Weed isn't a gateway drug, alcohol is
It's popped up again. The discussion about "gateway drugs" — a drug that, once you try it, leads you to do other drugs. On the front of The New York Times today, with a picture that could make readers think marijuana is a gateway drug, was the headline "A Comeback for the Gateway Drug Theory?"
But the whole "gateway drugs" discussion has always been wildly off. Because the question that doesn't get asked enough is: gateway to what?
A "gateway," says the dictionary, is any passage by which a region may be entered: "New York soon became the gateway to America."
So, sure, if you try marijuana or alcohol and that lets you step into a world filled with thorns, heartache and broken glass, lost jobs, blown money and blown strangers — okay, shut that goddamn door.
"Marijuana is a gateway drug to junk food [and] getting fired from your janitorial job and living with your mother at age 45," a writer for NBC Chicago joked.
But gates don't just lead to bad places. What if on the other side of the gate is a garden and a twilight and a palace that otherwise would have been completely and absolutely hidden from you? If the other side of the gate is health or happiness? What if marijuana helps people think of new ideas, go new places or do more yoga?
Most research says that marijuana is not a gateway to other drugs. But you (probably) know people for whom it was. If anything, it changed their thinking. They'd been lied to for decades about the dangers of marijuana. And they bought it. Then they tried it and found it was as soft and cuddly as a kitten. So they asked: what else was I lied to about?
No drug is purely good or bad. All are cures and poisons, both. Some, like fentanyl and heroin, zap away pain but can hook you for life and are mostly life-wreckers. But some are borderline miracles. Molly can overheat your body but also repair broken spirits. Mushrooms can give you a bad trip but also blast apart the fear of death. LSD can send users to the psych ward but, for some headaches, it's like Tylenol Plus Plus Plus.
And we're not saying that messing with any illegal drug is genius. Buying a product illegally is not just a possible gateway to jail, it's often a gateway drug to other contraband. Because now the kids are meeting some sketchball in a parking lot who not only has weed, but they also have a lead on a pistol or M80s.
"You're taking something that is highly sought after and relatively benign and turning the pursuit of it into a dangerous activity," says Mason Tvert, one of the people most responsible for Colorado's groundbreaking legalization of weed, and now Vice President of VS Strategies, a marijuana policy group.
All we're saying is that gates aren't good or bad, they just let stuff flow through a wall. In this case, the gate is there because the country walled off certain drugs — drugs that nobody fully understands — without knowing what we were walling in or walling out.