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Don’t let the government’s marijuana lies make you miss out on the vaccine

Published on July 30, 2021
Yes, the government lied about marijuana. No, that doesn't mean the government is lying about the COVID-19 vaccine. (AdobeStock)

A just-published study from researchers at the University of Memphis looked at “COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy and Its Determinants” and found that “the use of cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and marijuana, as well as heavy drinking of alcohol, were not associated with COVID-19 hesitancy.”

Which may well be true when you’re talking broadly about the tens of millions of Americans who have consumed cannabis at some point in the past. But if you drill down a little deeper, to those who consume cannabis regularly and consider it an important part of their lives—who attend cannabis events, have favorite strains, and post online about new studies confirming the plant’s medical benefits—then my personal experience tells me, at least anecdotally, that vaccine hesitancy does run high.

A certain strain of weed head simply does not trust the government or the health-care-industrial-complex. And with good reason.

This meme, for example, has been making the rounds.

Yes, the government earned this skepticism

Hey, I get it. As a reporter covering cannabis for the last 20 years, I’ve heard so many “big lies” that it’s literally mind boggling. I’ve also interviewed cancer patients who had their doors kicked down in the middle of the night by armed agents of the state, solely because they had a little weed to help them through chemo.

I’ve also debunked an endless stream of government reports and academic research studies so slanted you couldn’t rest your elbow on them.

Does cannabis interact with a COVID shot?

I even debated Tucker Carlson, live on Fox News, after he gave a platform to Alex Berenson, author of Tell Your Children, a book full of reefer-madness nonsense. In my review of that book for Leafly, I charged Berenson with being a fundamentally dishonest writer, willing to purposefully and consistently distort data and provide false witness so long as it bolsters his central claim that cannabis is incredibly dangerous. I wrote:

From cover to cover, [Berenson] offers up a master class in selective quoting, logical fallacies, straw man arguments, ad hominem attacks, “expert shopping,” and cherry picking statistics.

We’re talking about a guy who claimed in print that Harry Anslinger “was right about marijuana.” Berenson used a flood of disinformation and fear mongering to make a case that cannabis is to blame for causing epidemic levels of violence and schizophrenia. All to sell books. And to get on TV—because to a guy like Berenson, nothing’s more important than getting on TV.

‘Tell Your Children’ to Reject Alex Berenson’s Debunked Nonsense

Pivoting to become Pandemic Guy

Alex Berenson remains a mainstay on Fox News, but he’s no longer peddling reefer madness. That’s old news. Instead, he’s rebranded himself as a leading vaccine skeptic. Berenson has no formal medical credentials or expertise, but really that’s not the problem.

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After all, for the last century, as a grassroots movement of patients and advocates successfully pushed for medical cannabis access, nearly all the world’s leading experts and institutions were either wrong about the plant’s therapeutic benefits or too intimidated to tell the truth.

In 1993, when Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders advocated for more research into “the medicinal properties of marijuana,” it drew an immediate rebuke from her boss, President Bill Clinton. One year later—amid other controversies—Clinton forced Elders to resign.

Twenty years later, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta offered an on-air mea culpa, telling millions of viewers around the world that “we have been terribly and systematically misled [about cannabis] for nearly 70 years in the United States, and I apologize for my own role in that.”

Trust evidence, not the government

So no, I don’t blindly (or even double blindly) trust the government, the media, or the medical establishment when it comes time to make decisions about my personal health. Nor should you.

But just as there’s only one rational conclusion when it comes to cannabis—that it’s a remarkably safe and effective medicine for a wide range of conditions—the evidence is similarly strong when it comes to evaluating the safety and efficacy of vaccines in preventing the spread and severity of COVID-19 and other virus borne diseases.

Though naturally you shouldn’t just take my word for it.

Don’t believe the hucksters

First, let’s dispense with Alex Berenson. The fact that he’s dead wrong about cannabis, and even the fact that he lies so blatantly and consistently about cannabis, doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s wrong about vaccines.

But the idea that someone with no medical credentials and a proven willingness to deceive people is offered up by Fox News as a supposed vaccine expert should give you serious pause about whatever he’s selling, whether it’s a bunch of lies about weed, or the anti-vax nonsense of the day.

Consider, also, Derek Thompson’s epic takedown of Berenson in The Atlantic, which was published under the headline, “The Pandemic’s Wrongest Man.”

Thompson exposed Berenson as “the Secretariat of being wrong” by simply holding his previous predictions up to close scrutiny, and having the lead authors of research cited by Berenson confirm that he willfully mischaracterized their findings.

Joints for jabs: Here’s where to find free weed

What about the government’s history of lying?

With Berenson out of the way, let’s get back to that meme—which, like I said, does make a valid point.

Humans have been safely consuming cannabis for 10,000 years, and yet, to this day, the US government classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive category, reserved for drugs with no proven medical benefit and a high potential for abuse.

When pressed on this obvious misclassification, those still adhering to the “big lie” now tend to say “we need more research.” In fact, the research already exists. It overwhelmingly shows cannabis to be far safer and more effective than many pharmaceuticals.

Bringing it back to the vaccine: The question at hand isn’t whether we have enough research into cannabis, it’s whether we have enough research into vaccines in general, and the COVID-19 vaccines in particular. And I’d say, once again, there’s more than enough evidence.

That doesn’t mean the vaccines are perfectly safe or 100% effective. That’s an impossible standard. Nothing in life is perfectly safe. But are these COVID-19 vaccines safe enough and effective enough? Absolutely. Remarkably so.

Consider the source of your information

Now, the internet being what it is, you can definitely go expert shopping yourself and find tons of people claiming just the opposite. That’s called confirmation bias, and it cuts both ways on every issue. Hucksters like Alex Berenson understand there’s always a market for telling a certain portion of the population exactly what they want to hear, whether it happens to be true or not.

In this case, unlike weed, bad information could prove fatal. For you or your loved ones or both.

So if you’re asking me where to turn for the hard data, I’d say start here.

Or you can let this guy break it down for you in less than three minutes.

There could be free weed in it for you…

Either way, if you do decide to get vaccinated, you just might be eligible for some free weed. And if that doesn’t apply, call up your closest smoking buddy who already got vaxxed and I’m sure they’ll be happy to smoke you out once you’re free and clear.

And if they won’t, I will.

(Offer valid only wherever I happen to be at any given moment, many restrictions apply).

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David Bienenstock
David Bienenstock
Veteran cannabis journalist David Bienenstock is the author of "How to Smoke Pot (Properly): A Highbrow Guide to Getting High" (2016 - Penguin/Random House), and the co-host and co-creator of the podcast "Great Moments in Weed History with Abdullah and Bean." Follow him on Twitter @pot_handbook.
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