Friday, December 28, 2012

What's Going On with Medicine in America?

Some claim that the United States has the best health care in the world, but do we? When compared to others countries, we fall short in many areas. What we do have is the most expensive health care in the world. In 2010 we spent over $8000 per person. That is 2.5 times more than other developed countries.

The Institute of Medicine says that 30% of health care spending is wasted on unnecessary procedures, excessive administration costs, and fraud or other problems.

Whistle-Blowing Doctors

When I decided to look into this, I discovered quite a few books written by "whistle-blowing" doctors. I was quite surprised by what I learned. Just the titles are enough to cause alarm:
  • How We Do Harm: a Doctor Breaks Ranks about Being sick in America, by Otis Webb Brawley, M.D., Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of the American Cancer Society, 2011
  • Overdiagnosed: Making People Sick in the Pursuit of Health, by H. Gilbert Welch, L. Schwartz, and S. Woloshin, 2012
  • Overtreated: Why too much Medicine is Making Us Sicker and Poorer, by Shannon Brownlee, 2007
  • Seeking Sickness: Medical Screening and the Misguided Hunt for Disease, by H. Gilbert Welch and Alan Cassels, 2012

What these books tell us, in a nutshell, is that some doctors base their treatment recommendations on the payments they will receive. Some hospitals and pharmacies actually seek out patients to test and treat, even when they are not actually ill, if they have good insurance that will pay.

One thing that's happening is that they are widening the definition of certain illnesses to expand the market for treatment, tests, and medications. This seems like a pretty outrageous claim, but just think about it:

What is "pre-hypertension"?  They used to have a set of numbers that were considered the line for high blood pressure. Later, they decided that maybe those numbers covered the worst but were missing a lot of people whose blood pressure level also wasn't safe, so they lowered the level of what was considered high blood pressure. So that should have been enough. But no - now we have "pre-hypertension." These are people whose blood pressure numbers are nearing, but not quite at, the level for high blood pressure. In other words, they are still in the normal range. But rather than just warning people and teaching them ways to prevent it from getting higher, they want to start medicating them - before they even have high blood pressure.

What is "pre-diabetes"?  Same idea here. These people are not sick. There is no evidence of actual disease. They don't need medication; they need to be taught to eat right and exercise so they don't develop diabetes in the future.

How about "at risk"?  Suddenly people whose tests show that they are near the levels for high cholesterol or osteoporosis are being treated for diseases that they may develop - or they may not. This is called "overdiagnosis." These people are still in the normal range, just at the high end of it.

Overdiagnosis

This is a huge problem! It is estimated that 20 to 35% of all money spent on health care goes to pay for unnecessary treatments, tests, medications, and devices. Just Google "overdiagnosis" and check out the huge list that comes up.

The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice is organizing a conference, Preventing Overdiagnosis Conference 2013. I highly recommend that you watch the video on their web page.

An interesting op-ed piece in the New York Times last month, Cancer Survivor or Victim of Overdiagnosis? explains this better than I can, but I would be very upset to find this out now if I had ever gone through the horrible treatment for breast cancer. Here is another article in the New England Journal of Medicine about the same study.

Better Safe than Sorry?

It would seem, and indeed it is argued, that it is better to be over-diagnosed than under-diagnosed. We wouldn't want them to miss something.

Well, as it turns out, maybe we would. Two very good examples are with screening mammograms for breast cancer and PSA tests for prostate cancer. It turns out that we have these little cancers in our bodies that, if left alone, will never do anything to cause us any harm at all. We've probably always had them, but they never found them until they went looking.

Now it is estimated that 1.3 million women have undergone chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries for nothing. The worst of it is probably the terrible fear that they have gone through.

This PBS Newshour article explains it much better than I can. And don't pass up the video explanation that is attached. This is about breast cancer, but the situation is very similar for prostate cancer and the PSA test.

Does the Advertising of Prescription Drugs Make Sense?

