Cannabis? Can'tabis?

Doc's note: Today, I'm featuring an essay from a special guest – a name many of you are familiar with...

Tom Bodett has been the national brand spokesman for Motel 6 since 1986. He's also an author and broadcast personality heard regularly on NPR's satirical weekend news quiz Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me.

In a recent issue of American Consequences, Tom explains why it's so hard to relax about pot and why the dialogue surrounding pot is finally changing.

While I could have, at one time, credibly written The Popular Pharmacology of America: 1970 – 1990, I have not indulged in any of it for going on 30 years. The only mood-altering substance I've allowed in my life in the intervening decades is children, and they have not improved it.

Even when I was what was politely called "experimenting" with drugs, I didn't like weed. My carefully transcribed lab notes of those experiments indicate, "Cannabis sativa when repeatedly inhaled tends to aggravate feelings of hunger, promote cognitive difficulties, and produce an overall soporific effect."

At least that's what I would have written were any of us writing anything other than derivative poetry inspired by Jim Morrison. Pot, in other words, made me stupid, tired, and hungry. Since those traits perfectly describe my natural resting state, marijuana never produced in me a high so much as a feeling of way too much me.

I preferred the substances that inspired me to believe there could never be enough of me... That the room wanted to hear more, girls wanted to see more, and other men could not handle more.

That substance was alcohol, of course, which is at the center of more shame, regret, illness, decadence, death, and suffering in the world than black-market plutonium. And it is legal for adults to buy in vast quantities in all 50 states and most of the world beyond.

It is not, however, legal to buy and sell marijuana anywhere in the United States, though 10 states and the District of Columbia now say it is, and another 24 allow it for medical purposes and/or have decriminalized recreational use. The fact that these state laws and existing federal law disagree is at the heart of a deep, national debate no one seems to be having.

Images of jack-booted DEA agents repelling from black helicopters to bust unsuspecting citizens in pot-legal states have not yet appeared on our screens, but if you smoke enough weed, it is widely known you will begin to think you see them.

I live in Vermont, where laws governing marijuana lagged behind other states. It's hard to understand why a true-blue state like ours would not have been out in front of this issue. My personal opinion is that marijuana legalization provoked a kind of political paralyses in a state that has never met a tax it couldn't support or a business that it could.

Legal weed means, on the one hand, a taxable popular commodity that will generate millions of dollars to support progressive causes in the state. On the other hand, it will create a new and lucrative industry that will be filling empty storefronts, cultivating now-barren fields and greenhouses, and making money for a lot of enterprising entrepreneurs. The Vermont Agency for the Preservation of Empty Storefronts and Barren Fields (not its real name) is not entirely comfortable with the idea of people making money willy-nilly, no matter how much it could tax them.

And everyday Vermonters are divided on the issue. Many fear the message it might send to young people, and the lack of a testing criterion for impairment while driving. The rest have been finding sitters and driving across the line to Massachusetts to buy highly taxed, killer, legal weed that is making people rich less than 20 miles from where I sit.

That said, in 2018, Gov. Phil Scott did sign into law a bill that substantially decriminalized recreational marijuana use. Medical marijuana use has been legal in Vermont for several years. And quite recently, the state senate has finally passed a bill that outlines the regulations and licensing requirements of marijuana production and sales and proscribes a tax of 10% on retail sales. It also changes "marijuana" to "cannabis" in state statutes and creates a new independent commission to oversee the whole thing.

These last two items, I believe, were the fault of a committee chair who allowed a meeting to run past the point of productivity. I'm sure she regrets not passing around granola snacks before the Senator from Somewhere County said, "Do we really want to be saying 'marijuana'?" And, "Aren't we missing an opportunity to fund a new agency to govern this rather than realize the full benefit of the tax revenue?"

To its credit, Vermont is the first state to legalize marijuana through the legislative process rather than through popular ballot initiative. What this says about Vermont is we have a representative government not afraid to go on record with the difficult issues. Or, too many Vermont voters were stoned in Massachusetts to round up the signatures for a ballot proposition.

I am agnostic on the issue. I have not noticed much change in the world around me as mariju... um... cannabis emerged from the shadows. I might notice people becoming gradually more stupid and more tired, but I don't mind because I feel perkier by comparison at a time in my life when that helps.

I have plenty of friends who indulge. Many have long had medical marijuana cards for diseases they may or may not have. All have informed me that the pot today is not the pot of my youth. Unless they are buying baggies of oregano from slick upperclassmen, I'm sure that's true. In fact, they say the weed today has a variety of different highs to choose from. You can get a "thoughtful and calm" variety... Or maybe an "energetic and focused" buzz. I'm sure "stupid and tired" is still available, but I'm not really curious about it.

I don't judge people's need for an "emotional support" high. And their marijuana use has never been a danger or aggravation to me in the way a drinker's can be. Having someone lose their train of thought and drift back into the party is preferable to the beer-soaked guy who won't stop talking about the breed of his dog you made the mistake of asking about. And the worst domestic abuse to come from a pothead might be eating the last Oreo and then starting in on the kids' Lucky Charms. As for driving while stoned – I'll take indecision and eternal left blinkers over tailgating (and worse) every time.

