Source: The Dominion (New Zealand)
Pubdate: 18 August 1998
Author: Robert Merkin


Sir, - The statistics and conclusions which Assistant Commissioner Ian
Holyoake supplied to Parliament's health select committee regarding
marijuana and homicide (August 6) would be howlingly funny if their
potential to affect law and government policy were not involved.

Nine of 67 murders in one year out of a population of 3.6 million is what
we in the statistics trade call a bizarrely small statistical sample.

With such numbers, randomness and poor data collection are far more likely
culprits than pattern.  No professional statistician would dare suggest a
causative link between any two such phenomena, let alone cast the shadow of
such a suggestion on legislation.

There is an extremely confident, long-established statistical link between
substance abuse and homicide - when the substance is alcohol, which Mr
Holyoake or The Dominion article neglected to mention.

These 67 homicides involving alcohol should have been reported for the
obvious comparison of inference it would have yielded.

Another revealing statistic is the percentage of violent-crime arrests and
prisoners with a history of alcohol abuse.

Anecdotally, as manager of an emergency winter shelter for the homeless in
the United States, the single most identifiable factor in bringing us our
guests is alcohol abuse.

Well behind are heroin abuse and psychiatric illness, or a mix of these three.

We have never encountered a guest brought in by marijuana abuse.

It's just not that kind of substance.

Robert Merkin Massachusetts [Abridged]

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Checked-by: Pat Dolan