A claim that long term cannabis use will turn you into a loser is nothing more than pseudoscience propaganda pumped full of numerous flawed premises and methods.
The results of a 2016 New Zealand study that measured several factors in the life of regular marijuana users over the past four years have led to a claim that, “Heavy, persistent pot use linked to economic, social problems at midlife.” It also concludes that marijuana use is potentially as devastating as alcohol in the lives of individuals, yet the cost to society remains lower only because it is illegal and thus less readily available and ‘abused’.
The study itself is ridden with hidden assumptions, faulty premises, philosophical dogma and questionable methodology. Let’s examine some of the claims and see where they went wrong.
“Our study found that regular cannabis users experienced downward social mobility and more financial problems such as troubles with debt and cash flow than those who did not report such persistent use.”
The first error here is to equate economic mobility with social mobility. Relatively poor people can enjoy a great amount of social wealth through a number of available and affordable channels. The social mobility in a free nation, unlike a caste system or other politically and economically enforced social structure, is not dependent on economic mobility. Although a persistent philosophy of materialistic consumerism in modern societies does mean we tend to view people based on the corresponding status symbols of economic mobility they possess, that is subjective experience, and not the objective facts which the empirical method is meant to address.
The fact that many marijuana users may have just adopted value systems that eschew the exceptionalism of economic identity could be a factor in the studies results. When one becomes aware that there is potentially more to life than just having a large, well-stocked cage with maximum ornamentation, the ambition to participate mindlessly in the rat race of consumerist materialism declines not because of some flaw, but because the individual has overcome a persistent cultural meme that reduces humankind to mere economic statistics. And this is what many marijuana users come to realize, that their own subjective experience of life is far more important than some arbitrary symbols denoting objective measurements that cannot be directly experienced. Perhaps they have wandered off into personally pleasing endeavors that offer little cash reward, yet much existential satisfaction. Whatever the reason, the assumptions underlying the conclusions reveal more about those conducting the study than it did of the participants.
A problematic aspect of the methodology is that, over a four year time, economic conditions in the environment can change drastically. No economy is ever totally stable and so no study can ever predict stable factors from which to set experimental controls for economic flux. So many factors are involved in the economic lives of people and societies that even the most brilliant economists cannot fully understand all of the nuanced interactions. I have little faith that those conducting this study possess economic insights unavailable to the greatest economic analysts historical and present. Controlling for economic factors which led to their conclusions was simply not a realistic possibility and belies either naive ignorance, dogmatic assumptions or a decidedly questionable agenda.
One glaring omission is the cost of procuring marijuana, which due to the prohibition policies this study claims it does not intend to support, is an economic burden in and of itself. What one can grow in their own yard has to be purchased through long supply chains at a heavily inflated cost. This creates an economic stress of it’s own, especially as the availability of ‘shwag’ has decreased giving way to designer marijuana strains that are three times the cost. That trend has increased during the time period of this study, meaning the financial burden of black market weed would have been a factor here. However, this was not even considered in the conclusions.
Decriminalizing marijuana means a whole new vibrant industry of opportunities, where formerly disenfranchised tokers can do something enjoyable and meaningful while increasing their economic mobility. It is not marijuana that is limiting peoples lives, but stigmatizing ideologies and legal restrictions. They also prevent an understanding that helps us reach out in productive ways to those anomalies who are adversely affected by it’s use.
“Regular long-term users also had more antisocial behaviors at work, such as stealing money or lying to get a job.”
The normative behaviors from which the deviancy is being determined carry very specific connotations about the expectations of the same materialist consumer culture I discussed above. Behaviors considered anti-social may just be a lack of enthusiasm, ambition or loyalty to a lifetime of wage slavery. We are expected to act like smiling obedient automatons in the workplace, but once you have come to see the meaninglessness of a lifetime of compulsive labor, it is hard to play that part. Marijuana users are often susceptible to a shift in conscious perceptions that devalues a culturally persistent ideology that we should be happy about all and any work. Especially since so much modern labor is repetitive and personally unfulfilling. From a more rational viewpoint, the bobble-headed prole with their grin culturally pasted from ear to ear seems just as unnerving as what mainstream society calls anti-social. Compulsively and mindlessly social may not lead to dissonance with social norms, but they do lead to a dissonance in the individuals that must constantly struggle to accept the shallow prepackaged lives they have settled for.
The theft aspect does appear disturbing, but once again, it is impossible to really illustrate anything more than a loose correlation between long term herbage and workplace stealing. No direct cause could ever be implied, because too many other factors contribute to those kind of decisions. Making scientific conclusions based on such frivolous correlations is irresponsible. It is far closer to demographics and marketing than it is to actual science, which makes me wonder what it is this study is really trying to sell. They claim not to be against legalizing marijuana, but their conclusions play right into the fear-based narratives of the political forces that wish to keep it illegal. And those conclusions are not even very scientifically sound.
If you smoke weed and have a job, there is a good chance you had to lie to get there. Workplace drug testing not only necessitates lying, it creates an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust from the very beginning which is bound to precipitate a relationship of deceit between employers and employees. Once again, I did not see any control in place for testing honesty differentials between those who worked in jobs where drug tests were required and those that didn’t. The conclusions seem only concerned with skewering data to fit the biases of those involved in the research or its funding.
“…and experienced more relationship problems, such as intimate partner violence and controlling abuse.”
I need not belabor the point about correlation and causation, or the inability to methodologically account for numerous complex factors. While there may be overlap between groups of individuals who are prone to abusive domestic behavior, there is no empirical rationale for determining causation. It might be more lucid to note that it is likely that disenfranchised people in general are more likely to smoke pot and to commit domestic violence, but this in no way implies that the one leads to the other.
What I believe is happening here is the use of an emotionally charged issue being used to make logically fallacious appeals to the public, and create ever more layers of fear and control. There are certain accusations in our society that suspend skepticism, and domestic abuse is one of them. People are more likely to believe the worst things about others the more awful the accusations, and become less likely to verify the veracity of those claims on their own. Appealing to the public’s emotional state retards critical thinking and is a common tool of propagandists throughout place and time.
It is not the role of science to demonize or construct moral agendas, yet this study is nothing but a deceitful exercise in doing just that. It defies the principles and spirit of the scientific method in order to bolster support for ideological puritanism and authoritarian excess and overreach. It is accusatory and insulting, much like every historical misuse of science has been, from racial superiority to eugenics. Intelligent people will dismiss such farces out of hand, but the dangerous fanatics of social conservativism will latch on to this propaganda and use it as ammunition in their arsenal of fearmongering tactics to achieve political aims that degrade our humanity and chain us to the obsolete puritanism of prohibition.
Put another way, the conclusions of this study are little more than witch-huntin’ words.