People who retire to Mexico learn quickly that they don't need many of the medications they are taking. The doctors here carefully wean them off, one at a time, until they get down to the few that they really do need for whatever reason. These books tell about the problems with pharmaceutical companies:
  • Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies are Turning Us all into Patients, by Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels, 2005
  • Overdosed America: the Broken Promise of American Medicine, by John Abramson, M.D.
 When I worked in doctors' offices about 35 years ago, the drug companies had representatives who went around to all of the doctors offices and tried to convince them to prescribe their products. They left them with piles of samples that the physicians could give to their patients to see if they helped whatever the problem might be. The doctors I worked for gave out the samples but for the most part they went right on prescribing whatever they had already been using. Then the drug companies started advertising directly to the consumers.

These drug ads are everywhere we look; it is very hard to avoid them. The advertising companies that they've hired know how to do their job well. First they convince us with darkness and frowns and sad music that every little twinge or momentary feeling of sadness or frustration is a major problem that must be cured with medication. And they have just the right thing for that cure. As soon as you take it, all of your problems will go away, which you will be certain of because you will be surrounded by bright colors and flowers, singing birdies, and happy music.

And while your mind is busy thinking about whether that drug is the cure for all of your problems, you miss the huge long list of all the side effects, contraindications, and complications that go along with this medicine. And the list is read off so fast that you'd better give it 100% of your attention to get it all. They may tell you about tests that prove how wonderful their drug is, but they neglect to mention that they ran the tests and just may have fudged the results a wee bit.

Of course, you still need your doctor to prescribe the medicine, so you go into his or her office and ask for the prescription. And you'll probably get it, whether the doctor agrees that you need it or not. Why? We've backed our doctors into a corner. They are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If they don't prescribe it and something later comes up that shows it might have helped, they will probably be sued. So they are safer if they do give it to you, as long as it doesn't kill you or do any great harm.

So, in the meantime, their oath to "Do no harm" has become "Do no great harm."

Growing Older

Things get every worse as we age. Think of the old people you know. How often are they going to the doctor? How many medications are they taking?

The most interesting of the books I read was Rethinking Aging: Growing Old and Living Well in an Overtreated Society, by Nortin M. Hadler, M.D.  In addition to discussing everything I've already mentioned, this book focuses on tests and treatments for people who are too old to benefit from them.

Think about heart surgery on people in their nineties. Chances are real good that the surgery is more dangerous than the heart condition. Or how about cancer treatment for someone that age. Why? They would be so much better off enjoying the life they have left than making themselves miserable with treatment for their few remaining months or years.

This book can help us to help our parents make wise health care decisions, but it also addresses the problems of people just reaching retirement age. What we do now can make a big difference in our lives in the future. Who wants to live long if the life you live is filled with aches and pains and illness? It would be so much better to take care now and be happier and healthier later.

What Can We Do?

Doctors study hard for a lot of years to try to learn as much as possible about keeping us healthy. We certainly want to respect them for that and take advantage of the knowledge that they have worked so hard to attain. But somewhere along the way we've gotten lost.

Doctors are scared to death of malpractice lawsuits, and who can blame them? We want them to be gods and then turn on them when they aren't. This fact affects everything they do and say. It is time for change.

First, we have to take the responsibility for our own health in every way possible. We need to eat healthy food and not too much of it. We need to get out there and exercise. Don't drink too much. And we need to get enough sleep.  That's a start.

Next, we need to make an effort to inform ourselves about any health issue that comes up. Check it out on the Internet. Find out all you can from legitimate medical websites, not from Joe Blow giving his opinion. Learn about the possible treatments and potential harms. Make a list of questions that you want to discuss with your doctor.

Also, don't blindly accept everything you are told. If doctors don't agree with each other, find out why. Ask questions. Find out the pros and cons of a particular treatment. What can you expect? What if it doesn't work? What can go wrong? You cannot give "informed consent" to a treatment without knowing the answers to these questions.

