Legal Recreational Marijuana: Not So Far Out
The drive to legalize marijuana has long been a fringe cause, associated with hard-core libertarians and college-age stoners. But it could go mainstream in a big way in this November’s election, when Washington could become the first state to legalize recreational pot use. If it does — or if voters in any of several other states do — this year could be a turning point in the nation’s treatment of marijuana.
The idea that a majority of voters could support legalizing marijuana may seem far out — but the polls say otherwise. In many states, the prolegalization and antilegalization camps are roughly equal in size. In a poll of Washington state voters released last month, supporters of the legalization referendum outnumbered opponents: 48% vs. 45%. And Washington probably won’t be the only state voting on marijuana this year. In Colorado, supporters last week fell about 3,000 signatures short of getting a legalization measure on the ballot — but the law gave them 15 days to collect the rest, and it seems likely they will. Activists are also collecting signatures in other states, including California, Michigan and Montana.
For years, the debate over marijuana has been focused on a narrower question: medical marijuana. The argument that cancer patients and others with chronic pain should be able to alleviate it by using marijuana has been prevailing in state after state. Today, 16 states — including Washington and Colorado — and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.
Recently, the action has shifted to recreational marijuana use. Washington’s referendum would treat pot much like alcohol, so the sale of marijuana would be restricted to people over 21. The new law would give the Liquor Control Board the authority to license marijuana farms, and marijuana tax revenues would be directed to health and drug-abuse prevention programs.
But other states’ proposed laws are more laissez-faire. Colorado would legalize marijuana so that, as its supporters put it, cannabis would be regulated like “grapes, tomatoes or other harmless botanical plants.” Montana’s amendment focuses on decriminalizing marijuana but leaves it to the legislature to work out the details.
Supporters argue that legalization is long overdue. They argue that it is no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco — and that in a free country people should be able to decide on their own whether to use it. They also argue that, as a practical matter, laws against marijuana have been no more successful than Prohibition was against alcohol — and that, similarly, it has given criminals a monopoly on distributing and selling it. Legalization, they say, would reduce the number of people in prison, and it would shift revenue from drug syndicates to government in the form of tax receipts.
Not surprisingly, the legalization drives have drawn heated opposition. Critics argue that marijuana is harmful and addictive — and that it is often a gateway drug, leading to cocaine or heroin. They say stoned drivers would be a menace on the roads. And they warn that if it were legalized and readily available, marijuana use could soar. (The University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future” survey reported that daily marijuana use is already at a 30-year high among high school seniors, even as alcohol use has been declining.) The anticamp also argues that marijuana is stronger than it was decades ago — from two to 10 times stronger, some experts say. (Other experts dispute the figures.)
If Washington or some other state legalizes marijuana, that would not settle the matter. It would still be a controlled substance under federal law. And the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause says that when federal and state laws clash, federal law trumps. As a practical matter, though, the federal government does not have the resources to police everyday use of marijuana. If states begin to legalize it, the federal government might be hard-pressed to justify diverting limited Drug Enforcement Agency resources away from heroin cartels toward small-time pot smokers.
It is hard to handicap this year’s voting, but one possibility is this: marijuana legalization could lose in Washington and Colorado in November, but recreational use could nonetheless be headed toward legalization in many states in the not-too-distant future. Support for legalization has been rising steadily, from just 12% in 1970 to 31% in 2001 to 50% today, with young people (ages 18-29) the most in favor (62%) and older people (ages 50-64) the least (49%).
In strictly political terms, this is a powerful combination: fast-growing support and solid majorities among the young, who represent where the electorate is headed. (Support for gay marriage polls similarly — which is why it is becoming law in more states.) In a few years, the national discussion may well turn from whether to legalize marijuana to how to do it in the most prudent way.
Why Spanking Doesn’t Work
Want your kid to stop whatever dangerous/annoying/forbidden behavior he’s doing right now? Spanking will probably work — for now.
But be prepared for that same child to be more aggressive toward you and his siblings, his friends and his eventual spouse. Oh, and get ready for some other antisocial behaviors too.
