The Real Cannabis Conversation

As is often the case, I think the the most interesting conversation on the topic is the one we’re not having right now.   I find that as people argue, they become more interested in defending their perspective than understanding another’s and I think that’s a key issue here.  While there are plenty of conversations around how to legalize or how to criminalize, I think the real question is why we should legalize or why we should criminalize.  When we take a proper look at the why behind whether or not we as a people should have legal access to this drug, we have a great opportunity for self-reflection.

I think the first thing we should do define is the term ‘drug’.  When heroin is found in the streets, it’s discussed as a highly illegal and highly dangerous drug.  When morphine is found in a hospital, its discussed as a pain killer and part of the medical process.  Both are obtained from the Opium poppy.  When you remove all the bias, drugs are simply something you put in your body for a desired effect.  That means they’re a tool and tools are remarkably indifferent to how we use them.

So why do we takes drugs then? I think we do it to adjust our state of mind.  Even drugs with no psychotropic effects are still targeting state of mind in a less direct manner.  Consider using an over-the-counter pain killer for a sprained ankle.  The ankle is an injury of the body, but the pain that’s being addressed is a state of mind.  If the mind was unaware of the body’s pain, the painkillers would be unnecessary.  Even if you’re taking drugs to address an illness with no obvious symptoms, you’re taking the drugs to address the concern of a future illness – still looking to resolve a state of mind.  So what if the issue isn’t a physical illness?  What if it’s mental?  What if it’s social?

There’s  a fantastic Sherlock quote… something along the lines of “I’m not an addict, I’m a user.  I look to alleviate boredom and occasionally stimulate my thought process.”  It’s interesting because if you say that it’s something you use to limit boredom, it’s relatable but if someone says they’re using it as a coping mechanism, it’s a bigger issue.  What if it’s a mechanism used to cope with boredom?  What I’m trying to demonstrate is that we’re really just scratching the surface of what drugs are and why we use them.  All we know is that we put them in our bodies to get us closer to the state of mind that we want to be in.  There’s a tremendous amount of research to do there, and I think the answers we arrive at will speak volumes on the human condition.

So let’s bring this back to cannabis.  Why do I take it?  Primarily for sleep, to escape my thoughts, and to alleviate boredom.  I recognize that the closer my life gets to where I want it to be, the less I want to escape from my reality and the less weed I look to consume.  That’s my personal experiment at the moment, if I’m where I want to be mentally, then will I still look to change my state of mind?

A great question to ask when discussing marijuana is addiction.  Most people would suggest that marijuana isn’t addictive because it lacks certain chemical properties that create a physiological dependency like some other drugs.  While that may be true to an extent, I’d suggest that marijuana can be addictive simply because of it’s effects.  I’ve had weeks where sobriety was the enemy and it was hard not to think I was staring addiction in the face.  That said, if you dropped me off in a location with no access to marijuana, I’d have a few sleepless nights and then carry on.  It’s easy to think of hard drugs when you think addiction but in reality, many addictions exist purely in the mind.  I think that with sufficient research, one may find that a chemical dependency and addiction are two different things, one is one of the body while the other is of the mind.  If that’s the case, marijuana addiction is possible and likely very real.  We owe it to ourselves to be honest about this and bring this element into the conversation

It’s not often that a drug makes the journey from being an illegal psychotropic to a widely prescribed medicine.  If I were to take this all at face value, cannabis is a miracle plant capable of treating all kinds of illnesses.  While I think that’s a possibility, I’m more interested in seeing the research than jumping on the hype train.  I also think that the medical properties of the plant would be discussed less if legalized recreational access was available.  In the current market, most users have acquired a medical license from a lax medical professional to achieve access for recreational use.  I can’t help but think that if wine were illegal, people would also seek medical licenses with claims that wine extends your lifespan, protects against cancers, improves mental health, and benefits the heart.  They may even be right, but it doesn’t change the fact that they were just looking to unwind with some friends at the end of the week.

So what are the actual medical properties of marijuana?  The real answer is we don’t know.  There’s anecdotal evidence of it successfully treating just about everything from cancer to seizures but the reality is we’ve just started the research.  From what I’ve seen, I suspect there are very real medical properties in the plant but I that we need to understand what they are to a much deeper level before we embrace them to this degree.  For example, I can confirm that it’s the most successful sleep aid I’ve ever used but I must also concede that I never wake up refreshed the way I feel when I sleep without it.  From an introspective standpoint, I think what it does very well is it helps you shift into a more copacetic mindset and it’s that mindset which helps you better deal with things like pain, stress, and anxiety.  Beyond that, I’m looking to learn and making no assumptions.

