Internet Commenters Reveal Flawed Thinking of Legalization Debate


ABC News recently reported that Jesse and Vicca Thompson, marijuana enthusiasts and owners of a dispensary in Washington, had their claim that they were capable of making sound parenting decisions while high challenged in November of 2014 when Child Protective Services took their 5-year-old son from their home following accusations that they’d fed the child Goo Balls in order to control the child’s reportedly aggressive and sometimes mean behavior.

Now, there’s a lot of possible angles on a story like this one. It might be worth discussing how the Thompsons, as dispensary owners, unwittingly contribute to the perception held by opponents of legalization and their industry as being rooted in barely concealed criminality and widespread moral decay. There’s probably also a lot to say about the fact that the Thompsons allegedly drugged their 5-year-old child in order to make him stop acting so much like a 5-year-old child.

But no, what’s really interesting here, and should be particularly noteworthy to members of the marijuana industry, is the comments section attached to the original article. 1607 comments, ranging from kind of thoughtful to severely dopey, and a wonderful encapsulation of all that’s great, dangerous, and confusing about the debate surrounding marijuana usage and legalization.

Take the very first comment offered, for example—a user under the name fighttheoligarchy professes confusion at the fact that “You can literally drink yourself to death in this country, but cannot partake of another mind altering drug … .” This user’s picture is of a dog, so it’s possible the user might be the type of college freshman you usually see spout this line of thinking, although it’s doubtful that many college freshmen are compelled to post on the ABC News website, and furthermore (and maybe this is optimistic) someone with even a fragment of college education would notice that the argument fighttheoligarchy is using has basically nothing to do with ABC’s article.

What’s so interesting about the 1607 comments that follow are that so many of the commenters opposed to legalization for either medical or recreational reasons rely on dumb jokes derived from a decades old, half remembered viewings of Cheech and Chong movies to illustrate what they see as dangers, and that so many proponents spout rhetoric about presumed truth and alleged government cover-ups, the kind of paranoid chatter that automatically shuts down serious conversation. It’s a great illustration of the typical divide on this issue—opponents on one side who see marijuana as dirty and gross, advocates on the other side largely too stoned to appeal their case in an evenhanded way.

To be fair, several commenters take the time to paste in big chunks of text taken from various studies, which is how this argument should technically go. But more notable is how infrequently—to the point of basically not at all—a commenter had anything to say about how presumably frightened or confused a 5-year-old boy fed a psychotropic substance must have felt.

Commenters on both sides of the issue seem happy to view this story in terms simplified to suit their agenda, losing sight of the fact that the welfare of a real human 5-year-old child is what kicked this off. When the child is mentioned, it’s usually to point out that doctor’s give kids medicine all the time, but few acknowledge that this wasn’t the case, here. This was a case of parents exposing their child to a controlled, mood altering substance on their own, admittedly blurry cognizance.

None of the commenters involved in this long thread seem to be aware that they’re politicizing the plight of a child to suit their own ends, or that they’re not really engaged in a debate as much as they’re taking turns presenting their views and in the case of fighttheoligarchy, canned responses.

Proponents of legalization for purposes both medicinal and recreational, including investors in the industry, need to recognize that while the urge to rally around every obstacle to their cause is understandable, it’s an evenhanded, rational approach that’s going to make way for real progress and healthy returns.

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