Do You Believe in Magic?

Ron Musto: Pot, An Alternative View

Updated 14 weeks ago Ron Musto
Ron Musto: Pot, An Alternative View
CCO Public Domain

Yes, Roosevelt Island Daily, the graphics and wording of the “Smoking Pot” sign are ridiculous, the sign’s placement is insulting, racist and classist, its timing pathetic and reflective of RIRA’s indifference and its ineffectiveness, and, well, we’ve already seen some graphic results of its posting.

We’re agreed that De Blasio’s policy of no arrests for pot smoking is just and right: in this case marijuana is nothing less than a gateway drug to a criminal record, and we’re glad that we’ve seen the end of it.

But The Daily oversimplifies the issue on several counts. 

The first is the scientific findings on marijuana smoking. Columbia University and the Obama Administration both published the results of long-term research that provide strong evidence that marijuana does impair cognitive processes and that, starting in adolescence, it can have enduring, negative impacts on adult cognition and judgment. (See my WIRE letter of 6/21/2014). 

Editor’s note: For out article, we checked multiple sources but relied mainly on WebMD and the National Council on Drug Abuse. Neither come anywhere near a pro pot position, and neither supports the claims above

Like climate-change science, there will be opposing research published (some of it trash, heavily funded by industry), but good journalism should make sure that it’s not advocating for one side or the other but noting the science and societal impact on both sides of the issue. 

Could you provide the Tweedledumb-Tweedledee study you cite, and who funded it? (See editor’s note above.)

Why do I ask this? Because like decades of “science” that proved conclusively that cigarette smoking — and second-hand cigarette smoke — was harmless, we are now seeing the emergence of “science” that says the same about marijuana smoking. 

Pot as an act of resistance? Let’s be clear and honest: this research is not being funded by Cheech and Chong on their half-acre up in Woodstock or by disinterested scientists seeking truth and justice but by “big pot” masquerading as just plain folk, and conducted on behalf of discredited big tobacco. 

Tobacco proven deadly? No problem. 

Buy up lots of land and medium-sized producers in states where pot is legalized, push for legalization as a civil-rights issue, and whoa!, we’re ready for Trump-era, corporate mass production and pushing it on adolescents all over again (USA Today 4/11/15, Bloomberg.com 4/20/16, The Guardian 10/31/16). 

The assembly lines and distribution chains are revved up, and we’re just waiting for a few more editorials like The Daily’s to push the issue front and center on the local level. They want our money: all of it. Big pot is a big money sucker: up to the (drug-free) oligarchs.

Addictive? Of course it isn’t. 

Folks on Roosevelt Island don’t smoke pot because they’re addicted, but as recreation, “because we just like it.” Safer than alcohol. 

Around Westview our neighbors smoke it at 9:00 AM before going to work, they smoke it at 12:00 when they break for lunch, they smoke it at 3:00 PM when school is out, they smoke it at 5:00 PM when the day is done, they smoke it at 11:00 PM just before bed, they take a few more drags when they wake up at 3:00 AM, they smoke it at 5:00 AM just to get the day rolling. 

Like 3-pack-a-day-ers, they stink of it. They fill their apartments, the halls, the stairwells, the elevators and the outside space around Westview with the nauseating stench of new weed (six times more potent than the ’60s variety). But no one is addicted or needs it at 3:00 AM or 5:00 AM or 9:00 AM: “we just like it.” 

So does corporate America.

OK. Non-addictive and nobody’s business. Fine. Let’s be Libertarians for a day. 

Just like smoking cigarettes, just like having a scotch in the peace and quiet of our own living room. But when our cigarette smoke invades our neighbor’s apartments, that’s not only unsocial, it’s illegal. 

Drink all we want until our livers rot or we fall into a stupor: that’s our business (though I would not want my neighbors becoming ill for any reason). But our medical costs eventually become society’s. (But I forget, we’re Libertarians now.) 

But start playing music or yelling loudly under the influence of that scotch, or setting the mattress on fire from our cigarettes. That becomes everyone’s problem, no? That becomes a social issue because that affects our neighbors. 

There are limits to a Libertarian view of life, and those limits are other people. So smoke pot in the safety and security of your own man den or your cabin in the woods, fine. Your business, I don’t mind, though I do care about your long-term physical and mental health and its impact on society. 

But your weed smoke coming into our apartments at all hours of the day and night, stenching the promenade during our morning and evening walks: those are social problems. 

Pace Margaret Thatcher: society is real and concerns aren’t just petty-bourgeois hectoring. Like second-hand cigarette smoke, second-hand pot smoke needs to be decriminalized and regulated. But editorials like The Daily’s make it very difficult to rationally approach the subject, because, well... arrests, a scientific study of twins, nobody’s victim, mellow yellow....

But let’s get back to that sign and why The Daily is right: it was absurd. 

First because (multiple and inexpensive) signs should have been posted the week after our RIRA Public Safety Chair was spurred by a real-life crime to declare a pot emergency. Second, because those signs should really have been posted all over and around Westview (and our schools) as a reminder to well-placed movers and shakers. 

There’s a deeper and far more important reason for that sign: it’s called magical thinking. 

Anthropologists and historians call it “proleptic magic.” That’s the form of magic designed to ward off evil or to erase its bad effects before they occur. 

The Greeks and Romans knew and used it, our early modern ancestors often invoked it: amulets, hand symbols, stone carvings. 

What’s it got to do with the sign posted right behind the public school and play area? 

Because, though The Daily — along with every other voice on Roosevelt Island — failed to mention it, that’s very close to where a young mother and resident was physically assaulted for asking a suspected drug (pot?) dealer to move along. 

I’ve been traveling and may have missed it. Did The Daily, the WIRE, the Blog, RIRA ever follow up on that story? Was there ever an arrest? a trial? a verdict? a public announcement? Why has this story evaporated like so much Ganga haze on a breezy day in the Summer of Love?

Editor’s note: It was followed in all three places and a suspect (not a resident) was identified.

Do You Believe in Magic? the Spoonful sang. 

The week or two following the assault and its immediate coverage were magical. The stench of pot in Westview stopped as suddenly as when a drunk lawyer, declaiming on Stockhausen’s influence on the Beatles, falls off his bar stool. 

No pot smoke, no dealers anywhere in or around Westview. So maybe that sign is proleptic magic: just putting it up will make the pot problem (and there is one on RI) blow away, blow away. 

It will remind those who need to know that something is happening here, kind of related to drugs, but I don’t know what it is. I can’t remember, man, I think maybe somebody got pushed, or was pushing or something. Whew, the purple haze.…


Dr. Ron Musto is a longtime Westview resident and publisher of the Italica Press.

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