Doug McIntyre: The myth that marijuana is totally harmless will bite society

In the 1950s and ‘60s, the low-hanging fruit of the comedy world was mother-in-law jokes. For whatever reason, every comic on “Ed Sullivan” had a knee-slapper about their mother-in-law. America loved it! Then the ‘60s kicked in for real and marijuana became the default topic for cheap laughs. For over five decades we’ve been splitting a gut about getting high.

But the laugh’s on us.

At the risk of branding myself terminally unhip, something I made peace with eons ago, I think it’s time we had a serious conversation about getting high.

A new report from Quest Diagnostics shows pot use by American workers has skyrocketed. Last year, employees testing positive for pot after an on-the-job accident rose to 7.3%, the highest (if you’ll forgive the term) it’s been in 25 years. This shouldn’t come as a surprise.

With two-thirds of the states having legalized recreational pot, whatever stigma was attached to toking up has gone up in a puff of bong smoke. That pot remains in the bloodstream for days, even weeks, also explains the rise noted by Quest, so the uptick doesn’t necessarily mean more people are showing up for work high, but life experience tells me they are.

I live a sheltered life, meaning nobody invites me to do anything. Therefore, my everyday experiences with people other than The Wife, the wobbly old men I play softball with and the two cats who live in our house, is limited. Still, it’s hard not to suspect many of the folks working cash registers at gas station convenience stores and possibly brain surgeons, airline pilots and newspaper columnists as well are high as the Matterhorn while on the clock. With employers desperate for employees, more companies are dropping drug testing and/or any prohibition on recreational pot use.

The truth is the American people have decided they want pot to be legal, which is fine by me. I don’t believe in imposing prohibitions on a free people. However, if we are going to live in a country immersed in pot smoke, we should be prepared for the predictable consequences.

I’ll spare you the studies linking pot use to other more deadly drugs since that argument fell on deaf ears around the time Cheech and Chong became box office gold. That it happens to be true doesn’t seem to matter. Is there a direct link to 50,000 annual deaths from opioids and fentanyl? To homelessness? To the horrifying increase in psychosis among young people?

We’re never going back to the “Reefer Madness” days of cops filling prisons with stoners. But we need to ask ourselves what compels so many people in turn to drugs and alcohol to get through their day? After 50 years of “This is your brain on drugs,” “Just say no” and countless other well-meaning but ineffectual anti-drug abuse campaigns, we appear to have simply surrendered.

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We need to examine all the pressures young people are subjected to, including peer and cultural influences, before we lose hundreds of thousands of more lives. That schools now regularly stock Narcan pens in first aid kits the way they once stored band aids and Bactine is a sad necessity.

A few years back, former NYPD and LAPD Chief Bill Bratton snatched a joint out of a teenage girl’s mouth at 8 a.m., telling her, “Not before school, not on a public street.” Walk down any street in New York today (and in many California neighborhoods) and the scent of pot hangs over the city like gunpowder in Chicago. Nobody thinks a kid drinking a tallboy out of a paper bag at 8 a.m. is cool. It’s a cry for help. So is smoking pot. I told you I’m not hip.

As a recovering addict myself, I am the last person to blame the victim. But we all have choices to make, including how badly we need a laugh or a second chorus to our new song.

Doug McIntyre can be reached at: His novel “Frank’s Shadow” will be in stores July 18. 

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