By Guy Page
Former Gov. James Douglas paused long enough from conducting a Statehouse tour for his Middlebury College students Wednesday to hand a Wall Street Journal clipping to an anti-marijuana legalization lobbyist.
“I brought this for you,” said the four-term governor known for his thoughtfulness, memory for faces and names, and vocal opposition to marijuana legalization. The clipping was a Jan. 5 op-ed by Alex Berenson, former New York Times reporter and best-selling author of a string of spy novels, including “The Silent Man.”
The op-ed was about Berenson’s first work of nonfiction, “Tell Your Children: The Truth about Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence.”
Berenson’s awareness of the pot/psychosis/violence link was minimal until his wife, a Harvard-trained addiction specialist, casually mentioned that hardcore pot smokers often act out violently. Like many other Baby Boomers familiar with weak pot that just made most users silly, sleepy, and hungry, he laughingly dismissed his vastly better-informed wife’s comment. The notion of violence-inducing pot fit neither his own experience nor the media narrative.
His wife challenged him to approach the issue like an investigative journalist. He accepted. As reported in “Tell Your Children,” he learned:
Habitual use is up. The number of heavy cannabis users on the U.S. has almost tripled since 2006. While only one in fifteen alcohol drinkers consume daily, one in five pot users consume daily.
THC concentration is up. The pot Baby Boomers smoked in their youth was about 2 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. Today’s products routinely contain 20-25 percent.
Pot, psychosis, and violence are connected. Heavy pot users are 3-4 times more likely to develop psychosis. People with psychosis are far more prone to violence when they consume drugs — and their favorite drug is marijuana. (Even pot advocates admit it can cause paranoia. Dispensaries advertise brands that are less prone to do so.)
Sometimes the paranoia turns violent. An Australian study shows that of 88 people convicted of homicide during psychotic breaks, two-thirds reported abusing marijuana.
Furthermore, a 2012 study of 9000 American youths found pot connected with a steep rise in domestic violence.
For Vermonters considering the establishment of a legal retail market, the clincher in Berenson’s book is a startling statistic about increased violence in pot-legal states. In pre-legal pot 2013, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska experienced about 450 murders. In “legal” 2017, the number of murders had risen to about 620. Aggravated assaults grew at the same rate.
Meanwhile Vermont’s mental health system struggles with too little money and too few workers. The Legislature struggles to understand that opening retail shops and advertising an addictive, psychosis-inducing euphoric product will increase overall consumption of that product, with all of its associated mental illness, addiction, and violence.
The Senate Judiciary Committee took testimony on S.54, retail sale of marijuana, this week. The committee is scheduled to take more testimony on Tuesday, Jan. 29.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.