Even better than "informed consent" is "shared decision making." This honors both your doctor's expert knowledge and your right to be fully informed of all your options. There may be some doctors out there who have lost sight of what is best for their patients, but most of them are great people who are doing the best they can to help us stay healthy. What are you doing to help them do their job?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Planning My French Adventure

I've always dreamed of learning some French and moving to France for six months to work on becoming fluent in the language. It's hard to follow a dream like that when you are in a relationship with someone who does not share the dream, but Terry and I are good at compromise. As I wrote that post back in October about the couple who sold everything upon retirement and live on the road (it has now moved to the one prior to this one because I changed a spelling error,) I began thinking about ways to make it work.

Market in Gordes

I discovered the Home Away website, where I searched hundreds of apartments all over Provence.  I started with Marseille because it is central, bigger than many of the other places, and on the coast. I found one apartment near the old port, but when I inquired about the price for two months, the owner raised the price substantially because Marseille is the site of a cultural celebration all next year. I'll let her find another renter.

Then I found another apartment in Marseilles, much nicer than the first one and for a similar price. I was about ready to sign the contract but decided to check out the neighborhood on Google Earth. I just love the feature that allows you to virtually walk the streets of a neighborhood, but even more so now that it saved me from making a big mistake. Every surface of every wall in that neighborhood is completely covered in graffiti! Even if it is safe, I'm certain that it would be very depressing to walk those streets every day.

Gordes
When I read that most of Old Marseille was blown up by the Nazis, I decided maybe that was not where I wanted to stay after all.

Another town that I have never visited but always been intrigued by is Aix-en-Provence, just a short bus ride inland from Marseille. The original old town is still there; the new town has just been built all around the old town. The birthplace and home of Paul Cezanne, Aix (pronounced EX) is an artist's kind of town.

It didn't take long to find an apartment in Aix - just one block from the Cours Maribeau, where everyone wants to hang out. It has a complete kitchen, and the washer and dryer will be a huge money-saver. You can see photos here. I found out that it is important to contact the owners for a price quote. Many were much higher than advertised; this one was much lower for the long rental.

Before I committed to this one, I checked apartments all over Provence. This one was definitely the best deal. The deposit is paid and the contract signed, so there is no backing out.

Ochre cliffs at Rousillon

I am checking various websites weekly for a good rate on the planes tickets. As always, I don't have enough miles with any airline to fly free, but this one should put me over the top for the next trip. Today I found out that I can do a side trip to Portland, Oregon, to visit my kids for less than $100 extra. A flight to Portland alone is about $450, so that is something I will definitely consider.

I am working on the language: reading, writing, listening , and pronouncing. I jump around from Rosetta Stone to old videos of French in Action on YouTube (I've got the book.) I have French for Dummies and French Made simple. If I make through all of these, I've got a box full of cassettes. I also get regular posts from Marie Claire's online magazine in French.

Pont du Gard
I've been reading MFK Fisher's books about her life in France and cooking from Patricia Wells at Home in Provence. I'm remembering aoli and tapenade, wines and cheeses and pastis and my mouth is watering. I look through my old photos from 1999 and remember visiting some of those places like it was just last year. I'm trying to decide which ones to skip this time around and which I want to explore without the pressure of a tour group ready to move on.


I'm really excited about the chance to travel without the pressure of moving around all the time with luggage, searching for hotel deals, catching trains. I may even hop on the bullet train for the three hour trip to Paris for a few nights. I love beginnings - the possibilities are endless!

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Retirement Can Be an Adventure

I read an article the other day in the Wall Street Journal online about a retired couple who sold their house in California last year and have been living more or less 'on the move' ever since. They've whittled their stuff down to what they can carry in a few suitcases and move slowly around the world, renting furnished apartments and houses online that they live in for a month or two.

In the past 18 months, they have lived in Mexico, Argentina, Florida, Turkey, France, Italy, England and the US. They will finish out the year in Ireland and Morocco before going back to the US to spend the holidays with family.

I've done enough traveling to know that I need a home of my own to come back to -- a place to keep the stuff that I enjoy when I'm home. I've already over-purged my belongings once and then decided I wanted some of it back. That was a lesson well learned.

