By Jack Burns
There’s a movement underway in America. It involves changing the way Americans view a federally designated controlled substance it classifies as a Schedule I narcotic. Over the last few years, twenty-nine U.S. states have now acted against the federal government’s ban on marijuana, and have voted to legalize cannabis for either medicinal or recreational purposes.
But even with so many Americans voting against the long-standing federal ban on a natural, healing herb, a plant no-less, much misconception still abounds with respect to marijuana, its users, and the impact it has on society. In the following essay, a close examination of the claims against cannabis will be examined, and hopefully, in the end, a better understanding will take place, and myths long associated with cannabis use will finally be dispelled.
Misconception Number 1 – Cannabis (marijuana) is a Gateway Drug
It’s been said so much it may seem like an immutable fact, “Marijuana is a gateway drug.” But nothing could be further from the truth. According to one research study (Morral, 2002) which sought to examine the available research theorizing cannabis to be a gateway drug, marijuana users were only likely to try harder drugs if they were offered those drugs by a friend or a dealer, for example. The researchers concluded, “something like a marijuana gateway effect probably does exist, if only because marijuana purchases bring users in contact with the black market that also brings increases access to hard drugs.” In other words, the researchers concluded since marijuana is illegal for most purchasers, even purchasers where marijuana may be legal (whose users may not be card carrying medicinal marijuana licensed users), those who are seeking marijuana may find themselves faced with temptation to use harder drugs because street dealers will sell them any drug they may be peddling.
The researchers concluded that only a “tiny fraction” of marijuana users are at risk for turning to harder drugs, simply because those said individuals have a propensity to experimenting with those harder drugs. With those conclusions in mind, being able to regulate marijuana like alcohol, even allowing for it to be purchased for recreational use, will permit cannabis users and those wishing to experiment with cannabis to come in contact with just marijuana, not the other harder drugs found on the street. Proponents of marijuana foresee a day where it’s sold only at tightly regulated dispensaries and believe that a legal system is the only real and effective way to combat the criminal black market. Such dispensaries provide a safe place to do business, free from the shame and stigma of “buying drugs off the street” and away from the availability of harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin.
Misconception Number 2 – Marijuana Use Leads to More Traffic Fatalities
Citing the National Highway Traffic Safety Association, Forbes reported that not only is marijuana use safer than alcohol use when it comes to driving, but far fewer fatalities are recorded when marijuana is present than when alcohol is present in traffic fatality instances. “It looks like marijuana’s impact on traffic safety has been greatly exaggerated,” writes Forbes. There’s no question marijuana use impairs a person’s ability to operate a vehicle, especially when the drivers are young and male. But in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is currently legal, driving under the influence (DUI) citations are on the decline, as reported by the Denver Post, and highway fatalities are at an historic low, according to The Washington Post.
Compared to alcohol, which is legal in all 50 states, cannabis is much safer. Forbes writes, “a 2015 National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) study…found no statistically significant association between marijuana use and crash risk once the researchers adjusted for confounding variables (such as the aforementioned age and sex). The explanation for this difference may be that the NHTSA analysis included any drivers who tested positive for active THC, whether or not they were still feeling the effects.” Given these statistics, one might hypothesize that if those who are currently drinking and driving, would give up alcohol, and use marijuana instead, driving under the influence fatalities might further diminish. However, more research into that theory should be undertaken before any such conclusion could be drawn.
Misconception Number 3 – Marijuana Use Increases Crime Rates
Actually, the “War on Drugs” produces more criminals than the substances do, according to one recent editorial. Fox News’ John Stossel addressed the issue of drugs and violence saying, “Violent? People who get high are rarely violent. The violence occurs because when something’s illegal, it is sold only on the black market. And that causes crime. Drug dealers can’t just call the cops if someone tries to steal their supply. So they form gangs and arm themselves to the teeth.” Some police officers agree. Neil Franklin, a 33-year veteran police officer from Maryland used to kick down doors during drug raids and admitted he used to feel that drugs made people violent.
Franklin now is a proponent for ending the prohibition against cannabis, leading the group known as LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “It must be difficult to be an opponent of marijuana reform. They can’t make arguments against legalization based on logic and facts so they must constantly resort to fear-based hypotheticals and anecdotes that keep getting proved wrong by systematic study. I feel for them. I really do,” he said. Citing a longitudinal research study by the University of Texas, Dallas, LEAP maintains where marijuana is legal, the crime rates for homicides and assault are slightly lower. Franklin told Stossel, “We have the violence of these gangs competing for market share, and people get hurt.” He added the current police tactics in the war on drugs are ineffective and actually create more war on drug victims. “Drugs can be — and are in many cases — problematic,” he told Stossel adding, “But the policies that we have in place to prohibit their use are 10 times more problematic.”
