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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

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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

California Lawmakers Use Cryptocurrency To Buy Marijuana From Dispensary

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Two city councilmembers in California became the first elected officials to use cryptocurrency to purchase marijuana from a dispensary—at least publicly—on Tuesday.

Berkeley City Councilmember Ben Bartlett and Emeryville City Councilmember Dianne Martinez visited the Ohana Cannabis shop in Emeryville to demonstrate how the technology can reduce transaction fees and improve financial transparency.

The technology they used, called stablecoin, is a form of digital currency that has “price stable characteristics” linked to the U.S. dollar, meaning the sale and tax proceeds were settled in a way that’s consistent with cash.

Blockchain Advocacy Coalition, which is backing the technology, is advocating for legislation that would enable local jurisdictions in California to “determine and implement a method by which a licensee under [the state’s legal cannabis program] may remit any city or county cannabis license tax amounts due by payment using stablecoins.”

“By providing a cash-free method of cannabis tax collections, AB 953 can reduce costs and safety risks for cities and businesses,” Bartlett said in a press release. He added that the marijuana industry is “a 21st-century industry” that “deserves 21st-century legislation.”

“Tax collections leveraging stablecoin technology will help bring this new industry into the light.”

In a photo taken at the dispensary, Bartlett is holding up a pamphlet for VetCBD, a low-THC, high-CBD tincture that’s used to treat conditions such as anxiety and pain in pets. It’s not clear what Martinez purchased from the shop.

The bill to provide for alternative payment options at marijuana businesses is timely given that federal prohibition has made banks skittish of servicing such companies and results in many firms operating on a largely cash-only basis—an issue that has captured the attention of federal regulators and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Congress.

In California, legislation that would allow credit unions to accept cannabis business clients was pulled by its sponsor on Tuesday. Sen. Bob Herzberg (D) said he plans to reintroduce the bill next year.

“We are thrilled to build technology that solves real problems for customers, merchants, and politicians which will help usher in the next 100 million users of crypto,” said Dan Schatt, co-founder of Cred and the Universal Protocol Alliance, which developed the stablecoin technology, said.

“Not only does crypto result in significant cost reduction for consumers and merchants, but it also enables highly productive tax collection, transparency, and predictability for city and state governments,” he said.

Marijuana Industry Groups Urge Congressional Action Amid Vaping-Related Injuries

Photo courtesy of Twitter/Rigel Robinson.

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Seth Rogen Hosting Marijuana-Fueled Charity Carnival For Alzheimer’s Research

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Actor Seth Rogen will be the ringmaster at an adults-only charity carnival next month featuring comedians running game booths and marijuana aplenty.

Proceeds from the Hilarity for Charity County Fair will go toward research into combating Alzheimer’s disease, an issue close to Rogen.

“We here at Hilarity for Charity love to fight Alzheimer’s disease, but we also love rides, alcohol and weed!” Rogen, who launched his own cannabis company in March, said in a promotional video for the Los Angeles event. “We also love trying to be good people so that in the event there is an afterlife, we don’t go to hell.”

Comedians Adam Devine, Andrew Rannells, Ben Feldman, Casey Wilson, Ilana Glazer, Ike Barinholtz, Jeff Ross, Josh Gad, Kate Micucci, Nick Kroll, Regina Hall and Riki Lindhome are participating in the event. Skateboarder Tony Hawk is set to do a halfpipe performance. And rapper Anderson Paak will also put on a show.

Details of where cannabis fits into the program aren’t available on the event site. But Gad, one of the comedians participating, noted in a tweet that this is “the only fair I will attend this year other than my children’s book fair which has a lot less readily available weed.”

Rogen’s passion for fighting Alzheimer’s isn’t new. He’s become an outspoken activist for research into the disease after he witnessed his mother-in-law develop early onset Alzheimer’s.

In 2014, the actor opened his testimony before a Senate committee hearing on Alzheimer’s research by joking that he wasn’t there to discuss the topic some might expect: marijuana.

“First I should answer the question I assume many of you are asking, yes I’m aware this has nothing to do with the legalization of marijuana,” he said. “In fact, if you can believe it, this concerns something that I find even more important.”

Though he didn’t bring it up at the hearing, research has demonstrated that cannabis can help eliminate a toxic protein associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Last year, the federal government asked the public to submit additional scientific research into the potential therapeutic benefits of marijuana in the treatment of the condition.

Disneyland Busted Robert Downey Jr. For Smoking Marijuana, He Reveals While Accepting Disney Award

Photo courtesy of Twitter/Seth Rogen.

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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Disneyland Busted Robert Downey Jr. For Smoking Marijuana, He Reveals While Accepting Disney Award

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Robert Downey Jr. said he was once detained at Disneyland after getting caught smoking marijuana on a gondola ride.

The Iron Man and Avengers actor shared the anecdote while being honored at the Disney Legends award show on Friday, describing his first trip to the California park.

“Here’s a bit of trivia for you. The very first time I went to Disneyland, I was transported to another place—within moments of being arrested,” Downey said, drawing laughs. “I was brought to a surprisingly friendly processing center, given a stern warning, and returned to, if memory serves, one very disappointed group chaperone.”

“I’ve been sitting on that shame for a while and I‘m just going to release it here tonight,” he said. “I would like to make amends to whomever had to detain me for smoking pot in a gondola without a license.”

“And I don’t wanna further confuse the issue by insinuating that pot smoking licenses for the gondola are in any way obtainable or for any of the other park attractions,” Downey added.

“Maybe for the Imagineers, but that’s their own business,” he joked, referencing Disney’s research and development team.

It’s not clear when Downey was detained in the so-called “Happiest Place On Earth,” but he’s previously talked about starting to use cannabis at an early age.

The actor isn’t the only high profile figure to get booted from Disneyland over smoking on the gondola ride.

Former President Barack Obama said last year that the same thing happened to him and some friends during college. He said during a speech at a political rally that they were smoking cigarettes on the gondolas, but also seemed to wink, raising questions about exactly what sort of plant material he and his friends were inhaling at the time.

In any case, Downey is right that there are no gondola marijuana smoking licenses available, even in California where cannabis is legal. In fact, Disney specifies on its park rules site that “[s]moking marijuana or any other illegal substances is not permitted at any time.”

There are designated cigarette smoking areas, however, which the former president presumably could have taken advantage of, if he really was simply imbibing tobacco.

Dave Chappelle Ate Magic Mushrooms Gifted By A Stranger, Joe Rogan Says

Photo courtesy of YouTube/Spokesmayne.

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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