But why not a compromise between staying home and moving all the time? I told myself for years that, as soon as I learn enough French, I'm going to rent an apartment in France and live there for a while to become comfortable speaking a third language. I've always thought that six months would be nice, but that was before I met Terry. He has no desire to live in, or even visit, France. So I put that dream away for some undefined time in the future.

Reading this article got me thinking about that dream all over again. Terry is going to Florida to visit family and friends for five or six weeks in May and June, so what is stopping me from going to France at that same time? It won't be six months -- I don't really want to leave Mexico for six months -- but I can settle for two. I won't come home speaking perfect French, but a rental agreement and a ticket are good incentive to study over the next six months. And I can always go back another time to learn more.

The couple in the article have lots more cash than I do; but then, I own two houses in Mexico. Still, this seems like something I can do. I've seen quite a few vacation rentals online that rent for less than $1000US a month. With a kitchen for cooking my own gluten-free vegetarian meals, I'm pretty well set. And with wi-fi and my computer, I can do my few daily hours of work wherever I may be. And I have Skype on my iPod Touch so I can easily call home. And with more than one bedroom, I can even invite a girlfriend or two to come visit me and help with the rent.

The idea just keeps expanding as I think about the possibilities. The next year, I could do my "French Lesson" in Morocco and maybe Vietnam the year after that. What about French Polynesia? Or Vanuatu and the Seychelles? And then St. Barts and St. Martin in the Caribbean? I've been to some of these places but I always felt a little lost, or kind of left out, because I couldn't speak the language.

Speaking Spanish has made it easy for me to move around in Latin America and Spain. Sure, there are some differences in the way it's spoken in the different countries, but it hasn't been difficult to adapt. And my Spanish even came in handy once in Croatia when my tiny bit of Italian was lacking. I got away with using Spanish in Portugal, and with a Brazilian friend, too. Speaking French will open up so many more possibilities.

Actually, I've been to France before -- even to Provence -- but it was with a tour and we moved around so fast that we missed all but the main tourist traps. And,of course, I didn't speak any French at all. That was my first and only official tour.

I prefer the idea of slow travel, like I did in Japan. I had a whole month to enjoy Kyoto. It was so much better than a few days or even a week. Two months will allow me to return to Roussillion, and St. Remy, and Avignon. And I'll be able to visit Aix-en-Provence, and Grasse, where they make the perfume. And I can follow van Gogh around Arles. The more I think about this, the more excited I get! And of course I'll write all about it.

I've got to get back to my Rosetta Stone now...



If you would like to read more about the couple that brought on this whole plan, check out their website.






Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sex, Drugs, & Rock n' Roll, Part 3: Music of the '60s

I'm going to go out on a limb here and state that the music of the 1960s was better than any other decade, past or future. I'm sure some will disagree with me; I've got two good friends that go back and forth on Facebook sharing contemporary music pretty much every day; but then again, they are younger than I am.

Since I live in Mexico, it is pretty rare for me to even be exposed to much in the way of contemporary music that is not Latino. And I don't care. I've got drawers full of hundreds of CDs - most of them from the 60s. Why would I need anything else?

Here's the deal - contemporary music, even though it may be quite good, is only music. I can listen to it; I can sing with it; I can dance to it, but that's it. The music of the 1960s, though, is just as much memory as it is music.

Hearing the songs of the 1960s is like running into an old friend that I haven't seen for many years. I still remember the words to so many of them; how can that be? I was never a singer, never part of a band.

When I hear an old familiar song, I am immediately transported back forty to fifty years. And the songs bring with them other memories of my life in those days. The songs are tied to the memories of what was important in my life when that song was important to me.

Boomer Bands

Living here in Mexico, surrounded by active retirees, gringo bands made up of baby boomers can be found wherever gringo retirees are living. Many of them are very talented. Others are just OK, but as long as they play the old familiar songs from the 1960s, they draw a large crowd.

Quite a few of my high school friends and classmates play in bands. I don't really know, but I suspect they had "real jobs" for most of their adult lives and can now afford to indulge in their musical dreams.

