Pubdate: Thu, 17 Sep 2009
Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA)
Copyright: 2009 The Times-Herald
Author: Paul Armentano, Vallejo
Referenced: The poll
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Popular)


More than one-half of Americans now believe that smoking marijuana is 
less dangerous than drinking alcohol. That's according to the results 
of a just-released national telephone poll of 1,000 likely voters by 
Rasmussen Reports.

By contrast, just 19 percent of respondents said that they believed 
that pot is more dangerous than alcohol.

The public has it right. The law, which results in the arrest of some 
800,000 Americans for marijuana violations annually, has it wrong.

As I explain in my new book, "Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We 
Driving People to Drink?" (I will be discussing the book at Panama 
Red on Friday at 5 p.m.), the risks posed by marijuana and alcohol -- 
both to the individual consumer and to society as a whole -- are far 
from equal. Quite literally, alcohol is an intoxicant; cannabis is not.

The word intoxicant is derived from the Latin noun, toxicum, meaning: 
"a poison." It's an appropriate description for booze. Alcohol is 
toxic to healthy cells and organs, a side effect that results 
directly in some 35,000 deaths per year from illnesses like 
cirrhosis, ulcers, and heart disease. Furthermore ethanol, the 
psychoactive ingredient in booze, is carcinogenic. Following 
ethanol's initial metabolization by the body it is converted to 
acetaldehyde. This is why even moderate drinking is positively 
associated with increased incidences of various types of cancer, 
including cancers of the breast, stomach, and pancreas.

Heavy alcohol consumption can depress the central nervous system -- 
inducing unconsciousness, coma, and death -- and is strongly 
associated with increased risks of injury (Booze plays a role in 
about 41,000 fatal accidents per year, according to the U.S. Centers 
for Disease Control) and acts of violence. In fact, according to the 
federal Bureau of Justice Crime Statistics, alcohol consumption plays 
a role in the commission of approximately 1 million violent crimes annually.

By contrast, the active compounds in marijuana, known as 
cannabinoids, are remarkably non-toxic. Unlike alcohol, marijuana is 
incapable of causing fatal overdose -- cannabinoids do not act upon 
the brain stem -- and its use is inversely associated with aggression 
and injury.

Unlike alcohol, the use of cannabis is not associated with increased 
risk of mortality or various types of cancer -- including lung cancer 
- -- and may even reduce such risk. For instance, a just published 
study in the current issue of the journal of Cancer Prevention 
Research reports that moderate use of marijuana is associated with "a 
significantly reduced risk of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma." 
A separate 2006 population case-control study, funded by the U.S. 
National Institutes of Health and conducted by the University of 
California at Los Angeles, also reported that lifetime use of 
cannabis was not positively associated with cancers of the lung or 
aerodigestive tract, and further noted that certain moderate users of 
the drug experienced a reduced cancer risk compared to non-using controls.

Of course, providing this information is not intended to suggest that 
marijuana is somehow "good" and that alcohol is necessarily "bad," 
and none of these differences should imply that America would be 
better off returning to the days of alcohol prohibition. Rather, 
comparing and contrasting the effects of cannabis and alcohol 
provides an objective frame of reference for Americans, many of who 
may be personally unfamiliar with the effects of marijuana or may be 
uneducated to many of the effects of booze.

Rasmussen's surprising results ought to spark a long-overdue dialogue 
in this country asking why our criminal laws continue to target and 
prosecute those adults who choose to make the rational choice to 
relax with a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol. 
Perhaps when President Obama finishes his beer, he can provide the 
public with an answer.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake