The dispensary 420 Central is open for business on Thursday in Santa Ana, Calif. (Christina House/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

We’re vilifying the wrong substance

I’m a recovering addict who believes we’re vilifying the wrong substance.

Only read this piece if you agree with the following postulate:

If consuming broccoli led to diminished brain capacity, poor decision-making, weight gain, myriad health issues and financial costs and massive loss of life, or if abusing broccoli contributed to job issues or troubles at home or was a mitigating factor in spousal abuse or date rape or other violent offending, and was in fact the gateway substance that can lead to even more vicious substances, wouldn’t it be in the best interest of the individual and society at large to take a long, hard look at broccoli? See if we want to rethink this whole broccoli business?

We’re conditioned, and so we believe. We observe, we’re taught, we learn, we integrate the behaviors. You want me to take a look at broccoli? Seriously? It’s been a part of the culture for so long. It’s legal, so it’s OK. Everybody uses broccoli. And I certainly don’t have a problem with it, so what’s the big deal?

There’s so much talk these days about the legalization of marijuana. Framed primarily as a states’ rights discussion, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to be moving in the direction of rescinding Obama-era policies that gave federal prosecutors a wider berth with respect to prosecuting marijuana cases. Many voices decry pot use, although it, too, has been around for centuries and has been used in the main (albeit illegally) in this country for decades.

But make no mistake; there is no hypocrisy in the argument that if alcohol is legal, pot should be legal, too. Many of the anti-pot voices are the same ones arguing against over-regulation and governmental involvement in the individual’s life.

We either live in a free society or we don’t. We live in a country where I get to decide what I put into my body or we don’t. I am, in fact, by law, allowed to consume and abuse alcohol and prescription drugs. I am allowed to drink and drive in all 50 states. That one went by you pretty quick so let me repeat it: I am allowed to drink and drive in all 50 states provided that I am not over the legal limit, which I have no way of tracking. But I’m not allowed to smoke marijuana?

It’s hard to have it both ways.

I’m a recovering addict who believes in a free society and your right to get high on whatever your drug of choice is. I believe, to borrow a phrase, that you have the right to swing your fist wherever you choose, but that that right stops at my nose. I believe that anytime I see an alcohol commercial or a party reveler on TV imbibing any substance, it is an opportunity to continue a dialog with my daughter.

I limped into the Hazelden Treatment Center for Drug and Alcohol Addiction in May 1986, and the words of my counselor still bang around in my head. He said, “If it’s a problem, you probably should quit. If it isn’t a problem, there’s no good argument to keep using it and you might think about quitting.”

I drank like everybody I knew drank. What’s the big deal?

Here’s the big deal. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a July 2016 report, estimated that “alcohol led to approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost in the United States from 2006 to 2010, shortening the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years.”

Approximately 10,000 lives are lost annually in the U.S. due to car accidents involving drinking and driving. And then, there are the daily human costs we’ve all experienced.

My fist frequently wound up on someone else’s nose, and I decided that I had to rethink this broccoli business.

The CDC also reports that prescription drug overdoses, steadily climbing over the past two decades, are about 30,000 annually now. Marijuana overdoses are, according to the CDC, zero annually.

Yet marijuana, a substance with proven medical uses, is still listed as a Schedule 1 drug, and alcohol is not. A Schedule 1 drug has “high abuse potential, no medical use, and severe safety concerns.” Roll that one around for a minute.

I’m also a cynic. I believe that if a major pharmaceutical or alcohol company could figure out a way to get a big piece, and the government could work out how to get its cut, we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place.

Ralph Strangis is a writer, actor and motivational speaker in Dallas. This was first published in The Dallas Morning News.

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