Michael: An attorney for 47 years, who regularly represents minors before the juvenile courts and also represents parents accused of child endangerment, neglect and abuse in the juvenile courts. Michael is opposed to minors using marijuana.
Andrew: an attorney, and former user and adherent of marijuana. Andrew acknowledges some benefits of marijuana use and generally believes that people, including minors, should have the freedom to choose whether or not to use marijuana.
Michael: Right off the bat, I want to say that I am opposed to the use of marijuana by minors, regardless of whether it is now legal under California law and regardless of what the minor might argue about the benefits of use. Marijuana is a central nervous system depressant. I have seen to many minors in my line of work who have made a mess of their lives by using marijuana. So to ignore the obvious implications of even “experimenting: or “recreational use” would be irresponsible and reckless, in my opinion. I have worked with many minors in an effort to turn around their lives and curb self-destructive patterns of behavior. When we have succeeded in breaking a minor’s habitual marijuana use this almost always causes their grades to significantly improve, among other positive benefits. Not only that their behavior at home and at school also improves considerably. I think people would have to be foolish or irresponsible to condone marijuana use by a minor child.
Andrew: You make some very strong points that would be hard to knock down in argument. From my own experience I can say that while marijuana use has its genuine appeal, and there is certainly a pleasurable aspect to it that attracts and retains users, if one is honest they have to also acknowledge that marijuana use is not simply innocent, consequence-free fun. I am arguing for individual choice, that people be allowed the freedom to decide for themselves whether or not marijuana use is something that they want to experience and if so to what extent they want marijuana to be a part of their life. I think that it needs to be informed use, acknowledging both the costs and the benefits that come with marijuana use- basically I am a proponent of informed decision-making and personal responsibility.
Michael: That’s perhaps a reasonable position to take for mature and responsible adults but it doesn’t sit well with me in the context of minors. I don’t think that a minor has the life experience or the judgment to understand ways in which even something so seemingly “innocent” as marijuana use can dramatically impact the course of their life. Decisions made and actions taken in teenage years can really have a profound impact on the course of a young person’s life trajectory that are impossible to see at the time but will become apparent in hindsight when it is unfortunately too late to undo the damage done and opportunities lost, etc. I have seen too many examples of young people completely going off the rails in the pursuit of what they believe to be their right to indulge in marijuana use, which can be very seductive in what it promises but very cruel in the reality that it delivers. Maybe this would be a good opportunity to discuss some of the costs and benefits of marijuana use.
Andrew: Starting with the benefits, for the majority of people, marijuana use is a pleasurable and euphoric experience. I think that is what attracts many people, not to mention the image of carefree, relaxed fun. But that is not to suggest that all people enjoy marijuana, as there are certainly a number of people that are not attracted to the image of marijuana use and others that have tried it and do not enjoy the effects. I know from my experience that marijuana smoking was a big part of our culture growing up: maybe to some extent because of its slightly subversive reputation, being illegal at that time, and the fact that it was more difficult to obtain than alcohol and also because it carried a mild stigma associated with use- making it sort of forbidden fruit. As I mentioned there are obviously people who find marijuana extremely pleasurable: perhaps someone with anxiety or other unpleasant emotional state finds solace or comfort in use and the temporary escape that the marijuana “high” offers.
There are other examples of someone who uses marijuana as a means of connecting with peers, similar to how adults might get together socially and partake in a bottle of wine or a bottle of beer. I think that there is always the thought that it is a sort of bonding experience that lower inhibitions and offers a heightened, shared experience in which people let down their guard and expose their “real selves.” Whether or not this is true is debatable but is definitely a suggested in the experience. There are others who feel that marijuana heightens the experience associated with activities like listening to music, surfing, going for a hike, or even engaging in routine activities.
I had friends in college who regularly smoked marijuana before swimming or water polo practices and you wouldn’t know from looking at them or watching them perform that they were under the influence of marijuana, but for them it was extremely pleasurable, such that not having it available beforehand drained the routine activity of its expected pleasure. There are other people for whom use of marijuana enhances creativity and makes them feel more in touch with their creative side when they are making art, music, writing, etc. I know of at least one Hollywood screenwriter who uses marijuana before sitting down to write and he insists that it gets him into the right mindset to create great work that he sells for top dollar. There are very successful, well-adjusted, balanced people for whom marijuana use is a part of their life and they seem not to evidence any of the negative effects that one typically associates with regular use.
Other people that I know describe the emotional experience that marijuana provides: that it can induce intense nostalgia and transport them to places emotionally that they have not experienced in many years and they thought were lost to them. Something like this can be profoundly important to someone who is an artist and who creates, as it lends new vision and perspective to the world. Sometimes great ideas can be born of this sort of altering of perspective.