When I first arrived here eight years ago and was remodeling the house I had purchased, I was surprised to discover that the young workers on the job listened to a 60s rock station as they worked. They didn't even speak English!

Even some of the Mexican bands are catching on to the eternal popularity of music from the 60s. They might not speak English, but they know the words to those songs pretty well. Of course, so do their gringo and Mexican audiences.

And when I was living in Japan, I sometimes passed a young Japanese man playing and singing in the streets in Kyoto for tips. I never heard him play anything but Eric Clapton, and he was pretty good. Finally I was there one night when he took a break so I tried to talk to him. It turned out the the only English he knew was the words to the songs he sang. I don't even know if he understood them.

My Memories

The first record I ever owned was Soldier Boy by the Shirelles. It was 1962 and I was ten years old; I received it as a gift with my first record player. I played it over and over again. I don't remember any complaints, but my family must have hated that song after a while.

I was twelve when the Beatles first appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Many of my sixth grade memories - and many others for years and years to come - are tied to Beatles songs. She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand immediately transport me to right outside my sixth grade classroom.

But I am a California girl, so the Beach Boys were always there, too. I loved that they sang about things that were familiar to my life; I went to the beach every chance I got. It seemed to me like there was always a competition between the Beatles and the Beach Boys; was it only in my mind? If I'd had to choose back then, it would have to have been the Beach Boys because they were writing about my home and my life. Even now, when I listen to Surfer Girl, I am sitting in the back seat of my parents car riding along the Pacific Coast Highway and watching the surfers out in the water.

I once had a big stuffed snake that I won at the Teenage Fair in Hollywood. I named it Sam the Sham. One night I awoke to my mother pounding on my locked bedroom door, trying to wake me. Sam was falling off the end of my bed, his tail was touching my space heater, he was smouldering with lots of smoke, and I was coughing and coughing. So whenever I hear Wooly Bully, I flash back to the night Sam the Sham tried to kill me.

A few years later, I got a little wilder. I loved If You're going to San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair). In fact, I loved everything about San Francisco. I wanted so badly to go there and be a part of the hippy culture that was going on there. When my parents announced that our 1968 vacation was going to be a drive north to San Francisco, I was in 7th heaven. After the long drive from near Los Angeles, we finally made it; we were right there at the corner of Haight and Ashbury streets. But Dad kept on going; he didn't even try to find a parking place. I don't know if I ever really forgave him for taking me so close to where I wanted to be and refusing to stop. And that whole incident comes back whenever I hear the song.

In 1969 I turned 18, but earlier that summer, when I was still 17, my brother and I attended the Newport Pop Festival at Devonshire Downs in Northridge, California. This was pre-Woodstock, and it was the closest I was ever going to get to Woodstock. We attended the first of three nights of the festival. We found a spot pretty close to the stage and sat on the ground to watch the best concert we'd ever seen in our lives. I have a bit of memory of seeing Joe Cocker and Taj Mahal (among others) but the highlight, by far, was Jimi Hendrix. There were complaints later about the quality of his performance, but to me, sitting there on the ground and looking up at him on the stage above me, it just didn't seem possible. We thought the whole event was wonderful. We went in, found a place to sit, enjoyed the concert, filed out with the crowd, found our car, and slowly inched our way to the freeway to drive home. We could talk about nothing but how wonderful it all was all the way home and couldn't wait to tell out parents about it. When we walked in the door, they acted almost like we were back from the dead. It was all over the news about a terrible riot with people breaking down the fences and the Hells Angels who were the security guards for the event beating people up. Our parents didn't know if we would even come home, but we didn't even know anything about the riot. We were up close to the stage and the riot was way in the back. We had a great time!

Do You Have Song-Related Memories?

I have a long list of "memory songs" that I could write about, but I don't want to bore you with my memories.  You must have your own; I can't imagine it any other way.  So put on some of your old favorites and see where they take you.


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Sex, Drugs, and Rock n' Roll, Part 2: Legalizing Marijuana

Have we reached the tipping point for the decriminalization of marijuana yet? Now that Obama doesn't have to worry about being elected again, will he go with public opinion? What could make better sense than to decriminalize it, license it, and tax it?

