Tell Your Children The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, And Violence by Alex Berenson
What an odd title for a book based on propaganda and conversations with his wife. Alex Berenson is the proud creator of latest bit of Reefer Madness.
With every political movement there’s a little backlash, so why would the cannabis movement be any different? Of course, after Reefer Madness, spearheaded by the racist scaremonger Harry Anslinger, it’s no surprise that current waves of legalization have sparked outdated anti-cannabis vigilantes to resurface. The latest one? Alex Berenson with his fire starter of a book, Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness, and Violence and the accompanying op-ed in The Times and Wall Street Journal.
If you’re disappointed that such reputable journals would bother publishing such rubbish, you’re not alone. The op-ed and the book ignited instance rebuttals by those in the know. For one, Berenson’s entire argument seems to be based off a retroactive kinship with Harry Anslinger and a poorly-informed anecdote from his wife.
This is shocking coming from someone who used to work for the New York Times. Despite the rigorous fact-checking that undoubtedly comes with the job description for that publication, Bereson seems to have forgotten his journalistic ethics when it comes to his new book.
Promotion For The Book Is Widespread and Accepting
It should come as no surprise that the book appeared on Fox and Friends. For those hoping for Trump to come into the light when it comes to cannabis, you may face disappointment when realizing that this conspiracy rag was promoted on his favourite ‘news’ program. Another real shock I’m sure is the author’s appearance on the notoriously conservative Tucker Carlson Tonight.
Needless to say, neither of these programs was particularly investigative when it came to questioning the conclusions of Bereson’s textual vomit.
Berenson based his book on ‘evidence’ provided by his wife, a forensic psychiatrist, whom he describes as “[specializing] in evaluating mentally ill criminals”.
That’s great, innocent enough start. Where it goes a bit off the rails is where she claims that every single criminal she works with smokes cannabis, as if that’s an explanation of their actions. Causation, correlation, what?
Well, one, I’m sure every single one of those criminals also drinks alcohol, and has probably taken some kind of prescription drug in their life. Furthermore, someone with mental health issues consuming cannabis is far from unusual – it’s a recommended treatment for PTSD, anxiety, and depression. In addition, the mentally ill are more likely to have violence imposed upon them rather than the other way around.
Busy Constructing More Barriers
Cannabis has never been the cause of overdose. While there are legitimate health concerns that may come with cannabis consumption, and these certainly are worth addressing, Berenson didn’t actually address them. Perhaps, instead of spreading propaganda, he should engage in thorough research and pen a call for broader scientific studies.
As it is, his support of the infamously anti-immigrant, classist tyrant, Harry Anslinger, is more than a little unwelcome in America’s current climate. He’s adding fuel to an already raging segregation fire.
To his credit, Berenson does admit that racial biases lead to more frequent incarceration of marginalized, disadvantaged classes and races for cannabis possession. However, he goes on to claim that these groups also experience greater ‘harm’ from cannabis, and proposes decriminalization as the solution. This is a bit of light in an otherwise dismal tome, but decriminalization still leaves holes like legal cultivation and sale. Where are people supposed to get their cannabis in a decriminalized society?
Debunking The Alex Berenson Conspiracies
Ziva Cooper, of UCLA, responded to Berenson’s book and op-ed on Twitter on 9 January 2019. Cooper’s Tweet read: “In response to the recent @NYTimes editorial on cannabis and as a committee member on the @theNASEM #cannabis and #cannabinoids report we did NOT conclude that cannabis causes schizophrenia.”
Jesse Singal of New York magazine dismissed the book as one with “oversimplified arguments” based on misleading analysis of cannabis and violence statistics. Berenson argues that “the first four states to legalize have seen sharp increases in murders and aggravated assaults since 2014.”
Singal disputes this claim. He writes, “Despite Berenson’s claim of ‘sharp increases in murders and aggravated assaults since 2014’ in Oregon, the FBI reported that the murder rate there went up a grand total of 1.0 percent from 2015 to 2016, as compared to a nationwide uptick of 7.9 percent, and then dropped by 11.6 percent between 2016 and 2017, a significantly steeper drop than in the rest of the country.”
Dr. Peter Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School, a board member of Doctors For Cannabis Regulation and a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, said in response to Berenson’s wife’s claims, “I’ve worked in an inner city clinic in Boston for the last 10 years, and we haven’t attributed any violent crimes to cannabis. So I tend to think the author is using this unsubstantiated origin story, which makes no distinction between correlation and causation, to prop up his phoney theories.”
The Growth Op published a comprehensive article explaining the flaws in Berenson’s book. In it, the writer, Brendan Bures, cites Ziva Cooper in refuting Berenson’s claim that one of the studies she helped with, “The Health Effects of cannabis and Cannabinoids”, proved a link between schizophrenia and cannabis. She said, “To say that we concluded cannabis causes schizophrenia, it’s just wrong, and it’s meant to precipitate fear.”
Drug expert, Mark Kleiman, also refuted Berenson’s claim that violence spikes with cannabis use. He said, “Nothing interesting happened with regard to pot in 2014, but there was a national uptick in homicide in 2015-2016.” Beau Kilmer of RAND Drug Policy Research Center also tweeted that “Marijuana does not induce violent crime.”
What is needed is further studies on a larger scale by reputable researchers, not more scaremongering. What is needed is legitimate, fact-based publications. Tell your children the reality of cannabis, its benefits, risks. And teach them about critical thinking so they can wade through someone else’s BS without drowning.