A new analysis of two decades of research on the long-term effects of physical punishment in children concludes that spanking doesn’t work and can actually wreak havoc on kids’ long-term development, according to an article published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Studying physical punishment is difficult for researchers, who can’t randomly assign children to groups that are hit and those that aren’t. Instead, they follow children over many years, monitor how much they’re spanked, and then take measure of their aggression over time. “We find children who are physically punished get more aggressive over time and those who are not physically punished get less aggressive over time,” says Joan Durrant, the article’s lead author and a child clinical psychologist and professor of family social sciences at the University of Manitoba.
In fact, regardless of the age of the children or the size of the sample, none of more than 80 studies on the effects of physical punishment have succeeded in finding positive associations. “If someone were to hit us to change our behavior, it might harm our relationship with that person. We might feel resentful,” says Durrant. “It’s no different for children. It’s not a constructive thing to do.”
Children who are spanked may feel depressed and devalued, and their sense of self-worth can suffer. Harsh punishments can wind up backfiring because they can foster lying in children who are desperate to avoid being spanked. Later in life, physical punishment is linked to mental health problems including depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol use. There’s neuroimaging evidence that physical punishment may alter parts of the brain involved in performance on IQ tests and up the likelihood of substance abuse. And there’s also early data that spanking could affect areas of the brain involved in emotion and stress regulation.
Yet, as I wrote last summer in a story about the first real-time study of parents spanking their children, some research has found that up to 90% of parents say they use corporal punishment:
Despite a battery of disciplinary techniques, including the infamous “time out,” redirection and the increasing emphasis on positive discipline (try substituting “hold the cup carefully” for “don’t spill your juice”), spanking and slapping are still pretty popular.
Moms and dads who spank do so because they believe it’s effective, and research actually shows that it is — in the short-term. A child reaching for a tempting object will stop if he gets swatted. “It does work in the immediate moment, but beyond that, in most cases, it’s very ineffective,” says George Holden, the study’s author and a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University. “The most common long-term consequence is that children learn to use aggression.”
Case in point: one mother in the study hit her toddler after the toddler either hit or kicked the mother, admonishing, “This is to help you remember not to hit your mother.”
“The irony is just amazing,” says Holden.
In some countries, spanking is not a choice. Durrant is currently living in Sweden, where she’s researching child and family policies and the evolution of that country’s law prohibiting physical discipline of children. In 1979, Sweden was the first country to pass such legislation; now 32 countries — including much of Europe, Costa Rica, Israel, Tunisia and Kenya — have a similar law.
Neither the U.S. nor Canada has gotten on board. “Whenever I mention the law, there is an assumption that this is government telling me how to raise my child,” says Durrant. “[But in Sweden] they see it as a way to make sure children get the best start possible in life.”
Parents who spank often do so by default. Many, particularly those who were hit themselves, find that spanking is the only disciplinary tactic in their toolbox. Doctors are in a position to change that by educating parents about the stages of normal child development, recommending alternative ways to discipline and referring interested parents to appropriate resources and parenting classes. In Sweden, for example, new parents are hooked up with support groups and given information about developmental stages.
As a result, parents understand their children aren’t being intentional obstructionists; it’s just par for the course. “When children see someone resolve conflict with aggression, they are more likely to learn that behavior,” says Durrant. “Two-year-olds are the most aggressive people in the world. They don’t understand the impact of their behavior and they can’t inhibit themselves. So the more a child sees someone resolving conflict with aggression, the more aggressive they become.”
A young toddler who upends her cereal bowl on her head probably isn’t being ornery; she’s just curious to see what will happen. Durrant likes to use her son as an example. When he was 3, he dropped his dad’s toothbrush into the toilet. Another parent might have yelled, but Durrant’s academic background helped her realize that he was just experimenting: he dropped objects into water floating in sinks and bathtubs with nary a scolding; why not toilets too? “I explained what goes into toilets and then said, Do you think Daddy is going to want to put that toothbrush in his mouth now?” Message transmitted with no yelling.
P.S. Durrant’s son never dropped anything verboten into the toilet again.