A 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug with 18.1 million users in the United States.  It is estimated that 76% of 50 year old high school graduates have tried marijuana. It may be the largest cash crop in the US with a value in the billions of dollars.

Decriminalization of marijuana for personal use would:
  • Allow law enforcement officials to turn their attention toward preventing more serious crimes
  • Save state and federal governments the billions of dollars that are now spent to prosecute marijuana users
  • Empty out a lot of prison cells all over the country
  • Deprive gangs and organized crime of the income they now receive from growing and selling marijuana
  • Provide legal access to people who believe that marijuana helps with health issues
  • Allow recreational users access to a drug that is less dangerous than alcohol to both themselves and those around them
  • Provide the government with substantial tax revenue.

Prosecuting Marijuana Users

According to the Controlled Substance Act, Marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, along with heroin, LSD, and Ecstasy.

In 1965, right about the time we baby boomers were first becoming acquainted with the drug, 18,815 people were arrested for marijuana. By 2009, that number had risen to 858,408. There were 1,531,251 drug arrests in 2011.  Some involved other drugs, but 757,969 were for marijuana possession alone. Here is a chart that shows how arrests have grown over the years.

Each one of these arrests required the time and effort of police officers for the arrest and booking. Then each of them had to be prosecuted in court, requiring judges, juries, attorneys, court clerks, etc. I have no idea of the cost of this, but I imagine it is quite expensive.

Not only that, the federal government is going after the states that have recognized the cost of this prosecution of marijuana users and chosen to decriminalize it.

Costs of Sending Users and Dealers to Prison

The average cost for holding one inmate in any kind of jail or prison for one year is about $31,500. That amount is closer to $50,000 in many states.

In 2004, there were 11,630 inmates in federal prisons for marijuana charges and 33,186 in state prisons. That is 44,816 inmates at an average cost of $31,500 each. That comes to $1,411,704,000  per year!!! And don't forget, there are many more being held in local jails, too.

According to the US Penal Code, the sentence for possession of more than 1000 kilos of pot or more than 1000 plants is not less than ten years or more than life in prison with no possibility of early parole. For 100 or more kilos or 100 plants, it is not less than five years or more than 40 years with no possibility of early parole. For less than 50 kilos or 50 plants, the sentence is no more than five years and a $250,000 fine.

So, to follow through on this, each one of those big-time dealers cost us a minimum of $315,000 for his ten year sentence and up to maybe $1,575,000 if he was busted young and lived long. And those numbers do not consider inflation. No doubt these are some pretty serious dealers, but if marijuana was legal, they would be out of business.

Putting the Bad Guys Out of Business

For six years now, the news around the world has been talking about the numbers of deaths in Mexico supposedly caused by President Calderon's war against the drug cartels. I don't agree with blaming those deaths on the president, but that is beside the point. For years, Mexico has been asking the US to do something to halt the demand for the drugs north of the border. Without that demand for the illegal drugs, the cartels would be put out of business.

Two weeks ago, following Uruguay's lead, a bill was introduced in Mexico to legalize production, sale, and use of marijuana. Both countries are hoping to put the cartels out of business by killing the market for illegal pot. Of course, the US does more to support the cartels than the Mexican market could ever do.

As long as marijuana is illegal, those who choose to use it will be forced to associate with gangs and criminals who deal with must worse stuff. Decriminalizing or legalizing pot would make life very hard for these gangs.

Medical Marijuana

The first medical marijuana laws were passed in the 1970s, and now 30 states have laws recognizing marijuana's medical value. Unfortunately, federal law supersedes state law. This means that no matter how many states see the value of it, the federal government still can go into those states and bust providers and users.

Marijuana is used to treat nausea, loss of appetite, chronic pain, anxiety, epilepsy, inflammation, migraines, and Crohn's Disease. It also eases pain and improves the quality of life for people with arthritis, cancer, AIDS, Glaucoma, Multiple Sclerosis, insomnia, and ADHD.

