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‘Outliers’ Author Malcolm Gladwell Is Himself An Outlier On Marijuana Legalization

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The author of the non-fiction classic “Outliers” is a bit of an outlier himself, at least when it comes to his opposition to marijuana legalization.

While 66 percent of Americans favor legalization, Malcolm Gladwell said he’s against the increasingly popular policy in a new interview, claiming that today’s marijuana is a “completely different drug” compared to cannabis from decades ago and that the emerging legal industry is a “a whole new scary thing.”

The best-selling author, who said he’s been researching cannabis in an interview aired by Detroit NPR affiliate WDET on Monday, offered a few reasons he’s opposed to legalization—some of which are factually dubious. His main issue concerns the rising potency of marijuana and its potential health impacts.

“To my mind, the important issue is not the economic one, it is the psychological and medical one,” he said. “Research seems pretty clear that the kind of marijuana that’s being sold now, which has levels of THC that are seven or eight times higher than historically, has some quite serious side effects, not all of which we understand.”

“The idea of having the general public consume what is an extraordinarily powerful drug that we don’t fully understand is quite terrifying to my mind.”

To be sure, the average concentration of THC in cannabis has been on the rise over the last few decades—largely the product of market competition and genetic cross-breeding, a trend worth nothing that was well underway prior to state legalization. And there are studies linking frequent use of high potency cannabis to adverse psychiatric events.

But the notion that marijuana with, say, 20 percent THC concentrations “bears zero relationship to the marijuana that has been used historically in the United States” and is therefore a “completely different drug” doesn’t hold water.

“So for me to say that marijuana has THC concentrations of 20 percent—for me to say that I have no interest in that being legalization has nothing in common with the movement to ban it 50 years or 100 years ago when the THC levels might have been less than one percent,” Gladwell argued, responding to a question about the racist origins of cannabis prohibition.

Gladwell declined to note that potency testing has been historically flawed, especially when it comes to illicit marijuana seized and analyzed by the federal government. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) used gas chromatography to test potency as recently as 2008, for example, and experts argue that the method skews results because it heats up the sample, which “alters the chemical profile, including breaking down the THC molecule,” The Atlantic reported.

What’s more, NIDA has historically failed to account for variables such as the length of storage, testing samples that have been stored for anywhere for up to a few years, which can also influence potency results.

All that is to say that Gladwell’s thesis about a dramatic spike in potency—from less than one percent THC 50 years ago to 20+ percent today—is at the very least incomplete.

“Normally I’m the biggest person to say history should be a guide. In this case, like, it’s a different story because this is a whole new scary thing. And by the way, in many of the ways people use marijuana now, the THC levels are even higher than 20 percent. I’m sorry, this is just crazy. It’s totally crazy.”

Besides potency concerns, the author of non-fiction favorites like “The Tipping Point” also made a “both sides” argument about the gateway drug effect, claiming there’s evidence that marijuana leads to opioid use as well as evidence of “the opposite.”

In reality, research has overwhelmingly rejected the idea that marijuana is a gateway drug. And studies are coming out—seemingly week after week—indicating that legal cannabis access is associated with reduced opioid overdose rates.

Gladwell also claimed that the jury is still out on whether cannabis consumption is associated with increased criminal activity.

When it comes to alternatives to legalization, Gladwell aligned himself in the same camp as prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, calling decriminalization a “very good idea” while legalization is “an unproven idea.”

“We shouldn’t be locking people up, but we should not be racing to make this available,” he said.

Michelle Obama Talks Smoking Marijuana In New Memoir

Photo courtesy of Pop!Tech.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Culture

How Marijuana Ruined Ronald Reagan’s Valentine’s Day

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It was 38 years ago that marijuana soured an otherwise lovely Valentine’s Day for President Ronald Reagan.

What started as a serene evening—spent swapping gifts and kisses with his wife, Nancy—quickly devolved into a nightmare when the two settled in to watch the comedy film “9 to 5” starring Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton.