When my wife went through cancer treatment some years back, her oncologist suggested she try marijuana for the nausea. She'd never smoked pot before in her life and runs with a clean, book-group-oriented, helicopter-mom kind of crowd. I was surprised when we sent the word out for weed that all the moms who had been coming by with casseroles and sympathy were suddenly showing up at the kitchen door with well-thumbed Altoids boxes spilling moist bud.

Someone brought her a little water pipe to soothe the bite and hide the smell. She snuck off to the spare room to try it while I kept the kids occupied elsewhere. After a while I went up to check on her. She had on a bag-of-chips smile and said, "I can't tell if I'm high or not."

I kissed her forehead and put Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon on her iPod. "You're going to be just fine," I said.

Of course, cannabis is about more than getting high these days. It's been proven to help with things like low appetite (duh), nausea (as in my wife's case), glaucoma, nerve pain, chronic pain, tremors from Parkinson's disease, and PTSD in combat veterans. It would take a cruel scold indeed to deny access to a drug so kind as that.

And then there are all these CBD products lining shelves from pot dispensaries to food co-ops. CBD is cannabidiol, extracted from the flowers and buds of hemp plants. It does not get you high because the THC, which does, has been removed.

CBD oils, drops, and balms are thought to help with a wide spectrum of problems from epileptic seizures to anxiety. It is reported to have particular success as a treatment for muscle soreness, arthritis, and other inflammatory ailments. As with almost anything you find in your natural foods store's health department, there hasn't been much study to support the claims.

I did try some CBD cream on my aching arthritic finger joints, and it seems to work. I've been using it whenever my arthritis flares up from the weather or too much time in the woodshop. It continues to help, and I'm getting used to smelling like someone spilled their bong water on me.

The new panacea (Latin for "snake oil"), CBD has a cult following of supporters you don't want to argue with. The jar for my arthritis actually says "Nature's Panacea" on it. How does it work? Magic. And I must repeat – It is working for me. But over the years, so had sugar abstinence, a low-fat diet, veganism, arnica, witch hazel, tiger balm, turmeric, and Bengay... Until they didn't.

You will not find CBD in any search history of mine. (Placebo is a powerful drug.) If you know anything damning about CBD oil, I'd appreciate you keeping it to yourself.

Now that I've broached the subject of magical thinking, it's time to talk about the children. No serious person would advocate kids smoking weed. Even if there weren't hard evidence that it has a negative effect on brain development into a person's 20s, kids don't need another reality-distorting force in their lives. That's what social media is for.

At the same time, I don't believe pot is the gateway drug so many opponents of legal cannabis claim it is. The drug itself is not very addictive, or for that matter, universally inviting. What leads young people to further substance abuse and bad behavior isn't the pot... It's the transaction that got them the pot – handing cash to the creepy kid with the backpack.

For a lot of young people, buying weed is their first contact with an actual criminal. They learn criminals can be nice, and they'll sell them things they want. And there are no IDs required, or rewards programs, or even receipts. What is learned here is more the problem than what is bought here. Put it in stores where their friend's older brother can buy it for them, just like the beer and peppermint schnapps they threw up last weekend. Let the creepy kid with the backpack get a real job at Burger King.

The worst that can happen is kids who might never have smoked pot will try it. Maybe, like me, they won't like it and, unlike me, go happily and soberly through their lives. Or, they do like it, and they start reading fantasy novels and name their first dogs after Tolkien characters and grow up and have kids of their own and put the bud away in an Altoids box until a friend starts chemo and needs some help... It could be worse.

There are not very many things you could subject to the scrutiny marijuana has endured for decades that would come out the other side looking like a great idea. What if chocolate croissants were illegal but easily acquired on the black market, and there was a movement to take them mainstream? But the fat! The carbs! The obesity epidemic! They're French! Is this what you want your children eating?

Apply this to chainsaws, snow machines, handyman jacks, guns, and bacon. None of these things would make it through the What About the Children gauntlet of today. Alcohol was famously made illegal for a stretch of time in this country. The glamour of drinking increased under Prohibition while creating a new class of wealthy criminals because honest business people were cut from the deal. I'd rather see the next cannabis tycoons on the cover of Forbes than being frog-walked like El Chapo from a federal courthouse trailing a wake of corpses and ruined lives.

In truth, I think the resistance to legal weed is all cultural surface tension, not politics. When aging progressives think about pot, too many of them are reminded of their idiotic youths – listening to Yes, campaigning for McGovern. That stupid dog, Bilbo.

When conservatives think about it, they are also reminded of the progressives' idiotic youths and how insufferable they were. Neither side wants to go there again.

It's a young person's world. Let them make the most of it. Besides, the stupider they act, the smarter I'll feel.


Tom Bodett

Editor's note: Last week, we held our first-ever Cannabis Investing Event. We detailed why it's finally the right moment to invest in cannabis, how cannabis is going mainstream, and what you should do with your money right now. Click here to learn more.