"When I see one of those ads, I think I need a bong hit to endure America's endless foolishness." Readers respond to "The Return of Reefer Madness."

Published September 21, 2005 8:15PM (EDT)

[Read "The Return of Reefer Madness," by Maia Szalavitz.]

As a life coach, I work with people who are sorting out their problems and trying to build a more fulfilling life. I have noticed that when fear is involved, people's ability to make sane choices is greatly diminished. Fear tells them (us) that they must hide, cut and run, fight or make a choice right now. No time for thought. The tendency to follow old patterns or adopt someone else's plan increases. People feel and act powerless when they are afraid. In other words, fear turns people into sheep.

It occurs to me, after reading your excellent article on yet another government-sponsored marijuana scare campaign, that it is in the interest of those in authority to keep people afraid. It is a great way to control the public, to have them voluntarily suspend their sense of empowerment and look for some outside entity to save them. As it is, living in America seems pretty scary already. Current events are pretty surreal and the whole world seems to be going insane. Pot is going to push me over the edge? Tell me what to do, quick!

-- Cynthia Emerlye

It's bizarre that the drug czar is raising such a ruckus over cannabis, while meanwhile a solid majority of Americans regularly imbibe a far more pernicious and deadly drug. Of course, I'm referring to alcohol, a toxic, addictive depressant that kills hundreds of teens yearly (to say nothing of the thousands of people killed by drunken drivers).

Pot is benign by comparison. Why, then, is a glass of wine more socially and legally acceptable than a hash pipe? Could it have something to do with class connotations and social stereotypes?

Well, prejudice propagates poor public policy. We need to look honestly at the effects of the drugs that teens and adults use habitually, and for God's sake, we need to choose our battles. Truly destructive scourges like heroin, methamphetamine, PCP and crack need the drug czar's attention far more urgently than marijuana does.

In a sane world, pot might be regarded as alcohol's mellow, imaginative cousin. Either substance might chase away the blues for an hour or so, but moderation is important. We need to teach responsibility, not assert false correlations to instill fear. Thanks for a refreshingly rational article.

-- Elizabeth Livingston

In my high school biology class in 1970, we saw a film about the dangers of LSD. They claimed the use of LSD, even once, caused genetic damage and showed pictures of babies born to teens who'd dropped acid. Several years later in college, I saw those exact same photos in an article about deformities caused by thalidomide use in the '50s. You can imagine how seriously I took any warning about health dangers from LSD after that.

-- Dan Lissman

Man, have I thought about this issue! I wanted to kill myself when I was 12. I started smoking pot when I was 19. Hmm. I was also filled with rage at the world and, personally, I believe that if I had not started smoking pot, I would not have ever calmed down to the point where I could stay out of jail for some violent act.

I have been to counselors and psychologists, and they have never diagnosed me as "insane." I will admit to a certain distractedness, but I was a space cadet before I hit puberty.

In the '60s, according to the people that were there, pot meant freedom. As we swing back into a heightened, Nixonian paranoia, it will begin to mean that again because everyone knows that the government is a liar. Hell, I can't figure out why anyone would believe an administration that is (check out the budget deficit) out to destroy ... the government!

Ultimately, the administration's war on drugs continues to be one of their largest and stupidest failures. "Parents -- the Anti-Drug." Hah! Most parents are the reason kids turn to drugs in the first place! So, when I see or hear one of those ads, I say, "Thanks for reminding me. I think I need a bong hit to endure America's endless foolishness."

-- David Klein

As a conservative with libertarian leanings, I do not believe it is the federal government's job in the first place to reduce drug use by means of useless (and expensive) advertising -- however, I don't think there is anything particularly wrong with what they are saying.

The whole point is that one can't know in advance if his or her particular brain chemistry is vulnerable to serious problems after one exposure to a supposedly harmless drug like marijuana, and thus it is prudent to refrain altogether. Drug education as it now stands is a complete waste of money, mainly because you can't approach the topic "scientifically" and hope that kids will care.

If our culture as a whole valued clear thinking and intelligence more, the drug issue would be moot -- but until that happens, the government should stop trying to intervene, because they are certainly doomed to failure with their current methods.

-- Elizabeth Moskowitz

The premise of the first part of Maia Szalavitz's article is that it's bad to use science that's not fully developed when making arguments. Yet later in the article Ms. Szalavitz herself makes an argument based entirely on science which is nowhere near being fully developed. You can't have it both ways and be taken seriously.

In many cases science which is not fully developed, while not ideal, is still one of the best tools that we have to understand the world, predict the consequences of various actions, and formulate rational plans. But in order for it to be effective, people need to keep an open mind and remember that what we're working toward is the actual truth of the universe, not some ideological "truth" in the back of Maia Szalavitz's (or George W. Bush's) mind.

-- Michael Dakin

A very dear friend of mine has a note stuck to her refrigerator that says, "Depressed people are just more in touch with reality than the rest of us."

Ask anyone who's smoked pot regularly (or taken other hallucinogens), and chances are they'll tell you how the experience helped them cut through the bullshit of everyday life and see it for the way it really is, which -- as we all can probably agree -- ain't pretty.

It's depressing, all right. And some people can't handle it, or are biochemically predisposed to serious, long-term side effects. That's a serious problem, but it will always be a problem for some because young people will always experiment with drugs. To simply say that "drugs can lead to depression" is more or less stating the obvious.

If you're lucky, you find a way to move on and try to live a good life and make a positive difference in the world, but there's no guarantee it'll be depression-free. Reality can be a real bummer.

-- Michael Brown

By Salon Staff

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