So what about recreational use?  We’re most of the way there and the momentum doesn’t seem to be letting up.  Every once in a while, some old white guy will say something like ‘I don’t see how making these substances legal will improve anyone’s quality of life.’  I understand that mindset, but I also understand why it’s flawed.  The error is in the assumption that marijuana affects all people equally.  Some of us are easier to get along with when we’re stoned while others are simply far more productive individuals.  There are some people who shouldn’t be using cannabis and that’s OK too.  The solution isn’t restricting access to everyone, the solution is to provide access to everyone and letting us collectively explore the pros and cons.  We’ll make some mistakes and lose some good people along the way, but such is the nature of progress.

Someone might say that it poses too much of a risk but to them I would say that fear makes for poor decision making.  Too often the government treats the general population like a parent treats their children but in reality, the general population is representative of a collective intelligence which is often under utilized.  Look at what happened when we legalized alcohol.  Alcohol abuse has ruined lives while alcohol poisoning has take them.  That doesn’t make alcohol bad, it makes alcohol important.  It makes it important to understand why we drink, and what the real impact is.  Marijuana will be no different.  It’s just another substance, which if anything, is a reflection of ourselves.

I can’t help but think that the majority of those who are opposed to the legalization of marijuana either have a political angle, don’t understand the matter, or are simply afraid.  The solution to each is education.  We all need to know more about what this plant is and what it does, but we’re not going to learn what we want to know by leaving it in the labs because there’s more to it than that.  Marijuana should be legal for the reason that every other drug should be legal.  We shouldn’t be cautious around drugs because they’re bad or illegal, we should indifferent around drugs because we understand that the ethical and practical impact has everything to do with that specific drug and that specific person.  The level of research necessary to truly understand those dynamics requires a decentralized approach to research and fortunately for us, there are plenty of volunteers.

So at the end of the day, who do I think should be smoking cannabis?  Anyone who wants to, on the condition that they understand what they’re doing and why.  We know it’s a plant that gets you stoned and we know it has medical properties.  We need to know a lot more than that.  Part of that process is giving us the chance to explore – and that means legalization.  When it’s all said and done, we’ve tried it their way.. with the whole war on drugs thing… now it’s time to embrace freedom.  The freedom for people to choose how to live their lives.  The freedom for people to choose what medicine they use.  The freedom to choose how to deal with boredom and the freedom to experience the negative realities of poor decision making.  It’s all part of the same evolutionary process… this is how we grow.


My Thoughts on Privilege


A few years ago, a girl I was dating told me to check my privilege.  It was tremendously frustrating for me as I couldn’t understand what she was actually trying to say.  She went on to say that as a good-looking white male, I had all kinds of advantages afforded to me which weren’t available to others.  I reflected on that statement and it still didn’t resonate.  From my perspective, my path had not been easy and both my opportunities and successes were well-earned.  I figured a good place to start would be with a definition we could both agree on.  So we looked it up:


Privilege: A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available to a particular person or group.


That sounded rather general to me.  By that definition, if white privilege existed, then so did black privilege – and every other kind of privilege for that matter.  Tall people are privileged to reach things off high shelves while short people are privileged to not bump their heads on low ceilings.  If privilege is simply referring to the advantages held by some and not others, aren’t we just talking about people in general?  Maybe.

It would be easy for me to say that white privilege doesn’t exist because privilege doesn’t exist.  I would go on to give an example:  Would you rather be a black man being pulled over by the police in Alabama, or would you rather be a white guy getting pulled over by freedom fighters in West Africa?  Then I’d remind us that while we all share a common blueprint, we all vary in our own ways and those variations provide inherent advantages and disadvantages depending on the circumstance.  If circumstance is the variable that determines if we experience an advantage or disadvantage, then does privilege really exist?  Like I said, it would be easy for me to say that white privilege doesn’t exist because privilege doesn’t exist – but I would be wrong.


Everything that I just said is valid to an extent but I think that there’s another layer to what’s going on here that better represents what we’re looking at.  I think if we explore this a little further, we’ll find some clarity

A granted privilege seems to be simply be an advantage given from one person to another.  What I find curious here is that the word granted offers the possibility of earning your advantage.  Consider a student who has good grades in high school and then is ‘granted’ admittance to a top-tier university – we’ll call her Priya. Now consider someone who had average grades, who also made it into that university after their parents made a significant donation – we’ll call him Bryce.  I think most people would blow the whistle and call a privilege foul here on the latter, but what if the Priya was at a top private school with unlimited tutoring funded by her parents?  What if Bryce’s parents grew up in poverty, worked hard, and were simply making a donation to their alma mater?

