Pubdate: Tue, 19 Aug 2008
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2008 Independent Media Institute
Author: Bruce Mirken
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)
Note: Mr. Mirken is communications director for the Marijuana Policy 


On August 19, the Associated Press reported on a group of college
presidents proposing reconsideration of the legal drinking age. I'll
refrain from wading into the emotional debate about what the legal age
for alcohol should be, but a graph that accompanied the story in some
outlets, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch raises larger questions
about our national policies towards drugs and alcohol.

Two things are striking:

1) The number of alcohol poisoning deaths in the U.S. is shockingly
high, consistently between 300 and 400 each year. The number of annual
deaths from marijuana poisoning remains -- as always -- zero.

2) The number of alcohol poisoning deaths spiked just as the U.S.
government started going all-out to demonize marijuana, deploying
hundreds of millions of dollars worth of anti-marijuana ads on TV,
radio, and in print.

One can't help but wonder if this is really just coincidence. The
recent low point came in 2000, with 327 alcohol poisoning deaths
overall, and 16 among college-age Americans. In 2001, the Bush
administration came into office, with anti-marijuana zealot John
Walters taking over as drug czar late in the year. Shortly thereafter,
Walters began his anti-marijuana crusade.

The airwaves were soon filled with commercials telling teens and their
parents that lighting up a joint could lead to shooting your friends,
getting pregnant, running over little girls on bicycles, or supporting
terrorists. Walters made wild statements, claiming that marijuana
potency had increased up to 20-fold (a claim he's since backed off
from, but never directly retracted). The message was clear: Forget
everything you think you know about marijuana being relatively
harmless. This stuff is dangerous, addictive, and scary.

When sensible individuals noted that alcohol is in fact far more
dangerous health-wise than marijuana, Walters told the Albuquerque
Journal that the idea was "frightening." And the anti-marijuana
crusaded sped onward, with new waves of ads directed at both young
people and their parents.

According to government surveys, marijuana use did decline modestly
(though the decline had actually begun before Bush and Walters took
office, a point the administration generally neglects to mention). And
in 2002 -- the first full year of Walters' modern "reefer madness" --
alcohol poisoning deaths spiked to 383, a level they've roughly
maintained ever since. Booze deaths among college-age young people
also ratcheted upward, and in 2005 set a recent record of 35 in one
year -- a 250 percent increase in just four years.

And during that time, the government maintained virtual silence about
the dangers of binge drinking.

No one wants to encourage kids either to drink or smoke marijuana. But
if you keep bombarding young people with propaganda about the dangers
of marijuana while saying nothing about the possibility that booze can
literally kill you -- precisely what our government has done -- well,
that just might be "sending a message to young people," as the federal
bureaucrats say. And that message could kill.

It's not unreasonable to suspect that it already has.

Bruce Mirken is communications director for the Marijuana Policy
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