Skip to main content

Legalizing pot isn't about medicine, it's about getting high

By Howard C. Samuels, Special to CNN
updated 10:44 AM EDT, Mon August 12, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Howard Samuels: Supporters of pot say that it helps those who have health problems
  • Samuels: But the argument is exploited by people who aren't using it for medical reasons
  • He says some passionate defenders of pot legalization just want to smoke and get high
  • Samuels: To marijuana abusers everywhere: Are you really that weak that you need pot?

Editor's note: Howard C. Samuels, author of "Alive Again: Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction," is the founder and president of The Hills Treatment Center in Los Angeles. Watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta's documentary "WEED" at 8 p.m. ET August 11 on CNN.

(CNN) -- At first glance, my 11-year-old son seems like your everyday, all-American kid. He loves baseball and basketball, plays Xbox with his friends when they come over, and posts innocuous pictures of the family dog on his Instagram feed. Given these mundane facts about the boy, you can imagine my surprise when, while watching the news (again, seemingly from out of nowhere) he asked me, "If pot is so bad, why are they trying to legalize it?"

And, just like that, the long and involved talk my wife and I had given our children about drugs was tossed out the window.

We had explained the harmful effects of marijuana. Like cigarettes, smoking marijuana introduces tar, carbon monoxide and cancer-causing agents into your body.

Americans agree: Marijuana shouldn't be criminalized

Neither my wife nor I anticipated that our son would be stopped on the street by unscrupulous potheads petitioning outside of the local grocery store and being fed a line of rhetoric that went against what we were trying to teach him.

Howard C. Samuels
Howard C. Samuels

It turns out that potheads weren't exactly the problem; they were the symptom. Let me tell you why.

If you have a fever and you go to the doctor and he tells you that you have pneumonia, do you ask him to treat the fever, or do you ask him to treat the pneumonia? Most of us would ask him to treat the pneumonia because the pneumonia is the problem; the fever is the symptom.

It's the same way with the argument about the legalization of marijuana. I'm not interested in focusing on the symptom; I want to eradicate the problem. And the problem is that we're even considering legalizing marijuana at all.

Let's take a look at the medical marijuana issue in Los Angeles (where I live) and we can see where legalization takes us. It has been my experience that anyone can get a medical marijuana card in L.A.; all you need is $25-$100 and the ability to lie about needing it. You just make an appointment with some company, walk in and state your problem(s) and why you need a card (with no proof of medical conditions whatsoever) and you will be prescribed a card that is good for one year. It's a toothless system that isn't well-regulated.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: 'I have tried' pot
The debate on marijuana
The pot debate

Why are some of the people who petition for legalizing marijuana so passionate about it? Because when you smoke pot, you get loaded. You fry your brain. That's why the patients I see in my treatment center call it "getting baked." Pot is all about getting really high.

Now, I have nothing against people who smoke pot. In fact, I believe it is a crime to put someone in prison for smoking pot. Honestly, do we really need some idiot frat boy to get picked up during Mardi Gras for smoking pot and find himself locked in a cage with a monster for six months? Kevin Sabet, a former senior adviser to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy poses a terrific point when he says that criminal processing for possession of marijuana needs improvement, but legalization is a step too far.

Marijuana supporters like to argue that marijuana is similar to alcohol. While alcohol is legal, it also accounts for tens of thousands of deaths every year in car accidents or other drinking-related misfortunes. But we can't turn the clock back on that one because it's too embedded in our society.

Opinion: Why I changed my mind on weed

Supporters of marijuana say that marijuana should be legalized because old people and women and children who have ailments like glaucoma or cancer or intractable seizures need it.

It is painful to watch people suffer. I am not against helping people. In a perfect world, a woman suffering from cancer should be able to get a prescription from her doctor, go to a pharmacy, acquire her medical marijuana, go home and recuperate from her last round of chemotherapy. But we don't live in a perfect world, and you don't need a Ph.D. to see that the spirit of that argument is being exploited by people who aren't using the marijuana for medical reasons at all; they are using it to get high.

Introducing legalized marijuana into our culture would be like using gasoline to put out a fire, because it stunts growth.

Do you know why we don't see potheads out in public? It's because they're sitting at home smoking weed and staring at their television sets or playing video games all day. Do you have any idea how many marijuana addicts I encounter at my rehab on a daily basis? They talk about wanting to be productive. But what pot does is it kills their motivation -- it destroys people's ability to go out and work and to have a career. It makes them want to do nothing but lie around all day. Is that what you want for your children? Is that what you want for your loved ones?

And how do you market marijuana? We have only just now moved into an era where cigarette smoking is commonly known to be harmful, but now advertisers have a new product to sell. Who do you think they're going to market their product to? Not you or me, because we're not stupid enough to believe the lie; we know too much. They're going to follow in the footsteps of the cigarette companies in the 1980s and market this stuff to young people.

The very idea of that sickens me. I know what marijuana does to the human mind because I started smoking weed when I was 15 years old. It literally robbed me of my motivation to participate in my own life. I was absolutely OK with sitting around all day eating cookies and watching television and getting high with my friends. But, to go out and earn a living and do something with my life? That was all stuff that I was going to do later after I came down off of the marijuana. But, then I'd smoke some more and think, "Why bother?" . . . and, eventually, I started shooting heroin. If my family had not intervened and sought professional help, I would probably still be wandering aimlessly through the streets today; searching for that elusive "perfect high."

Melissa Etheridge: Pot got me through

Even if you only stay with marijuana in your repertoire of illicit drugs to abuse, it will never yield positive results. Ever.

And, I posit this to marijuana abusers everywhere: Are you really that weak? Are you really that uncomfortable in your own skin that you can't handle living your life or having real experiences without being high? Is it really impossible for you to live life without a drug? Because, if it is, it breaks my heart and I feel sorry for you. Because that's no way to live.

And my kid, he's going to know the truth about you. He's going to know that every time you approach him arguing for the legalization of marijuana, what you're really doing is asking him to vote to make it OK for you to spend the rest of your life half-baked on your sofa, too stoned to go out and play with your own kids or do the things you've always dreamed of doing. To my kid, I'm going to say that this means one less competitor on his road to a successful and fulfilling life.

And, to the potheads who are so passionate about being allowed to smoke their lives away, I have only one thing to say: Dream On.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Howard C. Samuels.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:18 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Frida Ghitis says as violence claims three U.S. doctors, the temptation is to despair, but aid to Afghanistan has made it a much better place
updated 2:33 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says in California, Asian-Americans are against the use of racial criteria in public colleges.
updated 2:44 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Heidi Schlumpf says if the Pope did tell an Argentinian woman married to a divorced man that she could take Communion, it may signify a softening of church rules on the divorced and sacraments
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Norcross, Georgia, Chief of Police Warren Summers says the new law that allows guns in bars, churches and schools will have unintended dangerous consequences.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Mel Robbins says social media is often ruled by haters, and people can be brutally honest.
updated 12:44 PM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Mike Downey says the golf purists can take a hike; the game needs radical changes to win back fans and players.
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
updated 7:04 AM EDT, Thu April 24, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT