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Why Does Smart Guy Malcolm Gladwell Reject Marijuana Legalization?

Malcolm Gladwell is responsible for popularizing social ideas like the 10,000-hours rule and The Talent Myth, but the thinker’s latest proposal is far from popularity. In an interview with Detrioit’s WDET, an NPR affiliate, Gladwell admonished against cannabis legalization because of the drug’s rising potency and possible health side effects.

“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,” Gladwell added.

Research has shown how unreliable historical records of THC potency from the federal government can be. Federal institutions like the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) have used shaky methods like gas chromatography to test potency, all while forsaking storage methods and testing cannabis samples years after they acquired them. In short, conventional wisdom that cannabis today is significantly more potent than cannabis in the 60s and 70s should be approached with skepticism, researchers told The Atlantic back in 2015.

“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,” Gladwell said.

Gladwell also emphasized that marijuana’s capability as a “gateway drug” to harder drugs hasn’t been fully studied either. He argued evidence suggested either might be true—that cannabis could be a gateway drug to deadly narcotics or away from them. We’ve demonstrated evidence enough times debunking the myth of marijuana as a gateway drug as untrue and misleading. So we won’t belabor the point.

However, Gladwell fully supports decriminalization of cannabis despite his rejection of cannabis legalization. He encouraged law enforcement to use more “discretion” when discovering individuals on the street consuming or selling marijuana.

“We shouldn’t be locking people up, but we should not be racing to make this available,” Gladwell said.

From total marijuana legalization in Canada, to North America becoming more chilled out about its own state laws, buying your favorite green flower has never been easier and growing your own is almost as simple. 

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