While I usually try to abstain from writing posts about how something an op-ed columnist wrote was stupid—not an unworthy endeavor, but if I don't do it many other people will be there to pick up the slack—today I'm going to make an exception for Maureen Dowd. That's not only because her column in today's New York Times is particularly inane, but because there's a lesson hidden there, really there is. So stick with me. But first, on to Dowd's glorious tale. Seems she was in Denver and decided to sample some of this "marijuana" she's been hearing so much about. Like any sensible person trying a drug for the first time, she made no attempt whatsoever to determine how much of it she should consume to reach her desired state of consciousness. Instead, she bought a cannabis candy bar and ate the whole thing. The results were unsurprising:
But then I felt a scary shudder go through my body and brain. I barely made it from the desk to the bed, where I lay curled up in a hallucinatory state for the next eight hours. I was thirsty but couldn’t move to get water. Or even turn off the lights. I was panting and paranoid, sure that when the room-service waiter knocked and I didn’t answer, he’d call the police and have me arrested for being unable to handle my candy.
I strained to remember where I was or even what I was wearing, touching my green corduroy jeans and staring at the exposed-brick wall. As my paranoia deepened, I became convinced that I had died and no one was telling me.
It took all night before it began to wear off, distressingly slowly. The next day, a medical consultant at an edibles plant where I was conducting an interview mentioned that candy bars like that are supposed to be cut into 16 pieces for novices; but that recommendation hadn’t been on the label.
I reckoned that the fact that I was not a regular marijuana smoker made me more vulnerable, and that I should have known better. But it turns out, five months in, that some kinks need to be ironed out with the intoxicating open bar at the Mile High Club.
For the rest of the column, Dowd relates some anecdotes about people doing foolish things while high, and the cases where a little kid has consumed edibles and gotten sick, perhaps unaware that she was reinforcing the fact that by eating that entire bar without bothering to find out what it would do to her she displayed all the sense of a five-year-old. As I tweeted last night when I read this, that's kind of like saying that the first time you ever tried alcohol, you downed a whole bottle of Jack Daniels and it was quite unpleasant, so this prohibition thing might not be such a bad idea.
To be sure, there's a genuine issue with how edible cannabis is packaged and sold. Unlike alcohol, which has a shocking taste and therefore turns little kids off, edibles just taste like food, so extra care needs to be taken to keep them away from children (and even adults who might eat them not knowing what they are). Unfortunately, we don't yet have a measure akin to "proof" that can give you a quick and understandable sense of how high you'll get from whatever you're going to eat or smoke. Furthermore, one of the risks of edibles is that you eat them and then have to wait a while for the effects to kick in, so you don't know if you've consumed too little or too much until it's too late.
Colorado, Washington, and every other state considering legalizing marijuana should work on a system to address this problem, including regulations on how edibles are labeled. But Dowd's story of her journey to the dark side of her mind offers those of us who write about politics and policy for a living a valuable lesson. Writing about your personal experiences can be a good way to add texture to what might otherwise be dry discussions of policy. The effect laws have on individual people is why they matter. But if you're going to hold your own experiences up as exemplars to represent something larger, there are some questions you have to ask: Was my experience typical, or unusual? Does it have genuine implications for the choices we face as a nation? Does it actually shed light on important aspects of this issue?
If you answer those questions thoughtfully, even an atypical experience can offer something edifying. Or, you can just tell the story of the time you acted like an idiot.