When police officers decide to start busting down doors in a frenetic search for drugs, “We end up with kids being shot … search warrants being served on the wrong home, innocent people on the other side of the door thinking that they are protecting their home,” he stated lamenting his role in police raids. Stossel indicated that legalizing all drugs, following the example set by the country of Portugal, might actually reduce drug addiction and end the notion that police officers and modern-day policing are the enemies, allowing law enforcement to focus their attentions on real crime and hardened criminals.
The failure of the war on drugs may best be described by USA Today’s editorial board. “With an average 78 Americans dying each day from overdoses of prescription opioid painkillers and heroin, it’s clear that the U.S. is losing the war on drugs. The epidemic has spread to suburbia and rural areas. The death toll from heroin has more than tripled since 2010. And the nation is desperate for answers,” they write. The truth is that the real drug killers of Americans are powerful prescription pain pills, opiates, and as The Free Thought Project has faithfully reported, their abuse has reached epidemic levels, now accounting for more fatalities than car accidents. All the while, marijuana is showing promise as a much safer alternative for pain than deadly opiates. In fact, in states where marijuana is legalized in some form, opiate deaths have plummeted.
Misconception Number 4 – The Tax Money Legal Marijuana Generates Never Makes It To Schools
According to one pro-marijuana legalization advocacy group, citing the Colorado Department of Revenue’s marijuana statistics, “the regulated marijuana market generated more than $156 million in state tax revenue and license fees in FY 2015-2016, including $40 million in tax revenue for school construction projects — fulfilling the promise of Amendment 64 — plus an addition $2.45 million also earmarked for public schools. These figures do not include local taxes and fees (e.g. Denver).”
If the schools never see a dime of the revenue being brought in from legal medical and recreational marijuana sales, it may be due to legislative appropriation and not revenue generation. In other words, the money’s coming in, but citizens must be vigilant to ensure lawmakers simply don’t spend it for some other purpose than in schools and education.
Misconception Number 5 – Cannabis is Addictive and Legalization Will Lead To More Deaths From Overdose, Cancer, and Violence
“Millions of Americans have tried marijuana, but most are not regular users [and] few marijuana users become dependent on it … [A]lthough [some] marijuana users develop dependence, they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), and marijuana dependence appears to be less severe than dependence on other drugs,” concluded a federal study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine. Drug treatment facilities also know this. While it is possible for one to seek treatment for cannabis dependence, few drug treatment facilities will even consider admitting someone if their drug of choice is cannabis
There’s a reason why stoners “chill” when they smoke weed. It’s because cannabis relaxes its users, who are much less likely to become violent while stoned. One research study concluded cannabis use “reduces likelihood of violence” and concluded “alcohol is clearly the drug with the most evidence to support a direct intoxication-violence relationship”. Put simply, your town drunk is more likely to pick a fight with you than your neighborhood pothead is.
According to one source, “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 30,000 annual U.S. deaths are attributed to the health effects of alcohol (i.e. this figure does not include accidental deaths). On the other hand, the CDC does not even have a category for deaths caused by the health effects of marijuana. A study published in Scientific Reports in January 2015 found that the mortality risk associated with marijuana was approximately 114 times less than that of alcohol.” Going further, “there has never been a case of an individual dying from a marijuana overdose. Meanwhile, the CDC attributes more than 1,600 U.S. deaths per year to alcohol poisoning.” Alcohol has been known to cause cirrhosis of the liver as well. But weed works as an anti-inflammatory, and a natural anti-depressant, potentially much safer than the selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and carries no black box warning label like they do.
As far as cancer is concerned, the organization Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol stated,
Alcohol use is associated with a wide variety of cancers, including cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, lungs, pancreas, liver and prostate. Marijuana use has not been conclusively associated with any form of cancer. In fact, a 2009 study contradicted the long-time government claim that marijuana use is associated with head and neck cancers. It found that marijuana use actually reduced the likelihood of head and neck cancers. If you are concerned about marijuana being associated with lung cancer, you may be interested in the results of the largest case-controlled study ever conducted to investigate the respiratory effects of marijuana smoking and cigarette smoking. Released in 2006, the study, conducted by Dr. Donald Tashkin at the University of California at Los Angeles, found that marijuana smoking was not associated with an increased risk of developing lung cancer. Surprisingly, the researchers found that people who smoked marijuana actually had lower incidences of cancer compared to non-users of the drug.
So there you have it! Armed with these facts and more, proponents of the legalization of cannabis can take their case to the court of public opinion and win over the jury of their peers, swaying the population to embrace marijuana as medicine for a whole host of illnesses. Those who are sitting cautiously on the fence, waiting to draw their own conclusions now have more research studies to ponder. And proponents of continuing the decades-long prohibition of cannabis no longer have a leg to stand on.