Willing suspension of disbelief


Updated at 6:30 pm, February 6, 2014

Perhaps the window has closed for so-called medicinal marijuana for Martha’s Vineyard. News this week that pot shops, fronted as medical dispensaries, have been approved for many counties in Massachusetts, but not for Dukes County, spares Islanders the need to participate in the hoax — for now, although perhaps not forever.

That there is a powerful interest in easier and legal access to marijuana on Martha’s Vineyard is unarguable, which is not the same as saying that Islanders favor the unrestricted use of pot and its derivatives, no matter how the license is disguised.

Statewide, voters, including Islanders in especially enthusiastic numbers, have agreed to allow medicinal marijuana sales from as many as 35 outlets statewide. Voters nationally have moved toward broadly legalizing marijuana use. The trend is clear, but the implications are not. Three generally accepted views are that marijuana can ease suffering in some gravely ill persons; that the licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries and the creeping relaxation of pot laws across the country will lead to wider use of the drugs; and that this wider use will include increasing use by young people and especially teenagers. The latter effect is already making itself felt. The Martha’s Vineyard Youth Task Force reported, in its 2012 survey of risky behaviors among teenagers, that as alcohol consumption among teens has declined steadily since 2007, marijuana use has increased. Thirty-nine percent of the Task Force’s survey respondents in 2012, 10 percent higher than in the 2007 survey, have used marijuana. Marijuana use by Vineyard young people is markedly higher than is the case statewide or nationally. And, now that President Barack Obama has spoken encouragingly of the innocent effects of marijuana use, we may expect a further increase in teenage pot use ahead.

Islanders will have to consider what to think about the future of life on Martha’s Vineyard as the coincidence of this data and these trends is realized.

Nevertheless, if parents and the Vineyard community at large are doubtful about the wisdom of young people drinking alcohol, using prescription drugs, and smoking marijuana, the Youth Task Force numbers, even when they reveal declines in these practices, as is the case with alcohol use, they cannot be genuinely comforted by the news. Combined with a state and national relaxation in attitudes toward marijuana use, the trend lines point to trouble ahead.

If often helps, when one is determined to make a bad decision, to gild the pig. Thus, the government’s eagerness to embrace the income potential of legal gambling veils the harm done by gambling to the less well off and the elderly. And, the avidity with which lawmakers move to align themselves with powerful trends and with the potential for tax and fee income boosts to government coffers leads them to mask pot use by calling it medicinal.

As Dr. Henry Nieder wrote in an essay [ Essay: Medicinal marijuana, mostly a fiction, November 14, 2013], “Prescribing medications is complicated. To do it as safely as possible, doctors must know effective doses and duration of effect so that they can determine the correct initial dose and frequency of use with the original prescription and then can adjust in a logical fashion if the dose requires adjustment. Prescribed marijuana has no reliable dosage. In states with legal medical marijuana, patients are generally advised to adjust the amount of marijuana they purchase to obtain the desired result and to repeat the dose as needed. That is no different than buying marijuana on the street and being told to stop smoking when you feel the way that you want to feel.”

None of these protocols holds for medicinal marijuana dispensing, and thus, so-called medicinal marijuana applies lipstick to the porker. The trend rolls along. We shall see what the result will be, whether the pot culture will produce in the young a determined and disciplined population of young learners, eager to work hard, ambitious to succeed, trained to think critically, sensitive in human interaction, and ever mindful of what is important and watchful for what is fruitlessly diverting.

The word guild, referring to gussied up pigs, was misused in this column. The commenter who styles himself “oligarch” brought the error to my attention. The word I intended was gild. I have corrected the error, and I thank oligarch for his careful attention. D.A.C.