Richard Cohen explains to Justin Bieber that pot is not cool

Old crank scolds famous young person for indulgence old crank once enjoyed

Topics: Richard Cohen, Justin Bieber, marijuana, drug war, Drugs, Media Criticism, Washington Post, , , ,

Richard Cohen explains to Justin Bieber that pot is not coolRichard Cohen (Credit: CNN)

Richard Cohen has finally — finally! — weighed in on Justin Bieber. Where to start with this amazing piece of commentary? There is the fact that the blog post, as originally published, misspelled Justin Bieber’s name three times. There is the fact that the post repeatedly cites a New York Review of Books article that does not make the argument that Cohen claims it makes. There is the fact that Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen ends the post by telling international pop superstar Justin Bieber that neither he nor drugs is “cool.”

So. Richard Cohen saw, on the news, that famous young person Justin Bieber threw eggs and raced his car. He also saw on the news that famous young person Justin Bieber is known to “smoke doobies,” sometimes on airplanes. Some people may ascribe Bieber’s recent behavior to the pressures and significant privileges of immense wealth and fame, bestowed on an adolescent. Cohen, though, recognizes in Bieber the telltale signs of marijuana abuse.

Don’t just ask him! Ask the super-smart scientist author of this article that Cohen read!

On the off chance that he is not already a subscriber, I urge Justin Bieber to take a look at the current issue of the New York Review of Books. There, in addition to an article about his fellow musician, Johann Sebastian Bach, is one about marijuana. It was written by the eminent Jerome Groopman of the Harvard Medical School who says, basically, that marijuana is not a benign drug. Smoke it at your own risk.

This disquieting news about the weed that for so long has been considered a drug without consequencs [sic] is supported by 19 footnotes from such tomes as the Journal of Ethno-pharmacology and comes from a man who has studied marijuana and its effects in his very own laboratory. Citing the scientific literature and with his own findings in mind, Groopman can tell you what you might not want to hear: Richard Nixon may have been right.

The NYRB piece does indeed contain a multitude of footnotes, but it is not actually a dire warning of the negative effects of marijuana. It is mainly a summary of research into marijuana’s medical uses and possible side effects, and it comes to the non-conclusion that “as more studies are conducted on marijuana for medical or recreational uses, opponents and enthusiasts may both discover that they were neither entirely right nor entirely wrong.” Among the worst consequences of marijuana use mentioned in the piece is that it can be a factor in automobile accidents (simple solution: ban cars). Of the commonly cited connection between youthful marijuana use and the development of schizophrenia, Groopman says studies “may suggest an association but in no way prove a causal link.”


Groopman is not arguing that marijuana should not be legalized, which is certainly the trend. He is merely saying, in the customarily cautious way of a cautious scientist, that the drug many of us considered an innocent diversion may be anything but. It is linked to certain kinds of behavior — the DSM has an entry for “cannabis use disorder — and can be particularly pernicious when it comes to young people. It has a big effect on their little brains.

Groopman’s explanation of “cannabis use disorder”:

The American Psychiatric Association, in the new DSM-5, has defined a diagnosis of “cannabis use disorder.” These people had a repeated pattern of use with harmful consequences, such as inability to fulfill major responsibilities at work and persistent social problems at home. Both the DSM-5 and the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases 10th edition (ICD-10) also include a list of possible symptoms of withdrawal from using cannabis: significant fatigue, sleepiness, psychomotor retardation, anxiety, and depression.

The DSM-5 also contains diagnoses for “caffeine intoxication” (“Restlessness, nervousness, excitement, red face, gastrointestinal upset, muscle twitching, rambling speech, sleeplessness, rapid and irregular heartbeat”) and “caffeine withdrawal” (“headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, depressed mood and other issues”). The DSM contains a lot of conditions.

In other words: Richard Nixon was right. Justin Bieber is a conspiracy perpetrated by untrustworthy, back-stabbing Jews is a dangerous dope fiend.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a terrible anti-pot piece by a boomer hack with a newspaper sinecure without a paragraph in which the author announces that it was different when he got high because The Sixties.

I know without checking that I have written columns over the years demanding the legalization of marijuana. I certainly confessed to having “experimented” with the stuff but found it not to my liking. Still, I was of the generation for which it was a rite of passage, apiece with sexual freedom and, much more importantly, civil rights and the anti-war movement. Old fogies warned about pot, J. Edgar Hoover hated it and Richard Nixon made war against — three good reasons right there to have a toke.

Pot was OK in The Sixties because “it was a rite of passage” and because “old fogies warned about” it. And obviously neither of those things are true anymore, because now Cohen himself is old and therefore pot is bad and young people should not use it.

Justin, m’boy, you’ve got a habit or maybe just a strong indulgence, but whatever it is, the consequences are plain. Not to put too fine a point on it, you’ve been acting like a jerk. Maybe you ought to lay off the weed. Look at it this way: If it’s legal and everyone’s doing it, then it’s no longer cool. And neither are you.

Yes, for Justin Bieber, the consequences of marijuana abuse are plain as day: He is unimaginably wealthy and beloved by millions and will emerge from his recent legal troubles just as rich and famous as ever. But Richard Cohen does not think he is cool. Stay off the weed, kids.

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...