This is a rather interesting topic for me because in the context of a social conversation, privilege is what I would consider to be a poorly defined topic.  It’s like we know that there’s something wrong but we’re not exactly sure how to articulate it.  As in many other cases in society, we think we’re dealing in issues of fairness but in reality we’re dealing with issues of efficiency.

Let’s revisit the earlier example in a different context.  Let’s say for the sake of simplicity, Priya is unprivileged and Bryce is very privileged.  Both are admitted to a top-tier university and both approach their degree as an independent effort.  Now they’ve both graduated and while Priya continued to work hard and earned good grades, Bryce worked harder and earned better grades.  Now imagine that in 40 years, we’re reflecting on their life’s work and there’s a clear winner – Bryce.

If this were a real world example, what we commonly define as privilege could’ve led to the discrepancy in university grades and the career but that’s the point.  What if it wasn’t?  It’s certainly possible that Bryce did better because he had more resources at his disposal, but what if his circumstances we’re simply better aligned with his own personal strengths?  What if Bryce simply wasn’t motivated in high-school, but once he had the autonomy and challenge that came with a top-tier university, he was motivated to perform?  And what if his personality and degree were directly in line with his career path?  And what if Priya who worked hard and got good grades her entire life had the genetic blueprint for a world class chef, but became an accountant as a result of her academic focus?

In reality, what we’re really upset at is a series of systems which are inefficient at allocating resources and creating value.  The system we have currently is a ‘fair’ entry system predicated on prior academic performance and extra-curricular activities but it’s also the same system that would see Priya become an accountant and see Bryce not gain admission.  It’s largely a level playing field, but perhaps it’s time to prioitize making sure people are suited up for the right sport and playing to their full potential.

With the progress we’ve made in understanding our genealogy and psychology, along with advances in our ability to collect and analyze data… I smell a revolution in how we determine fit.  Imagine everyone being given the freedom to explore their options, while also being given the information to understand what they’re likely to be best at.  Now imagine everyone having access to the same information and how much more efficient we’d all be… at everything.  The goal isn’t to make privilege against the rules, the goal is to have a system in place that makes the use of privilege seem foolish and counter-productive.

If I were to offer up my best definition of privilege, it would be an applied, circumstantial advantage.  When circumstantial advantages are used to further the collective interests (efficient), people seem not to mind.  When circumstantial advantages are used to further self-interests (inefficient), there’s an issue.  Our issue isn’t with having different strengths and weaknesses from one another.  Our issues aren’t even with those who apply their strengths when competing.  Our issue is those who take the short-sighted approach of putting their own interests ahead of collective progress.  Our issue is with those who use their resources to create inefficiencies in the larger system at play.

Fuck the Rules.

Think about the last time you were driving.  How fast were you going?  Was it at or below the posted speed limit?  If you were like me, you were going with the flow of traffic which is usually about 20% over.  Despite a blatant disregard for the law, millions of commuters get to and from work every day without any intervention from law enforcement.  Why?

Natural order supersedes civil law.  People are driven to pursue efficiency and it’s usually achieved through a group effort.  Collectively, we decided that the speed limit was too low and that we could safely operate our vehicles beyond that range.  Since we’ve done it collectively, and have demonstrated its success, law enforcement has conceded this victory and have effectively decided to focus their efforts elsewhere.  I find it curious that the laws have not changed to reflect this, especially considering that cars have become far more agile and much safer since current speed limits were introduced.  Perhaps they’ve assumed that if they increased the limit to what we actually drove, people would simply drive 20% above that and it would be chaos.  Maybe.  Maybe we find that natural balance between speed and risk on our own.

Another perspective, well known by the tinfoil hats, suggests that this is done on purpose as it gives a government direct control over its population anytime it’s deemed to be necessary.  If a cop wanted to pull you over, he could start with the fact that you were probably speeding.  If you were driving the limit while everyone else was speeding, well now he’ll pull you over for acting suspicious.  A well-known lawyer wrote a book about the idea that the average American professional broke several federal laws each day.  This wasn’t because of a lack of morals, ethics, or competency, but because the rules, laws, and regulations were so numerous, broad or vague, that it was nearly impossible to do your job without breaking some set of rules.

While I think government and law enforcement largely recognize the system and understand how to exploit it, I don’t think it was purpose-built nor do I think most governments work with the goal of exploiting their people. If you think about why rules are put in place, it’s usually to retain power or to promote efficiency.  When a king decided that only his bloodline would rule, this helped to protect his power.  When slave owners decided that slaves didn’t have rights, this was to protect their power.  When men decided that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, it was to protect their power.  While it still does happen, I suspect that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to introduce laws for the purpose of retaining power.  If I’m not mistaken, those types of laws rely on a lack of access to information and the internet seems to have undermined that quite nicely.

