The initial dust-up over author Alex Berenson’s Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence has subsided, but no one should expect Berenson or the subject of cannabis as potentially harmful to disappear, nor should they. Cannabis is a mostly benign but powerful plant that can engender strong feelings in people who use it and those who do not. This fact was anticipated by Berenson, who wrote in a Fox News opinion piece following the release of his book, “I knew that writing a book that suggested marijuana was not a cure-all medicine, and that cannabis may even cause psychosis and violence, would cause blowback from cannabis users, the people who profit by selling to them, and drug legalization advocates.
“But the intensity of the anger—and their speed with which advocates have moved to attack a book that many have not even read—has been shocking,” he continued. “Cannabis advocates appear unwilling to accept anything less than full national legalization of cannabis—even if they must downplay or hide the drug’s very real mental health risks, and overstate its potential medical benefits, to do so.”
This is adept trolling, including as it does the implication anyone in support of cannabis agrees with the unlikely premise it is a “cure-all medicine,” but not the suggestion cannabis “may even” cause psychosis and violence. A rhetorical device designed to make one side look irrational and the other sensible, it works if used without any measure of doubt, as Berenson does in his ongoing effort to cast himself as an agent provocateur of the truth about cannabis.
Cannabis is a mostly benign but powerful plant.
In other circles, however, the same tactic is called marketing, and Berenson should feel right at home in the burgeoning corporate cannabis industry, where unprecedented opportunity has resulted in a green rush of exaggeration sprinkled with fact for the sole purpose of grabbing your attention, your wallet, or both. One almost gets the sense Berenson felt the need to meet excess with excess in order to be heard, which may be true. As far as I’m concerned, he’s free to indulge his excesses all he wants. This, after all, is the age of excess, and it is precisely excess—of greed, mostly, but also some compassion—that is pushing cannabis over the tipping point. Good luck trying to stop it, considering the real possibility 2019 could be the year when one man’s political ambition marks the end of the federal prohibition of cannabis.
If Trump does try to gain votes by legalizing cannabis, expect the arguments for and against it to reach a fever pitch. As the first to sound a clarion call of the new era, Berenson’s warnings will be raised time and again. In that eventuality, however, he will find himself duking it out with a Wall Street already too high on the prospect of massive cannabis margins to care about the risks.
Off to the side will be the authentic cannabis people, whose actual attitude toward the plant will remain a mystery to both the anti-cannabis and corporate types. That is a shame, because few people understand the true risks and rewards of cannabis better than the very people who know how to use it responsibly.
Tom Hymes is the founding editor of mg Magazine.