The movie was “funny,” Reagan wrote in a diary entry on February 14, 1981. But “one scene made me mad,” he steamed.

“A truly funny scene if the 3 gals had played getting drunk but no they had to get stoned on pot,” the Gipper, clearly more of a sipper than a toker, wrote.

“It was an endorsement of Pot smoking for any young person who sees the picture.”

lily tomlin Nine to Five GIF

Reagan had made his views on cannabis clear earlier, during his 1980 campaign, when he said marijuana was “probably the most dangerous drug in the United States.”

His wife later took up that torch and led the “Just Say No” campaign, which discouraged young people from experimenting with drugs by promoting sensationalized depictions of their effects.

And while that Valentine’s Day in 1981 was spoiled by the giggling trio of ladies smoking Maui Wowie in “9 to 5,” the Reagans went on to enjoy many more holidays together in drug-free matrimony.

Maury Povich Smoked A Marijuana Strain Named After His Wife, Journalist Connie Chung

Photo courtesy of the U.S. National Archives.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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Maury Povich Smoked A Marijuana Strain Named After His Wife, Journalist Connie Chung

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Maury Povich, host of one of America’s most popular and longest-running daytime TV talk shows, said on Thursday that he doesn’t regularly roll blunts at home, but he has smoked a marijuana strain named after his wife, the journalist Connie Chung.

Povich, in an appearance on the radio program Sway’s Universe, said that his spouse first heard about the Chung-branded cannabis variety from comedian Lewis Black, who was “doing a story on various marijuana as they became legal, I think, in the state of Washington.”

“Lewis called up my wife and said, ‘Connie, do you know that there is a strain of grass called the Connie Chung?'” Povich recounted. “You know we had to try that.”

So the couple traveled to Washington and indulged for themselves.

“It’s so legal, it’s like nothing.”

Also in the radio interview, Povich implied that smoking cannabis as a substitute makes it easier to smoke fewer cigarettes, which he eventually quit. And he talked about how he knew “a lot of athletes over the years” who used cannabis medicinally, and questioned why sports leagues don’t allow players to consume marijuana.

Chung herself got a kick out of her namesake strain and even gifted a sample of it to Andy Cohen on an episode of his Watch What Happens Live show last year.

“I’m very easy to grow, I require less attention and care, and I give good yield,” Chung said. “I’m perfect for daytime use when facing deadlines, need to be alert and imaginative.”

Mike Tyson And Joe Rogan Swap Stories About Psychedelics And Marijuana

Photo courtesy of Sway’s Universe.

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Mike Tyson And Joe Rogan Swap Stories About Psychedelics And Marijuana

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Former boxer Mike Tyson had a mind-blowing discussion with Joe Rogan about tripping on psychedelics and smoking marijuana on Thursday.

“I like who I am when I smoke. You know what I mean?” Tyson said in an appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. “Without weed I don’t like who I am sometimes. That’s just real.”

Rogan agreed.

“It makes me nicer,” he said. “It calms me down.”

Check out the video of Mike Tyson and Joe Rogan discussing drugs below:

Beyond cannabis, the two discussed using 5-MeO-DMT, a tryptamine that is found in the venom of a certain toad species, among other places in nature.

“I smoked this medicine—drug—whatever you want to call it, and I’ve never been the same,” Tyson said. “I look at life differently. I look at people differently.”

“The experience I can’t even express, really. Almost like dying and being reborn.”

Rogan said he had similar experiences with the drug.

“That’s what it felt like to me, too,” he said. “You stop existing.”

“It’s inconceivable,” Tyson added. “I just don’t have the words to explain it.”

Tyson, who is now an entrepreneur in the cannabis industry and has his own marijuana-focused podcast, said he’s been smoking weed since he was 10 years old.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard Talks Marijuana And Psychedelics With Joe Rogan

Photo courtesy of Joe Rogan Experience.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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