Pubdate: Sat, 26 Jun 2010
Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA)
Copyright: 2010 The Times-Herald
Author: Paul Armentano


Editor's note: The author is the co-author of the book, "Marijuana Is 
Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?"(Chelsea Green, 2009). 
He will be discussing his book at the John F. Kennedy Library, Joseph 
Room, 505 Santa Clara Street, today at noon.

Speaking privately with Richard Nixon in 1971, the late Art 
Linkletter offered this view on the use of marijuana versus alcohol. 
"When people smoke marijuana, they smoke it to get high. In every 
case, when most people drink, they drink to be sociable."

"That's right, that's right," Nixon agreed. "A person does not drink 
to get drunk ... A person drinks to have fun."

The following year Linkletter announced that he had reversed his 
position on pot, concluding instead that the drug's social harms were 
not significant enough to warrant its criminal prohibition. Nixon 
however stayed the course -- launching the so-called "war" on drugs, 
a social policy that now results in the arrest of more than 800,000 
Americans each year for violating marijuana laws.

Decades later, the social debate regarding the use of marijuana 
versus alcohol rages on. Yet among objective experts who have studied 
the issue there remains little debate at all. Despite pot's 
long-standing criminalization, scientists agree that the drug 
possesses far less harm than its legal and celebrated companion, alcohol.

For example, in the mid-1990s, the World Health Organization 
commissioned a team of experts to compare the health and societal 
consequences of marijuana use compared to other drugs, including 
alcohol, nicotine, and opiates. After quantifying the harms 
associated with both drugs, the researchers concluded: "Overall, most 
of these risks (associated with marijuana) are small to moderate in 
size. In aggregate they are unlikely to produce public health 
problems comparable in scale to those currently produced by alcohol 
and tobacco . On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less 
serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and 
tobacco in Western societies."

French scientists at the state medical research institute INSERM 
published a similar review in 1998. Researchers categorized legal and 
illegal drugs into three distinct categories: Those that pose the 
greatest threat to public health, those that pose moderate harms to 
the public, and those substances that pose little-to-no danger. 
Alcohol, heroin, and cocaine were placed in the most dangerous 
category, while investigators determined that cannabis posed the 
least danger to public health.

In 2002, a special Canadian Senate Committee completed an exhaustive 
review of marijuana and health, concluding, "Scientific evidence 
overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful 
than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a 
social and public health issue."

In 2007, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare hired a team 
of scientists to assess the impact of alcohol, tobacco, and other 
drugs on public health. Researcher reported that the consumption of 
alcohol was significant contributors to death and disease. "Alcohol 
harm was responsible for 3.2 percent of the total burden of disease 
and injury in Australia," they concluded. By comparison, cannabis use 
was responsible for zero deaths and only 0.2 percent of the estimated 
total burden of disease and injury in Australia.

Such findings are not just relegated to overseas. In 1989, a 
California state research advisory panel conducted its own review of 
the health effects of pot and alcohol. They, like their international 
peers, concluded, "(A)n objective consideration of marijuana shows 
that it is responsible for less damage to the individual and to 
society than are alcohol and cigarettes."

For more than three decades, America's marijuana policies have been 
based upon rhetoric. Perhaps it's time to begin listening to what the 
experts have to say.

Paul Armentano

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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom