If you want to read one of the most absurd "policy"
articles about marijuana in history, go quickly to the website of the
Heritage Foundation to read "Legalizing Marijuana: Why Citizens Should Just Say No." I say quickly because it is truly so absurd, I believe it will be taken down from the site soon.
have been working in marijuana policy reform for almost nine years now.
I think I have heard all of the arguments against creating a legal,
regulated marijuana market more than a few times. While some arguments
have some legitimacy, most are distortions of the truth, intellectually
inconsistent, or flat out wrong. But this new piece from Charles
Stimson, which just went up on the Heritage Foundation site last week,
is batshit crazy.
It is honestly hard to know where to begin. My
real desire is to start where he did -- comparing marijuana to alcohol
-- as this is my passion and it is also where he truly jumps the shark.
But I think I will leave the best for last. Instead, I will start by
providing some of the other creative assertions he sprinkled throughout
the piece. Consider them outrageous appetizers before the main course of
In no particular order:
He quotes one random
study that concluded, "long-term use of marijuana may alter the nervous
system in ways that do promote violence." He backs this up not by citing
acts of violence by marijuana users, but by describing a couple of
areas (the Netherlands, California) where the sale of marijuana was
supposedly linked to an increase in crime.
At times, it is as if he was not able to complete the most basic research to determine whether his claims had any merit.
is impossible to predict the precise consequences of legalization, but
the experiences of places that have eased restrictions on marijuana are
not positive. Already, California is suffering crime, dislocation, and
increased drug use under its current regulatory scheme."
are the actual consequences: Since California made the medical use of
marijuana legal, the number of violent crimes in the state have
from about 274,00 in 1996 to approximately 174,000 in 2009. Of course,
as an intellectually honest person, I would not claim that is due to
medical marijuana being legal. Other states have seen similar declines.
But to assert that legal marijuana has caused an increase in crime in
California is pure fantasy. In addition, if one were to look at cocaine
use in California to determine whether "drug use" has increased in the
state, it actually deceased between 2003 and 2008.
times, he proves that his research, even when he attempted to conduct
it, was not very reliable. Check out this section in which he calculates
that a 25 square-foot plot -- about the size of a full size bed --
could produce up to 240,000(!) joints a year:
[Prop. 19], any resident could grow marijuana for "personal use" in a
plot at home up to 25 square feet in size. One ounce of marijuana is
enough for 60 to 120 marijuana cigarettes. One plant produces one to
five pounds, or 16 to 80 ounces, of marijuana each year, and 25 square
feet of land can sustain about 25 plants. Therefore, an individual will
be able to produce 24,000 to 240,000 joints legally each year."
Proving that he is unable to see the forest through the marijuana
plants, in one section he makes a powerful case for the need for a
regulated marijuana market.
"The lack of
FDA approval means that marijuana may come from unknown sources, may be
adulterated with foreign substances, or may not even be marijuana at
all. Pot buyers have no way to know what they are getting, and there is
no regulatory authority with the ability to go after bogus manufacturers
Seemingly unaware of the
fact that tobacco use causes about 400,000 deaths in the U.S. annually
and marijuana produces no deaths, he suggests that marijuana is as bad
as cigarettes and would result in similar health care costs:
the heavy taxation of cigarettes is unable even to come close to making
up for the health and other costs associated with their use, it seems
doubtful at best that marijuana taxes would be sufficient to cover the
costs of legalized marijuana--especially considering that, in addition
to the other dangers of smoking marijuana, the physical health effects
of just three to four joints are equivalent to those of an entire pack
Stimson makes no attempt
to hide his support of criminal sanctions (and public embarrassment) as
a means of reducing marijuana use.
illegal status 'keeps potential drug users from using' marijuana in a
way that no legalization scheme can replicate 'by virtue of the fear of
arrest and the embarrassment of being caught.' With increased use comes
increased abuse, as the fear of arrest and embarrassment will decrease."
Stimson gets himself in such a lather, he suggest that the "best
option" for dealing with marijuana use "may require changes in
sentencing guidelines for marijuana users charged with simple
One of my favorite parts of the article is when he makes the argument that creating a legal marijuana market in one state will increase profits for Mexican drug cartels.
marijuana, and the demand for marijuana goes up substantially as the
deterrence effect of law enforcement disappears. Yet not many suppliers
will operate legally, refusing to subject themselves to the established
state regulatory scheme-- not to mention taxation--while still risking
federal prosecution, conviction, and prison time. So who will fill the
void? Violent, brutal, and ruthless, Mexican DTOs [drug trafficking
organizations] will work to maintain their black-market profits at the
expense of American citizens' safety."
Apparently, he was not paying attention last month
when more than 2,000 businesses in Colorado voluntarily subjected
themselves to state regulations - and taxation - by applying for
licenses to cultivate, sell and manufacture marijuana and
But wait! Stimson suddenly realizes
that some legitimate businesspeople in America might actually start
cultivating and selling marijuana. Well, that's a relief. Except it
"As competition from growers and dispensaries
authorized by the RCTCA cuts further into the Mexican DTOs' business,
Californians will face a real possibility of bloodshed on their own soil
as the cartels' profit-protection measures turn from defensive to
Given all of this crazy, what
could possibly be worth saving until the end? Well, as promised, it is
his comparison of marijuana and alcohol. As a co-founder of the
organization SAFER, which is dedicated to educating people about the relative harms of the two substances, and a co-author of Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink?,
I was actually excited to see him start the article by tacking this
topic. I assumed he would make a strong argument about how both
substances have their harms and it is irresponsible to encourage the use
of either one.
I was wrong. He threw caution, science and
evidence into the wind and went off as if he was receiving a grant from
Anheuser-Busch to produce the article. What Stimson wants every health
conscious American to know is that alcohol is a much safer substance
than marijuana. To put his assertions in context, let me start by
providing you some basic facts about the two substances.
For starters, marijuana is less addictive than alcohol. Not only is a user less likely
to become addicted to marijuana than to alcohol, but the withdrawal
symptoms associated with alcohol are far more severe. One can actually
die from alcohol withdrawal. The most severe symptoms associated with marijuana withdrawal are generally anxiety and irritability.
is also far less toxic than alcohol. Just ten times the standard
intoxicating dose of alcohol can be fatal. By comparison, in thousands
of years of use, there has never been a marijuana overdose death. While
marijuana is essentially non-toxic, alcohol is a poison, which is why
its use can lead to vomiting and hangovers. More strikingly, the health
effects of alcohol cause approximately 33,000 deaths in the United
States each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The
comparable number for marijuana is zero.
Finally, alcohol is associated with violent behavior; marijuana is not. This is not just backed up by criminal justice statistics, but by our collective experiences. We have all seen alcohol-fueled violence. What you don't see is marijuana-fueled violence.
Undaunted by the facts, Stimson launches into his "alcohol is safer than marijuana" public service announcement.
every culture has its own alcoholic preparations, and nearly all have
successfully regulated alcohol consumption through cultural norms. The
same cannot be said of marijuana. There are several possible
explanations for alcohol's unique status: For most people, it is not
addictive; it is rarely consumed to the point of intoxication [author's note: huh!?];
low-level consumption is consistent with most manual and intellectual
tasks; it has several positive health benefits; and it is formed by the
fermentation of many common substances and easily metabolized by the
"Alcohol differs from marijuana in several crucial
respects. First, marijuana is far more likely to cause addiction.
Second, it is usually consumed to the point of intoxication. Third, it
has no known general healthful properties, though it may have some
palliative effects. Fourth, it is toxic and deleterious to health. Thus,
while it is true that both alcohol and marijuana are less intoxicating
than other mood-altering drugs, that is not to say that marijuana is
especially similar to alcohol or that its use is healthy or even safe.
fact, compared to alcohol, marijuana is not safe. Long-term, moderate
consumption of alcohol carries few health risks [unless you consider
things like breast cancer
a risk] and even offers some significant benefits. The effects of
regular marijuana consumption are quite different. Marijuana has toxic
properties that can result in birth defects, pain, respiratory system
damage, brain damage, and stroke."
in a wonderful example of a kettle calling a (non-black) pot black,
Stimson ends the section by accusing advocates of marijuana policy
reform of deceiving the public: "To equate marijuana use with alcohol
consumption is, at best, uninformed and, at worst, actively misleading.
telling the public that alcohol carries few health risks and is less
harmful than marijuana is, at best, reckless and, at worst,
intentionally dangerous and socially irresponsible.
But it's OK,
Mr. Stimson, we round-earthers can handle the insults based on your own
ignorance. We've been ignored. We've been ridiculed. Now we are enjoying
the fight. Because next, we win.