Everything You Need to Know About Legalizing Marijuana

Let's debunk the propaganda. A response to Beth Capriotti.

I would like to respond to yesterday’s post by fellow Philly Post-er Beth Capriotti wherein she rhetorically threw her hands up in the air in bewilderment and, with a discernible note of pride in her glib know-nothingness, declared that:

Like rap music and twerking, here’s something else I have to live with that I just don’t understand.

Beth, you are on your own with the twerking and rap enlightenment, except to say this: Twerking is just a modern version of dirty dancing, which has been around since at least Cleopatra’s day. As for hip-hop, I’m guessing that by “I just don’t understand” you actually mean that, blinkered by a generational divide and the remove of white privilege, you’ve never really made the effort to understand the last great evolutionary leap in the continuum of modern music and what is arguably the most influential sociocultural phenomenon of the last 30 years.

But I might be able to help with the pot thing.

I would submit that, after 50-plus years of absurdist, science-free Reefer Madness-style propaganda furnished by the prison-industrial complex, you are, like many Americans, a victim of Drug War Stockholm Syndrome. The cage is about to be unlocked and the prospect of confronting the unknown, aka freedom, is terrifying to you. The cage seems so safe and warm.

Be not afraid.

It’s what you don’t know that can hurt you. Which is why I would like to correct a few factual errors in your piece.

First, you call marijuana a ‘gateway drug.’ False. The notion that marijuana is a ‘gateway drug’ was debunked long ago and is no longer cited by credible experts. As far back as 1999, in a report commissioned by Congress to investigate the potential dangers of medical marijuana, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that:

Patterns in progression of drug use from adolescence to adulthood are strikingly regular. Because it is the most widely used illicit drug, marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug most people encounter. Not surprisingly, most users of other illicit drugs have used marijuana first. In fact, most drug users begin with alcohol and nicotine before marijuana—usually before they are of legal age.

In the sense that marijuana use typically precedes rather than follows initiation of other illicit drug use, it is indeed a “gateway” drug. But because underage smoking and alcohol use typically precede marijuana use, marijuana is not the most common, and is rarely the first, “gateway” to illicit drug use. There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.

Second, your assertion that marijuana is or was ‘bad,’ by which you presumably mean harmful. You wrote:

We knew, though, that even though it was on the less harmful side of the spectrum, it was still an illegal and unregulated substance; a “gateway” drug that lead to stronger, more serious drug abuse. So what happened? It’s not bad anymore?

No, it never was ‘bad’ in the first place. That was just more Drug War propaganda. A comprehensive, federally funded 1999 study by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (IOM) examining marijuana’s potential health risks, concluded:

“Except for the harms associated with smoking, the adverse effects of marijuana use are within the range tolerated for other medications.”19

Or consider the conclusion of a two-year study by National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse empaneled by none other than Richard Nixon—no Stoner-In-Chief he— to study the drug problem and recommend national policy:

The actual and potential harm of use of the drug is not great enough to justify intrusion by the criminal law into private behavior.”

Nixon didn’t much care for the conclusions of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse; he completely disregarded their advice and instead declared war on drugs. Forty years, a trillion dollars and 45 million people arrested later, illegal drugs are cheaper, stronger and more widely available.

You listed all the possible adverse side effects ever found in every study:

[marijuana] is associated with dependence, respiratory illness, poor motor performance and impaired cognitive and immune system functioning.

First, that’s in some people. Second, that’s a cakewalk compared to the potential side effects of most pharmaceuticals. Again, IN SOME PEOPLE. In some people, anything is possible when they ingest certain substances.

You go on:

Studies have shown an association between chronic marijuana use and increased rates of anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Now it’s my turn to be glib. I’d point out that studies have also shown an association between chronic exposure to living and increased anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts. Look, I’m not saying marijuana is harmless. Nothing is harmless in excess. I’m just saying the only thing we need to fear about marijuana is fear itself.

Lastly, I need to clarify a statistic you cited:

I don’t know how many die from marijuana related injuries (what would that be anyway, falling off the couch?) but 374,000 Americans 12 and older enter emergency rooms with a primary marijuana problem

That statistic—shamefully cited on the White House web site and often parroted by foes of legalization—is misleading at best. Those figures were collected by the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), a data collection system started by the DEA, hardly an impartial arbiter in the drug war debate, that scrapes hospital records for raw data. A study published in the American Journal Of Drug and Alcohol Abuse examining the quality of DAWN’s data, clarified that 374,000 Americans 12 and older acknowledged that they had used marijuana in the past, but that wasn’t the reason they came to the emergency room. That 374,000 Americans admit to having smoked pot when asked about their illegal drug use during emergency room intake proceedings is hardly surprising or alarming given that nearly half of all Americans have tried marijuana and there are 313 million Americans.

Finally, you admitted you don’t know how many people have died from marijuana. The answer is zero people have died from marijuana. Ever. Every year 440,000 Americans die from smoking. Every year 100,000 die from using prescription drugs as directed. Every year 80,000 die from alcohol. Every year 78 million Americans smoke pot and none of them die. Not a one.

So stop worrying. Be happy.

The drug war is almost over if you want it. But you’ve got to want it. How can you not want it? It’s immoral. It’s racist. It’s unwinnable. Drugs aren’t the enemy, they are a symptom of a disease. The only reason marijuana is still illegal is there is too much money to be made in criminalizing it. Money for the cops. Money for the lawyers. Money for the prison guards. Money for for-profit private prisons. It doesn’t get any more cynical than that. Locking up people in cages for fun and profit.

Every year, 750,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana. That’s way more people than are arrested every year for murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault combined. Since 1990, more than 7.2 million Americans have been arrested on marijuana charges. That’s more than the populations of Alaska, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wyoming combined. Almost 90 percent of those arrests were for simple possession. Not growing it. Not selling it. Just having it. That’s insane.

All we are sayin’, Beth, is give peace a chance.