Pubdate: Sat, 05 Jan 2013
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Copyright: 2013 Michael Votaw
Author: Michael Votaw


Many proponents of marijuana legalization don't really like to admit
it, but marijuana isn't the magical, harmless drug that they want it
to be. We'd be fools to think that anything is completely harmless.

According to CDC statistics, marijuana use contributed directly to
about 150 deaths in 2010. SAMHSA surveys from that same time show
about 5 million people identified as heavy marijuana users, and this
statistic corresponds very closely to those who identified as either
physically or psychologically dependent. If you were so inclined, you
could come up with all kinds of statistics on how marijuana negatively
affects people's lives.

But all of this is no worse than the perfectly legal drugs we use
every day. Those 150 dead equal about 0.0008 percent of the 18 million
current marijuana users. Cigarettes, on the other hand, killed 393,600
people, or 0.6 percent of the 56.8 million current smokers. Nearly 60
percent of cigarette users identify as heavy smokers; compare that to
just 25 percent of marijuana users.

We could go on comparing the harmful effects of marijuana and tobacco,
and similarly for alcohol, all day, but the point I'm trying to get to
would still stand: If we truly feel that marijuana is so harmful that
it should be outright illegal, why are tobacco and alcohol tolerated?

How do we explain that? How do we explain that we've, rather
arbitrarily, decided that it's OK to use one dangerous drug over
another? If marijuana is illegal because of its potential harmfulness,
then shouldn't we prohibit tobacco and alcohol as well?

Alcohol can be very harmful, but our society is able to mitigate these
dangers through better regulation and better education. A vast
majority of Americans drink alcohol, and a vast majority of us do so
responsibly. The same goes for marijuana. Keeping marijuana illegal,
while tolerating alcohol and tobacco, means that our substance laws
are inconsistent, arbitrary, and based not on reason, but on emotion.

Michael Votaw

University City
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