticus, and we can’t guarantee an outcome based on even the most ideal factors, but out trajectory as a society definitely heads downward when we introduce more addictive, destructive substances into the lives of people with the rationalizations that it’s a “personal right” or a “victimless crime.” If this logic applies, let’s legalize heroin. Heroine addicts usually just sleep through life. Let’s legalize prostitution across the board–victimless crime, right? Let’s legalize cocaine, it would enhance national productivity after all. A social evil is an evil–and should NEVER be given a wink and nod by the law.

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