Pharmaceutical companies have developed drugs, Sativex and Marinol, that the government likes to call legal medical marijuana. Based on cannabis extracts or synthetic THC, these drugs are more expensive and less effective than the real thing and cause more side effects.

AIDS and chemotherapy for cancer cause nausea; marijuana helps by increasing appetite and insuring better nutrition. Marijuana helps to lower the intraocular eye pressure for Glaucoma sufferers. People with Peripheral Neuropathy find that marijuana relieves pain better than other drugs.

Why don't they just use regular drugs like everyone else? Many of those regular drugs are narcotic, are addictive, are dangerous, and can have bad side effects.

How does it work? The human body produces endocannabinoids that help to regulate the body's responses. THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is also a cannabinoid, and it can bind to the body's cannabinoid receptors and produce the desired effects such as reducing pain and anxiety. This is also what makes us high. Some studies are showing that marijuana may also slow the development of certain cancers.

Recreational Use

Right after the election in which the voters in Washington and Colorado voted to legalize marijuana, I saw a younger (late 30s? early 40s?) guy on the news complaining that baby boomers, who apparently were responsible for these laws being passed,  just don't understand that the pot of today is nothing like the pot we may have tried in the 1960s.

The huge flaw in his argument is that he assumes that baby boomers outgrew marijuana somewhere along the way. I don't know anymore about north of the border, but I would guess that 75% of the retired boomers I know of here in Mexico still smoke pot fairly regularly. And, contrary to what they told us 50 years ago:
  • Smoking pot had no effect on our IQ scores and there has been no effect on global intelligence.
  • Death by overdose from smoking pot is practically impossible.
  • Memory is affected in very regular users, but that effect is very small.
  • There is no conclusive evidence that marijuana use leads to abuse of other drugs.
  • Unlike with alcohol, there is no link between being stoned and violence.
According to the Archives of Internal Medicine (2006), "...Observational studies failed to demonstrate a clear association between marijuana smoking and diagnosis of lung cancer. Therefore, we must conclude that no convincing evidence exists for association between marijuana smoking and lung cancer based on existing data."

The Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society reported a meta-analysis of studies "failed to demonstrate a substantial, systemic, and detrimental effect of cannabis use on neuropsychological performance."

And in 1998, the World Health Organization said that "use of cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in western societies."

Legalized or Decriminalized

Although Amsterdam is the most well known, the idea is catching on in many countries around the world. The following have either legalized or decriminalized marijuana use: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, India, Iran, Mexico, Nepal, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Switzerland. Uruguay is expected to follow by the end of the year. Additionally, medical marijuana is legal in Canada, Finland, and Israel.

Wikipedia has a map that shows marijuana laws by state in the US.

The US Economy on Marijuana

The law that Uruguay is about to pass (there is no substantial opposition to it) makes so much sense that I can't believe it has taken this long for someone to come up with it. It creates the National Cannabis Institute and grants it the power to license individuals and companies to produce marijuana for medical, recreational, and industrial use. The country will collect taxes and fees for every step along the way with a portion of the money going toward the fight against abuse of more serious drugs. The law also allows adults to possess almost 1.5 ounces and grow up to six plants at home.

If the US passed a similar law, it would, at the very least, eliminate the 1.5 trillion dollars it is spending to keep all of those people in prison. In addition to emptying the prisons, it would free the police to concentrate on more serious crime, clear the pressure on prosecutors and courts, keep families together, allow sick people the relief they need, and be more fair to those who prefer to relax with marijuana rather than alcohol. A tax on legalized marijuana would also add billions of dollars to government coffers.

Polls show that 60% of Americans think the government should back off on this, but those with the power to change the federal laws don't seem to get it. We have to make sure that they know we mean it. A lot of politicians were quite surprised by the recent elections, but the people let them know that they weren't willing to accept the way things have been going.

It is time for a change.  Contact your senators and congressional representatives.  Write to the president. Explain the issues to them. Explain the finances of it. Share this post with them. I'm happy to explain.