Here’s debate with no winners


Every news report about the arrest of drug distributors who cultivate, manufacture, or import their products for sale on Martha’s Vineyard leads to a debate among many readers.

At the core of the back and forth that blooms, sometimes surprisingly, among commenters is an attempt to distinguish among the substances that seem popular among Island customers, from really bad (heroin, methamphetamine, prescription drugs) to not-so-bad (marijuana).

Then there is a further distinction that gets drawn by debaters on many sides of the argument. That’s the alcohol anomaly. Many more Islanders use alcohol, a legal, mind-altering substance, than use the proscribed drugs. So, the argument goes, don’t worry so much about marijuana; worry instead about alcohol. Because alcohol is so commonly used and abused, and because its misuse figures so significantly in social and criminal misbehavior, perhaps alcohol not marijuana is the on-ramp to expanded drug use.

A visit to the excellent, and especially to a part of the site that offers “Facts About Alcohol/Drugs,” illuminates the issues embedded in this debate. The news is bad for the partisans of either of these substances, and it’s news that is valuable to young people, parents, and adults generally.

For instance, about marijuana, the Youth Task Force reports, “Marijuana blocks the messages going to your brain and alters your perceptions and emotions, vision, hearing, and coordination. A recent study of 1,023 trauma patients admitted to a shock trauma unit found that one-third had marijuana in their blood.”

But, what does marijuana use contribute? According to the Youth Task Force, contributions include “sleepiness; difficulty keeping track of time; impaired or reduced short-term memory; reduced ability to perform tasks requiring concentration and coordination, such as driving a car; increased heart rate, potential cardiac dangers for those with preexisting heart disease; bloodshot eyes, dry mouth and throat; decreased social inhibitions, paranoia, and hallucinations.”

Plus, there are the long-term effects, including “enhanced cancer risk; decrease in testosterone levels for men; also lower sperm counts and difficulty having children; increase in testosterone levels for women; also increased risk of infertility; diminished or extinguished sexual pleasure; psychological dependence requiring more of the drug to get the same effect.”

And, the contributions of alcohol abuse? “Distorted vision, hearing, and coordination; altered perceptions and emotions; impaired judgment; bad breath and hangovers; loss of appetite; vitamin deficiencies; stomach ailments; skin problems; sexual impotence; liver damage; heart and central nervous system damage; memory loss.”

Some debaters will certainly argue that the Youth Task Force is focused on kids and determined to keep them from using marijuana or abusing alcohol. For an adult who’s used marijuana and alcohol for years, maybe the downside hasn’t seemed so bad. On the other hand, perhaps the various impairments associated with these substances have taken their toll. But, why on earth take up rhetorical arms on behalf of any mind-altering substance?

Mostly, I suspect, it’s the justly celebrated, instinctual impulse to argue that motivates the don’t worry, be happy MVTimes commenters who debate the harmfulness of marijuana and alcohol, or argue the merits of one or the other as a “gateway” to drugs that are generally recognized as unquestionably damaging.

The debate is nonsensical.

That any of these substances is rewarding its youthful or adult users, or contributing to the improvement of life in the Vineyard community, is beyond question an illusion, and a distracting one at that.