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January 3, 2007 - Harvard Crimson (MA Edu)

OpEd: High Achievers

Harvard Students Need to Lighten Up and Learn to Bake

By David L. Golding, Crimson editorial editor and English concentrator in Dunster House.

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Hypocrisy is hardly foreign to Harvard University, yet I still find it ironic and somewhat disconcerting that so many Harvard students are willing to consume obscene amounts of alcohol every weekend but blithely stigmatize the minority of their peers who like to get high.

I can't tell you how many times I have seen people-who apparently have no problem blacking out, puking in a toilet bowl, and hooking up with utter strangers-shudder with horror and righteous indignation when someone mentions smoking weed.

Of course, this silly taboo among Harvard students is not surprising; it reflects the deep-seated double-standard about alcohol and marijuana use that exists in American society as a whole.

Before I embark upon an angry tirade, let me start with the disclaimer that I love the bacchanalian decadence of the college drinking scene.

But let's have no illusions about our behavior.

Alcohol is a dangerous drug. It's a depressant; it's carcinogenic; it leads to reckless and potentially deadly behavior; it causes brain and liver damage.

Marijuana, on the other hand, is relatively harmless.

As studies have shown, there is no conclusive evidence that it causes cancer or a significant decline in cognitive functioning. Nor does it necessarily lead to dangerous behavior.

Media claims that adolescent marijuana use leads to schizophrenia are hyperbolic at best. The worst thing getting high will do to you is make you spend a whole day on the couch eating Doritos.

But what really motivates my aversion to the marijuana taboo is not a paternalistic concern for people's health and safety.

I truly believe that everyone-but especially wound-up, self-important Harvard students-could benefit from getting high once in a while.

While alcohol is boorish and mindless, marijuana is intellectually stimulating, relaxing, and mellow. Alcohol is fun because it makes us less aware of what's going on, and thus less inhibited, while marijuana makes us hyper-alert, perceptive, and thoughtful. Alcohol is a fantastic social lubricant, but there is nothing particularly enlightening about it.

Marijuana, on the other hand, allows us to access reality through a new and riveting sensory prism.

I don't mean to sound like former Harvard psychology lecturer Timothy F. Leary, famous for his advice to "Tune in; turn on; drop out." I'm not hocking a bunch of naive, quasi-mystical "consciousness-expansion" cliches.

Getting high may be a journey to new realms of consciousness, but it won't lead to profound epiphanies or transcendence of any kind. Still, it can be a fun and intelligent way to spend some time away from the worries and anxieties of school.

Despite what many people believe about the perils of marijuana use, the real reason for the double-standard is cultural, not rational or scientific. Alcohol is a deeply ingrained part of our culture.

It has been around for thousands of years.

It is indispensable to both blue-collar pastimes and polite society.

Many of us even drink wine in church, believing that we are actually consuming-through a magical process known as "transubstantiation"-the mystical body of Christ. Marijuana does not enjoy the same totemic status.

Largely because of the legacy of the sixties, it is viewed as subversive, the drug of choice for godless, communist, homosexual pornographers. And perhaps there is some truth to this. If the whole word became suddenly and irreversibly stoned, I suspect many irrational pieties would be quickly disposed of.

Warfare would be written off as a waste of time; Muslims would give up their prophet; people would probably even stop voting Republican, Potheads would take over the world, for only they would know how to function under these new existential conditions, and preside over a peaceful, baked utopia.

All our liberal goals would be achieved.

So what are you waiting for Harvard? Go get high!

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