Elder Maxwell’s prescient words on the efforts to legalize marijuana

Almost 40 years ago (1976) Elder Maxwell (at the time a member of the Presidency of the Seventy) wrote about the continued relevance of the Word of Wisdom’s warning of “evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days.” In so doing, he gave an example that today has increasing relevance given the successful efforts to legalize Marijuana in several states:

Combine the profit motive with the fanning of human appetite in things narcotic, or near narcotic, and the warning is not too dramatic at all. Suppose those who now profit from cigarettes were to seek dominion over the legalized use of marijuana. You can be quite certain that those who were resistant to calling attention to the harmful effects of nicotine will end up extolling the harmlessness of “pot.” There is already a built-in, national constituency favoring such legalization.

Now, if such were to happen, and time and real research were to demonstrate the harmfulness of marijuana, how easy do you think it would be for a whole society to disengage? Whose lock-them-in style does this sort of consequence suggest? Such a condition would be brought about by the very “conspiring men in the last days” who brought us accelerated alcoholism, prostitution, and gambling. Such conspirators will not view with favor a minority of sin-resistant souls who seem to block their path, any more than their evil counterparts tolerated the Old Testament prophets who were an irritating interruption centuries ago!

Maxwell, Neal A. (2009-08-17). Deposition of a Disciple (Kindle Locations 802-808). Deseret Book Company. Kindle Edition.

I admit that my feelings about the potential legalization of marijuana have been mixed. As a teenager, I had many friends that were potheads and I saw them waste their life away in a blaze of marijuana smoke. It can be an addiction and a lifestyle as harmful as any other addiction even if not quite as physically addicting as tobacco. Yet, I have also had friends and family members benefit from the medicinal use of marijuana to cure physical and mental ailments. I also feel like throwing young pot users into prison has wrecked havoc in certain communities and is grossly disproportionate and inequitable. As such, I support the legalization of medicinal marijuana with strict controls on availability, as well as a decriminalization of simple marijuana possession (although a continued criminalization of illegal sales of marijuana).

However, reading Elder Maxwell’s words helps to solidify my opposition to full legalization of marijuana. Legalization opens a gateway that once open can never be again closed. There are too many individuals who will become invested with selling marijuana as the newest craze. Just as with alcohol and tobacco, a harmful substance will be sold as sexy and cool.

Right now in Colorado, small businesses and marijuana dispensaries are thriving. Does anyone doubt that in five years or ten, the marijuana industry will be made up of the same large players that peddle alcohol and tobacco? As Elder Maxwell predicts, they will move in and seek to profit in this lucrative potential market.

Although I know that many smoke today despite marijuana’s illegality, it is self-evidence that legalization and increased availability coupled with increased marketing will increase demand. Indeed, Marijuana will be marketed as the “safe” alternative to tobacco and this legalization will undo decades of exceptional progress in the war on tobacco. I am also cognizant for the potential discovery of yet unexpected harms as marijuana consumption reaches critical mass. Even though it now appear that marijuana is less harmful on the whole than tobacco or alcohol, it is with an eye to the future that I stand in opposition along with Elder Maxwell to the out and out legalization of marijuana.


5 thoughts on “Elder Maxwell’s prescient words on the efforts to legalize marijuana

  1. The problem here is that the scientific research has been done. There is no more researched plant on Earth, and few that have been in constant use by humans for so long. There is no modern, unbiased research that shows any harms greater than increased risk of bronchitis and, in very heavy users, short term memory impairment that is alleviated by cessation. Meanwhile, ongoing research is finding medical uses for the plant that were unknown even to practitioners of herbal medicine who have always viewed cannabis without stigma and as no more or less than one of the many useful plants.

    Live like you want to live, of course, but please beware the danger of citing religion or the words of prophets as an excuse to deny others their liberty. That’s a table that turns quite readily and rapidly whenever a demagogue takes a seat.

    • I think you are understating the health harms of Marijuana including potential cancer links as well as harms caused by driving under the influence etc…

      Decriminalization is an ideal balance between allowing for personal liberty and preventing the negative consequences that come from marijuana usage that I mention in the post.

      • The evidence to date is that smoking marijuana does not increase cancer risk, and in fact conveys some minor protective benefit.

        In the states where marijuana has been legalized for medicinal use, traffic fatality rates have decreased right from the date upon which medical marijuana was legalized. Here in Colorado, where I live, we decriminalized marijuana three decades ago — the penalty for simple possession of up to two ounces carried a fine ten times less than that for littering. Yet we are the physically healthiest state in the nation, and in the five most mentally healthy (or five least mentally ill), as well. Automobile insurers charge the lowest rates in the nation in Fort Collins, CO, implying that it is the safest city in the country in which to drive, yet it’s a college town where marijuana has always been abundant.

        We all know or have known some whose life goals were limited to lying on the sofa and staying intoxicated. This is nothing more than empirical evidence that human beings, as most other animals, will self medicate, and serves as evidence of a deeper underlying problem that is potentially life destroying in its own right. At the same time, there are very successful people who are famous (or infamous) for their pot habits — Richard Branson, Ted Turner, Michael Bloomberg, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Steven King come easily to mind. Oh, and Barack Obama’s youthful indiscretions didn’t slow him down much, either. Personally, I wish the guy was still a pot smoker and so more peaceful.

        Decriminalization is not balance: If you decriminalize pot but keep cultivation, trade, or distribution without profit as felonies, then possession is prima facie evidence of criminal behavior. This fact has not been lost on American law enforcement, who have been exploiting it for decades to fill their coffers with the lucre of civil asset forfeiture. Legalization will not fix our outrageously corrupt systems, but it’s a step that we must take if we value human life over authoritarian power. Or so say my two cents.

        I thank you from the bottom of my heart for allowing me to express my dissenting opinion.

  2. “Marijuana should undergo the same rigorous approval process as other medications
    prescribed by physicians, including randomized, placebo- and active-controlled trials
    to evaluate safety and efficacy, not by popular vote or state legislature…Marijuana should undergo the same rigorous approval process as other medications prescribed by physicians, including randomized, placebo- and active-controlled trials to evaluate safety and efficacy, not by popular vote or state legislature.

    “To date, there has been only one randomized, double-blind, placebo- and active-controlled trial evaluating the efficacy of smoked marijuana for any of its potential indications, which showed that marijuana was superior to placebo but interior to Ondansetron in treating nausea.'”

    “Myth: Marijuana is Not Addictive
    A growing myth among the public is that marijuana is not an addictive substance. Data clearly show that about 10% of those who use cannabis become addicted; this number is higher among adolescents. Users who seek treatment for marijuana addiction average 10 years of daily use. A withdrawal syndrome has been described, consisting ot anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, depression, and changes in appetite and affects as many as 44% of frequent users, contributing to the addictive potential of the drug…

    “Effects on Cognition
    Early studies suggested cognitive declines associated with marijuana (especially early and heavy use); these declines persisted long after the period of acute cannabis intoxication. Recently, Meier and colleagues analyzed data trom a prospective study which allowed .subjects from birth to age 38; their findings yielded supportive evidence that cannabis use, when begun during adolescence was associated with cognitive impairment in multiple areas, including executive functioning, processing speed, memory, perceptual reasoning, and verbal comprehension.”

    Samuel T. Wilkinson, MD (2013, NOV). More Reasons States Should Not Legalize Marijuana: Medical and Recreational Marijuana: Commentary and Review of the Literature. Journal of Missouri Medicine, 110:06, p. 524-528.

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