Is there any reliable method of determining when a person is ready to use cannabis; and who would decide the age limit and how?
One of the greatest questions that will arise with prohibition’s end is at what age our laws should allow people to begin using recreational cannabis legally. Yet there is a case to be made that arbitrary legal boundaries in these regards create their own logical and ethical problems.
It requires a tumble over the cliff of reason to conclude that on an individuals 18th or 21st birthday, or any other calendar event not related directly to cannabis use, they become magically bestowed with the ability to use a plant that had been forbidden to them the day before. You might as well just say that after a person has lived to see their two hundred and twelfth full moon, and then fasted in the Forest of Adulthood alone for five days, only then are they prepared to ward off the evil spirits sometimes unleashed by the cannabis plant. It would make just as much sense.
That is not to say that I think it is a good idea for children to use cannabis at any old age. I am not suggesting that, ‘If you’re old enough to load it, you’re old enough to light it.’ In fact, I personally think that it probably isn’t a terribly great idea to start getting high until the last few teenage years, at least for most people. Adolescence is a time of potent emotional experiences, and encountering these with your perceptions radically altered means you may miss out on getting to know yourself emotionally while you still have the flexibility to work out the kinks before they harden into lifelong character flaws.
I am not saying that always does, or always will, happen. I am saying it is a very real pitfall worth considering. This is a very complex question and we must consider many perspectives in exploring it.
If we look at the question as above, from the perspective of psychology, that would suggest that the boundary for cannabis use should be set by testing each individual independently for maturity and emotional development before giving them legal permission to get high. This is not only highly impractical as far as organization goes, it relies on another set of arbitrary boundaries set by the regulating agency itself, which is just another form of prohibition.
So what about neuroscience? Can we use brain development to determine when a person can use cannabis more responsibly and safely than at any given time before? Not only is knowledge of the brain still severely lacking, the general model of consciousness that states that brains create thinking has never truly been verified by scientific means.
Many scientists, psychologists and philosophers are becoming suspect of that paradigm. They ascribe to a non-dualist model of reality in which only consciousness exists and that matter is just a way that it expresses reality to itself. To put it more simply, the neuroscientist looks at your speedometer (brain activity) and mistakenly believes the speedometer is creating the motion (thoughts), where the non-dualists sees thoughts producing an image of themselves in the form of brain activity.
The jury is still out on which model of reality will ultimately win out, but this does provide us enough uncertainty that we should be wary of adopting a system which permits cannabis use after a certain stage of brain development, as it relies on unverified assumptions. And once again, this would still rely on some arbitrary boundary decided by some expert who knows nothing of the actual individuals being tested.
It seems that even any attempt to test an individual for cannabis readiness would produce the same problems created by institutionalized generalizations. To avoid all of this our political and legal systems have just slapped arbitrary age requirements on the problem and washed their hands of any logical or ethical problems of that model based only on the fact that it was the easiest way to get the job done. Should we accept laziness and ignorance as an acceptable premise for legislation?
When it really comes down to it the question boils down to this – at what age do we own our minds or bodies? That is all that really matters. Whatever science or psychology have to say about cannabis readiness really do not matter. A free human has the right to harm themselves. So at what point do we consider a human being to be their own person, who can make their own choices about what they do and do not put into their bodies?
And more importantly, who should get to make that decision? Is it the individual? Their parents or guardians? Is it government bureaucrats who have never met the individual, let alone know them well enough to make such a massive proclamtions? As we have already seen, using the latter method treats people like statistics, but people are not statistics, and they are never the same as any statistical model used to describe them. Allowing the authorities to determine our autonomy gives government a power of god-like proportions, which has historically always proven to be a recipe for disaster. And their methods for doing so are flawed and lazy. If this is the best solution, it is not anywhere even close to being nearly good enough.
So what then is the solution? What is the one size fits all answer that we can use to reliably determine when it is okay to start getting high?
It is quite simple – there is no such answer.
First of all, the laws do not really prevent cannabis usage to begin with. People all throughout time of all ages have experimented with cannabis and other drugs regardless of the local laws. So punishing young people for a behavior that is a universal given accomplishes little more than to create obstacles to their future success, in a time when they are still trying to find out their path for getting there. Any danger caused by starting too young is likely to have less severe consequences than legal entanglements and being subjected to negative social perceptions among friends, family, peers and those you may want to interact or conduct business with later on.
The answer lies at home, with the parents or guardians, the people who know the individual best and can assist them in determining when first events like cannabis use may or may not be right for them. Those who love you have far more interest in your autonomy and well-being than any external agents or agencies. It is these people who should guide you towards the knowledge and wisdom necessary to make an informed decision about cannabis use, or anything else in life, and the faith to trust the decisions you do make – as well as the strength and love to help you when you falter.
And even though I cannot tell you exactly when someone might be ready to try weed for the first time, I can suggest a place to start. If somebody cannot fully understand and fully explain the potential pitfalls and consequences of using cannabis recreationally, then they are probably not ready to try it yet. And if they are not only unable, but not willing to communicate responsibly about the issues, then they are either not yet ready – or you have not been doing your job to foster mutual trust and understanding, in which case cannabis use is going to be pretty low on the list of their personal problems throughout life.
The key, in not only making the decision, but in the best decisions being made all around, lies simply in the most basic tool at humans disposal – love.
If somebody was raised without sufficient guidance and love, then no law or arbitrary boundary is going to prevent tragedies centered around their lives, and punishing them is only going to reinforce all the negativity that has so sadly accompanied their rough path to adulthood.
If we want easy answers and impossible promises based on vague reasoning, we can turn to politicians and bureaucrats, as they never seem to have any shortage. If the truth you we looking for is more substantial than that, then it will be up to each of us to find it on our own terms, in our own time, in our own ways – with all of the mistakes and successes that searching for them may entail.