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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.

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Lots Of Politicians And Companies Are Tweeting About Marijuana On 4/20

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It’s 4/20 again, and that means another slew of tweets from politicians and mainstream brands looking to use the marijuana holiday as a hook to get their message out.

Here’s a roundup of some of the best, funniest, most important or otherwise notable cannabis-related tweets of the day…

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a presidential candidate:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), a presidential candidate:

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a presidential candidate:

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a presidential candidate:

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), a presidential candidate:

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), a presidential candidate:

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), a presidential candidate:

Former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK), a presidential candidate:

Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee (D), a presidential candidate:

Former San Antonio, Texas Mayor Julián Castro (D), a presidential candidate:

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang:

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY):

House Committee on Small Business:

Congressional Black Caucus:

Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV):

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR):

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN):

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA):

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA):

Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL):

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN):

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM):

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D):

Los Angeles, California City Council President Herb Wesson (D):

Cook County, Illinois State’s Attorney Kim Foxx (D):

The American Civil Liberties Union:

Ben & Jerry’s:

Denny’s:

Hidden Valley Ranch:

Carl’s Jr.:

Boston Market:

George Washington’s Mount Vernon:

Bill Maher:

Miley Cyrus:

311:

The Onion:

Ben & Jerry’s Stands Out From Companies Just Trying To Make Money From 4/20

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Ben & Jerry’s Stands Out From Companies Just Trying To Make Money From 4/20

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Ben & Jerry’s wants to remind people this 4/20 that hundreds of thousands of people are still getting arrested for non-violent marijuana offenses.

As a growing number of companies compete to win over consumers with weed-themed promotions and social media gimmicks surrounding the cannabis holiday, the ice cream giant is pointing out ongoing racial disparities in marijuana enforcement—including in states that have legalized it.

“Happy 4/20, everyone! Now that pot is legal in 33 states and counting, it’s a pretty heady moment for stoner culture. Fans of cannabis can celebrate 4/20 openly and in style in more places than ever before,” they company wrote in a blog post on Friday. “And even if you’re not in a state that legalized pot, there’s a still a pretty good chance that the cops won’t hassle you as you spend 4/20 doing your thing.”

“If you’re a white person.”

The blog goes into detail about racial disparities in the legal industry, disproportionate arrest rates in states like Colorado and also notes that while Republican former House Speaker John Boehner’s stance on cannabis has evolved—from prohibitionist to marijuana firm board member—it also reflects a problematic willingness to profit off the legal industry without recognizing the criminal justice reform work that’s still to be done.

Increased support for cannabis reform, including from former opponents, is “good news,” the company wrote. “What’s troubling is that the criminal justice system hasn’t kept up with the culture.”

Ben & Jerry’s is calling on Congress to expunge the records of individuals with prior marijuana convictions and pardon anyone “whose only crime was possession of cannabis.” The company is also applauding city officials who’ve proactively expunged marijuana records and prosecutors who’ve announced that their offices would no longer be pursing low-level cannabis crimes.

“Want to feel really really good this 4/20? Then let’s make sure that legalization benefits all of us. That’ll turn 4/20 into a day that we all can celebrate.”

To that end, the company is teaming up with San Jose marijuana dispensary Caliva, which is donating 4.20 percent of profits from 4/20 sales to support Code for America’s effort to automatically expunge past cannabis convictions.

They’re also linking to a petition that people can sign to show their support for comprehensive marijuana reform and, to sweeten the deal, they’re offering a a free pint of their “Half Baked” ice cream blend to anyone who orders a cannabis delivery from Caliva.

“At this point where a company can’t just invoke 4/20 for laughs or give lip service to social justice, it’s great to see a campaign use the holiday to call attention to concrete solutions around ‘cannabis justice,'” Shaleen Title, who holds the social justice seat on the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, told Marijuana Moment.

Meanwhile, other mainstream brands are launching 4/20-themed campaigns of their own—most of which don’t address the historical harms of prohibition enforcement.

Fast food chain Carl’s Jr., for example, is hoping to turn out the 4/20 crowd in Denver by selling a burger with CBD-infused sauce on the marijuana holiday. The burger will cost $4.20 and all of the proceeds will go to…the company.

While that move caught plenty of media headlines—in part because the Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly said that adding CBD to the food supply remains prohibited—Carl’s Jr. is far from alone in its overt campaign to leverage the holiday without addressing the inherent privilege it represents.

