Saturday, September 7, 2013

ToT: Polk on pot, again

On many important measures I think County Attorney Sheila Polk has been doing a difficult job well, and it's clear she's respected in the legal community statewide. By all accounts she is not angling for higher office, and her employees seem to like her. So when I see from her yet another redundant and ignorantly polemical diatribe against cannabis, it makes me a little sad.

It's not just a plant anymore.
A smart lawyer like Ms Polk knows how to build a cogent argument. You find solid facts, you reference them, you argue from strength. You firmly avoid anything in your argument that's even slightly dubious, because it would impeach your better evidence. That's exactly what these anti-herb rants are doing to Ms Polk's credibility, which might be considered impeccable save for  this recurring evidence that she can't think straight about at least one subject.

Up to the point where her term of choice switched from "dependence" to  "addiction" she might have skated. Americans clearly do have a dependency problem. But the object of dependence is not its cause, and any specific dependence can fall on the range from mildly annoying to self-destructive, whether it's cannabis, or chocolate, or god, or an abusive spouse, basketball or Big Macs. Can substance or religious or social dependence impact life outcomes? Perhaps, but it's the person doing the depending, not the thing, and dependence is more often a symptom than a cause.

"Addiction" as it's normally used means something quite different, a physiological attachment to a chemical. No one has ever shown that cannabis can have this effect, and no one is or has ever been "addicted to pot."

Even Ms Polk's math here is glaringly weak: "A loss of eight IQ points is titanic, dropping a person of average intelligence into the lowest third of the intelligence range." In IQ-test terms, 100 is average, making a range of 200. The "lowest third" is therefore under 67, not 92.

If you hope to persuade, particularly when you're a professional persuader, how can you let this sort of thing through? Reading this piece, no teenager of average intelligence or above will respond in any way other than outright dismissal of both the argument and the office.

Ms Polk has apparently missed the many studies showing that legalization does not increase cannabis consumption, so the primary point of the piece, to persuade Arizonans against legalization, is built on obvious illogic.

Then the astute reader has to step back and look at what Ms Polk is not talking about. She's quite lawyerly in saying "marijuana dependence in this country is twice as prevalent as any other illicit psychoactive drug." What that leaves out, of course, is the vastly more prevalent dependency and addiction to non-illicit, non-psychoactive drugs — caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and pharmaceuticals. The social problems directly related to alcohol in particular are so much greater than those of cannabis, even if you were to accept Ms Polk's assertions here, that they don't even chart on the same scale. Where is the Attorney's polemic on that?

The problem we really need to address is prisons bursting with harmless pot users, a massive waste of public resources and human potential.

The editors did allow her to slip in a true problem in the first graf, though: "... the number of adults struggling with addition is much higher." I see that every day in the checkout line, and I think Ms Polk should get on it, it's a real scourge.

Update, Sunday: Sen. McCain admits to no heartburn over legalization.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Steven, It is amazing to me how misunderstood marjuana is. I guess when public officials like Shiela Polk put out disinformation, it doesn't help. I appreciate your post, it needed to be said. Just so you know, I do not use marijuana, but I did inhale for a short time when I was in college. As an aside, I post anonymously to protect the company I work for, we do business with the city and the county and I don't want any of my comments to rub off on the company. Thank you, I look forward to all of your articles.