In two recent opinion pieces, Ginny Burley and Alan Saltis imply that the Vermont Legislature has made a big mistake in legalizing cannabis and working on ways to make the substance available legally and safely to the adult public — in other words, the hard work and rigorous study put in by hundreds of legislators, staff and consultants came to different conclusions than they did. And incidentally, residents of the state are equally wrong, supporting a regulated retail system 56 to 31 percent in a VPR/VPBS poll.
Burley suggests that the state adopt “strong recommendations for prevention and education.” Great idea, but actually it seems like, when “prevention educators” such as Burley and Saltis say things like that, one should take them at their title, not their words. What they are trying to do is prevent people from using cannabis. Period. They hope to subvert the will of the people by slowing and limiting legal access to the point it remains virtually nonexistent.
Their idea of education is to present nothing but the potential harms of a drug that appears to be remarkably safe compared not just with opioids and alcohol, but even with diet staples such as sugar and salt. In so doing, they remind one of nothing so much as sex educators who recommend only abstinence. Certainly, caution in engaging with both drugs and sex (or consuming soda and junk food, while we’re at it) would be a wise decision for us all, and particularly teenagers.
But, in the same way sex abstinence policies have failed over and over, we know kids are going to do what they are going to do, just as many of us did when we were that age. And as we did, they are going to develop opinions from a number of sources, some dubious, but others authoritative. “Prevention educators” do their cause little good when they exaggerate the evils of cannabis to the point of unbelievability, while a simple Google search will turn up items like “the National Academy of Science Report on Cannabis” that casts doubt on much of what they state as straight fact.
Saltis’ willingness to play fast and loose with the facts (e.g., alleging cannabis use is more threatening than alcohol or tobacco) is particularly troubling, as he represents the area’s largest health service provider and casts doubt on its commitment to objective information. Would you want your medical provider to treat you based on the kind of limited and often discredited research on which Saltis bases his conclusions?
Burley and Saltis appear to want to stop the prospect of a reasonable tax and regulate structure that would provide controlled, safe cannabis to adults, by instilling fear that somehow — no evidence provided — that will increase teenage use. It is far from common sense that such a controlled structure will do so; it even seems likely that regulated stores will discourage the underground cannabis market, making it more difficult for kids to acquire it.
When they rail against the intrusion of cannabis in the community, they are reminiscent of the universally mocked Reefer Madness mentality. Their rigid, just say “no” postures make their target audience cringe with a sense of adult duplicity and, like abstention counselors, make them far easier to ignore.
Robert Gershon, Ph.D, is a professor emeritus at Castleton University and is a member of the university’s Cannabis Studies Group.