Pubdate: Tue, 26 Apr 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Author: Ethan Nadelmann
Note: Ethan Nadelmann is the founder and executive director of the 
Drug Policy Alliance.
Note: Third OPED in a group of four under the title, "Is Marijuana a 
Gateway Drug? Does using marijuana lead to the use of more dangerous 
drugs, making it too dangerous to legalize? "

Fears Of Marijuana's Gateway Effect Vastly Exceed The Evidence

The gateway theory can be summarized as an ounce of truth embedded in
a pound of bull. Yes, most people who use heroin and cocaine used
marijuana  and alcohol and tobacco for that matter  first.

But the vast majority of people who use marijuana never progress to
using other illicit drugs, or even to becoming regular marijuana
consumers. That's why the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of
Medicine says "there is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects
of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other
illicit drugs." The principal connection between marijuana and other
illicit drugs mostly involves the nature of the market, not the nature
of the high. In The Netherlands, where the marijuana market has been
quasi-legal and regulated for decades, marijuana use is less prevalent
than in the United States, and those who do consume marijuana are less
likely to use other illicit drugs.

Dutch experts attribute the first to their success in making marijuana
"boring" and the latter to separating the "soft drug" from the "hard
drug" markets.

Perhaps most important, new evidence now indicates that the
proliferation of medical marijuana laws and dispensaries around the
United States is strongly associated with fewer people dying from
overdoses involving heroin and pharmaceutical opioids.

The most likely reason is that people are finding marijuana more
helpful than opioids in managing different types of pain.

There's also good reason  although not yet conclusive proof  that
people substitute marijuana for alcohol as marijuana becomes more
easily available.

If true, the public health and safety benefits would be substantial
given the much lower association of marijuana withintimate partner
violence, dangerous driving and reckless sexual behavior.

So what's the punchline?

Legal regulation of marijuana may well result in more people,
especially older adults, using marijuana  but it's highly likely that
the other result will be fewer people using and getting into trouble
with other drugs, both legal and illegal. Communities struggling with
high rates of opioid addiction today should welcome, not fear, the
responsible legalization of marijuana.  
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