The Truth about Marijuana
Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence by Alex Berenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
For every book there is an equal and opposite book. I read Smoke Signals by Martin Lee in preparation for my own small coauthored book, Can I Smoke Pot? Marijuana in Light of Scripture (Cruciform, 2016). I wish Berenson’s excellent book, Tell Your Children: The Truth about Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence, had been available then. It was, like Smoke Signals, journalistic in tone and therefore accessible to a non-specialist like me. But what can I say? Unlike Smoke Signals, I found Tell Your Children persuasive; it didn’t feel like a whitewash—or rather, a blackwash. Smoke Signals felt like a thinly veiled cheerleading session for marijuana. It just didn’t bear the signs of honesty, whose major evidence is often acknowledging that your opponents have some good points. Smoke Signals, as I recall, was pretty relentless in refusing to acknowledge this. Instead it called prohibitionists venal or crazy. Berenson, by contrast, was able to acknowledge what benefits CBD might have while still citing study after study around the world that linked THC to psychosis and therefore violence.
Every truth in this world is contested. Every single one. And rigorous empirical methods of determining truth are both 1) rarely absolutely conclusive, because the exact relationship between cause and effect is extremely difficult to untangle in this complex world and yet 2) the best we have. Nonetheless, 3) people widely disbelieve the best empirically established truths for no better reason than that they run counter to their desires. I think the difficulty of discovering some truths ought not blind us to the preponderance of evidence. Anecdotally—which is the first step of empiricism, and was the only step available before the scientific revolution—marijuana produces potheads, dropouts, deadbeats. Empirically, Berenson shows that in many people marijuana does something worse. You can’t know whether marijuana will be a summer fling for you or a lifelong life-sap or an inducement to psychotic and even murderously violent episodes. Chances are that if your life and support network are vibrant, dabbling in marijuana won’t hurt you too badly. But you can’t know even that. And, biblically speaking, dabbling will still almost certainly make you high—and that’s sin. You’re not supposed to lose control of yourself through anything akin to drunkenness (1 Cor 6:12).
So the upshot of Berenson’s book is, on the individual level: don’t even dabble. Tell your kids not to dabble. Marijuana isn’t a harmless drug.
And on a societal level: don’t let the relentless drumbeat of the libertarians cow us all into doing what my own home state has done. For the good of others, especially the weak, we’ve got to keep saying no as a society to legalized recreational marijuana.
If this book had been available in 2015 was I was writing Can I Smoke Pot?, would that book have been different? Yes and no. The basic Creation-Fall-Redemption argument is one I stand by. We have to establish the good in marijuana (whether as rope or as an anti-emetic for chemo patients) before we can fairly name the misuses—and proceed to discover what further benefits it might contain. But I think I would have added in even more paragraphs about potential downsides of the recreational use of marijuana (I and my coauthor already mentioned a number of them), and I would have pointed readers to this book for further study.