Pizza Hut is offering a Triple Chocolate Brownie for $4.20 on Saturday.

Boston Market is offering a promotion surrounding…pot pies.

Via bostonmarket.com.

“It is unfortunate to see the white-washing and commercialization of 4/20 by corporate interests with no stake in the fight for marijuana justice,” Erik Altieri, executive director of NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “While the news will undoubtedly focus on light hearted celebrations, it is imperative we remember that every year over 600,000 Americans are still arrested for simple marijuana possession, those arrested are overwhelmingly people of color and other marginalized communities.”

“While there is still much to celebrate in regards to the progress we have made, we still have a long way to go to right the wrongs of prohibition,” Altieri said. “Instead of focusing on a quick way to get rich, marijuana-related businesses should follow Ben and Jerry’s lead and they must take seriously their social obligation to advance social justice and civil liberties as members of the nascent cannabis industry.”

New York-based Fresh&Co rolled out a line of marijuana-themed offerings like “half-baked salad.”

GrubHub analyzed its own sales data to show what food items were the most popular on 4/20 before and sent out an email blast on the findings.

“Let us be blunt. The ultimate stoner holiday is around the corner, and if there’s one thing Grubhub knows, it’s that one crucial ingredient of a successful 4/20 is food,” GrubHub wrote. “The munchies are a natural side effect of smoking marijuana, so why not indulge on the hungriest day of the year?”

Ridesharing service Lyft—in a promotion that at least advances a harm reduction message—announced that it is offering a $4.20 credit for a single ride in Colorado and various select cities throughout the U.S. and Canada where marijuana is legal—similar to what it did last year.

“Kick back and enjoy 4/20 with the help of Lyft and our designated drivers,” the company wrote. “We’ve partnered with some great folks to help you get to the park, to the store, and back to the couch — easier than ever.”

Increasingly, advocates and some lawmakers are growing frustrated by the country’s lighthearted, or profit-driven, attitude toward cannabis reform. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) no longer wants people to talk to him about legalization without making restorative justice for those harmed by prohibition a key part of the conversation.

Congressional Democrats also held a panel at a recent policy retreat that centered on social equity in the cannabis industry. That marijuana should be legal was regarded as a given, but more to the point, a legal system should lift up those who’ve been disproportionately targeted by the drug war.

Legalization advocate and rapper Killer Mike, whose birthday happens to coincide with the cannabis holiday, said in a press release on Friday that 4/20 should remind people of the need to decriminalize cannabis.

“While there has been progress, we should go one step further and ensure that the very people (African Americans) who have been profiled and punished due to the War on Drugs, have an opportunity to participate in the commercialization of marijuana,” he said. “It is not enough to decriminalize weed, promote its sale in local economies and not think creatively about how Black people can benefit from the very thing that has directly impacted their lives.”

Congressional Democrats Compete In Marijuana-Themed Trivia Game

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Congressional Democrats Compete In Marijuana-Themed Trivia Game

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Democratic members of Congress scored points for correctly answering questions about marijuana during a trivia game at a retreat they participated in last week.

The cannabis quiz was part of a bond-building exercise designed to unite the party around shared legislative goals. The category in question was reportedly titled the “Green New Deal,” a play off climate change legislation that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is championing. But these questions concerned a different kind of green matter.

The marijuana queries weren’t especially policy-oriented, though, according to one reporter who got information about how things went down. Instead of questions about various cannabis bills that have been introduced in the 116th Congress, they tested lawmakers’ cultural understanding of the plant and how it is consumed.

Trivia finalists Ocasio-Cortez and Reps. Katie Hill (D-CA) and Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) made it into the cannabis round, according to Politico’s Heather Caygle. The two congresswomen correctly identified “sativa” as the answer to an open-ended question about variants of marijuana.

A Democratic staffer told Marijuana Moment that the question was phrased: “there are two main types of marijuana: indica and ______.”

But Gallego was ultimately victorious, answering a question about a type of device that uses water or air pressure to quickly draw smoke. Caygle wrote that the question was about a “gravity bomb,” but clearly she meant gravity bong.

The trivia category is the latest in a series of signals that marijuana is a popular topic among congressional Democrats. At the same time, some members like Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) have emphasized that the issue isn’t a laughing matter and should be discussed seriously.

But reform advocates can nonetheless rest assured that cannabis is fresh on the minds of Democratic members as they take their two-week recess—and that at least some of them know their marijuana products.

Joe Biden Applauds Anti-Marijuana Speech At Opioid Forum

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