What about speeding though?  That law doesn’t do much in the way of consolidating power in any direction does it?  Of course not… I don’t think.  That’s a law designed to promote efficiency.  The idea is that we want to maintain a healthy flow of traffic, with as few accidents and injuries as possible.  Not difficult to understand and most would agree that it’ a sensible solution – so why does almost everyone break that limit?  Well as it happens, we’re capable of finding that equilibrium on our own.  Once upon a time, when cars were heavier and couldn’t stop as fast, back when they weren’t loaded up with airbags, back when there weren’t seatbelts, those speed limits may have represented that equilibrium – but we’ve since evolved.

We actually have our own criteria for setting a speed limit.  We want to get from point A to point B in the least amount of time possible, without causing an accident, and without being pulled over by law enforcement.  As it turns out, we’ve identified that this new equilibrium is usually about 20% over the posted limit, and it’s why so many of us get frustrated when we’re being obstructed with someone who is only going the limit or just below.

So rules are good as long as they’re promoting efficiency then right?  No murdering is a good rule because it decreases our population’s mortality rate, time spent thinking about being murdered, and resources spent not getting murdered.  Net result is more people with more time to think about things besides being murdered – makes sense.  Consider this though, if murder wasn’t against the law, would you?  For those that have, was the law an effective deterrent?  For those who it did deter, would they have done it had they known they wouldn’t get caught?  What I’m getting at is that the law isn’t driving our sense of right and wrong, that’s something you find on the inside.

So we have these internal drivers that help us pursue efficiency and internal drivers that help us understand right from wrong.  I think they overlap and when I’ve refined this idea, it’ll certainly be its own blog post.  Until then, follow me on the assumption that our concept of right and wrong is based on our understanding of efficiency.  It’s why speeding doesn’t feel unethical unless you’re creating a dangerous situation for others.

So back to murder.  It’s a concept which is almost universally understood to be unethical or immoral. Why is that?  Well there’s an emotional perspective, an intellectual perspective, and a societal perspective that most of you will already be familiar with, but here’s my perspective from the side of efficiency.  I don’t think murder is inherently right or wrong.  If you were given a chance to assassinate Hitler prior to the holocaust, would you?  Someone who did would likely be considered a hero.  Someone who refused may even be considered to be immoral by the masses.  But what if you were only given an opportunity to kill him prior to him doing any harm?  What if you were given an opportunity to murder Hitler as an infant? Quite the ethical conundrum.

From the perspective of efficiency though, I don’t think it’s that simple.  The most efficient approach would likely be some level of early stage intervention.  I know I’m probably one of the few to suggest this, but imagine if Hitler’s passion, intelligence, and charisma were better channeled?  Not only would we have avoided a second world war, Hitler was probably capable of making a very positive contribution given the right circumstances.  All that said, in a universe of infinite possibilities, there are bound to be scenarios where murder is the most efficient option.  Where I’m sitting on this currently, is that while murder can be ethical or the most efficient course of action, it rarely ever is.  How many of us have the wisdom necessary to know which lives are worth keeping and which aren’t. How many of us would you think are entirely incapable of making a positive impact on the world when surrounded by the right people?  I think the answer is barely any and I think those are probably the biggest reasons why this exists as a social rule, regardless of law.

Finally, the fun part.  I was trying to come up with a law that was already in place, which embodied efficiency.  I couldn’t.  Then the lightbulb went off.  I suspect efficiency is like an exponential curve, meaning that you can always become more efficient, but in most cases you can never become completely efficient.  Effectively, there’s *always* room for improvement.  The purpose of a rule, is to dictate behaviour.  That rule may dictate how to behave in a highly efficient manner today, but what happens when our behaviour evolves beyond that construct?

The more rules we take away, the more we’re allowed to be ourselves.  The more we’re allowed to be ourselves, the better we can understand our maximum utility and the value of others.  The better we understand each other and ourselves, the better we are at working together towards a common goal.  The better we work together towards a common goal, the more efficient we all become.

Best laws ever ‘put’ in place? Allowing people to govern themselves.  Allowing slaves to be people.  Allowing women to be equal.  When you remove laws and regulations, allowing us to be what we should be, amazing things happen.

There is No Normal

We seem to care a great deal about what is normal and what is not, but I have good reason to think that there is no normal and that our preoccupation with it becomes a counter-productive perspective.  Imagine if you will, a normal person.  How tall are they?  How heavy?  How smart?  What do they look like?  What are their talents?  Now consider what normal might look like for someone from another culture.  The same?  Whose version of normal is more accurate (hint: probably Chinese or Indian).

I suspect that most of us would consider ourselves to be mostly normal.  So is normal an arithmetic mean of the human population, or is normal people who are more like us? And why do we want people to be normal?

When I visualize normal, I’m visualizing a blossom of deviations from that median where everyone is just a little different than what the human genetic blueprint might suggest.  Now this is where things start to get interesting because different isn’t necessarily good or bad – The universe never claimed to be a fair place.  Some of us are ‘gifted’ with a high IQ, athleticism, or good looks, while others are ‘gifted’ with a lack of emotional intelligence, binge eating tendencies, and a big nose.  Or maybe those are all qualities of the same person.

The unfortunate reality is that some of these deviations are so extreme that they’re not given a chance to play out.  Infants die from differences in how their brains or hearts developed and while we might be quick to call them defects, they weren’t broken and they didn’t come out wrong, this was part of the process and they got the short end of the stick.  What’s important to keep in mind though is that we’re dealt a hand and the hand is rarely determined by one card.  If you look back, this defines some of history’s most fascinating and accomplished people:

  • Beethoven: Legendary composer who began to lose his hearing in his 20s went on to compose some of his best work almost completely deaf.
  • Turing: Socially awkward, gay, eccentric math genius who founded modern computer science as an out of the box solution to cracking the German Enigma in WWII.
  • Hawking: World renowned astrophysicist who developed ALS in his early 20s who went on to become one of the most valuable minds in modern history – and he’s going to space!

Each individual is incredible person in their own right, but they also illustrate what I think is a very important pattern.  Given the right motivations and circumstances, being dealt a bad card doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve been dealt a bad hand.

I think that the motivation necessary to accomplish what these individuals did is not to be undervalued, but for the purpose of this conversation, it’s about circumstance.  Consider if Beethoven was born today.  He likely would’ve received the right treatment for his illnesses and would’ve never gone deaf.  Had Turing been born today, he probably would’ve been celebrated like a gay Steve Jobs (a far more suitable ending to his story).  But what if Hawking had been born 100 years ago?  What this all amounts to, is the idea that we are each dealt a hand, and that your cards are largely irrelevant without knowing the circumstances in which we have to play them – but things are improving.

Had Hawking been born 100 years ago, he would’ve likely died before 25.  Medical science isn’t yet capable of giving everyone a fair shot yet, but we’ve made tremendous progress and Hawking is a fantastic example.  As medical science continues to improve, more people will be given the opportunity to reach their full potential.

While medical science might allow someone born with a heart defect to go on to play professional sports, social circumstances exist as well.  Alan Turing is my favourite historical figure and perhaps one of history’s best examples of someone who was born before his time.  Turing was gay in England at a time when being gay was illegal.  Despite a tremendous education, being highly regarded in his field, cracking the Enigma, being awarded the Order of the British Empire, and founding modern computer science, the British government prosecuted Turing for being gay.  He was left with the options of prison or chemical castration – to which he elected a third option and took his own life.  Imagine where computer science would be today had he fulfilled his potential.

Society evolves along with the rest of us and so do our understandings of what people should and shouldn’t be doing.  Consider this: The word kind is derived from the word kin, meaning children (or family more broadly).  Knowing that, perhaps as evolved as we might be, we might still have the pack instincts of being kind to our family, and being cautious of those who are not.  Where we’ve evolved though, is who we consider to be family.  Perhaps it began as a family, then a tribe, then a village, then a kingdom, and eventually an empire.  As we’ve progressed through those stages though, we’ve understood that kin isn’t necessarily determined by bloodlines, or location, it’s based on how we choose to identify ourselves.  As we learn that identity comes from within and isn’t a selection on a multiple choice test, the closer we come to understanding just what normal is.

The more honest we are with ourselves and the better we understand ourselves, the more we recognize that we’re all just a little different.  With that understanding, it’s much easier to expand the idea of family, to include our entire species.  If we’re looking at the entire species, there’s a lot of deviation from that human blueprint.  If deviation from the median is the norm, then different is normal.

Now for my favourite part.  Embracing different isn’t about gay pride parades or shaking up the dress code at work, it’s about doing what we’re best at.  Everyone’s wired in their own unique way and we’re just now entering into an era where exploring that identity isn’t just tolerated, it’s encouraged.  The more we explore our own identities, the better we’ll understand ourselves and the better we understand ourselves, the better we are at recognizing what our gift to the world is.  Everyone has their own unique potential and we must understand it before we can reach it.  The first step is understanding that there is no normal.