Spawned by recent statements from the White House calling for the discussion of legalized marijuana to be one guided by science, not wishful thinking, The New York Times has attempted to do just that with their latest editorial advocacy feature entitled “What Science Says About Marijuana.”
In the piece, Times editorial board member and science expert Philip M. Boffey begins by recognizing the contemptuous nature of Drug Enforcement Administrator Michele Leonhart for her refusal to clarify before Congress back in 2012 that marijuana was not as addictive as other illegal substances like crack and methamphetamine.
“Her testimony neatly illustrates the vast gap between antiquated federal law enforcement policies and the clear consensus of science that marijuana is far less harmful to human health than most other banned drugs,” writes Boffey. “And is less dangerous than the highly addictive but perfectly legal substances known as alcohol and tobacco.”
“Marijuana cannot lead to a fatal overdose,” he continues. “There is little evidence that it causes cancer. Its addictive properties, while present, are low, and the myth that it leads users to more powerful drugs has long since been disproved.”
Boffey argues that the potential health risks involved with using cannabis are not serious enough to support the further imprisonment of people busted with weed. “Its downsides are not reasons to impose criminal penalties on its possession,” he writes, “particularly not in a society that permits nicotine use and celebrates drinking.”
By comparison, the health issues associated with marijuana are drastically lower than most other substances, and unlike alcohol, it presents very risks for healthy adults. “Its effects are mostly euphoric and mild,” writes Boffey, “whereas alcohol turns some drinkers into barroom brawlers, domestic abusers or maniacs behind the wheel.”
Referencing an independent British study from 2010, Boffey suggests that it has been proven that America’s drug of choice — alcohol — is more of a detriment to society than even heroin or crack cocaine. Furthermore, claims made by federal scientists that legalized marijuana would create a whirlwind of health problems for people across the United States have been discounted by a 1995 report by the World Health Organization, which determined, legal marijuana is “unlikely to produce public health problems comparable in scale to those currently produced by alcohol and tobacco.”
In terms of addiction, Boffey believes it is ridiculous to continue with federal prohibition based on marijuana having only a nine percent addiction rate, which is significantly lower than the 32 percent associated with tobacco and the 15 percent with alcohol. “There’s no need to ban a substance that has less than a third of the addictive potential of cigarettes,” he writes, “but state governments can discourage heavy use through taxes and education campaigns and help provide treatment for those who wish to quit.”
The idea that marijuana is a gateway drug is no longer a valid argument at this juncture,” writes Boffey, who says that only 4 percent of the 11 million Americans that have tried marijuana have moved on to harder drugs. Although he believes it is easier for cannabis users to cross the line and experiment with substances like cocaine and heroin, he says there is no evidence to prove cannabis helped them along. “People who try marijuana are more likely than the general population to try other drugs, but that doesn’t mean marijuana prompted them to do so.”
In the end, Boffey believes that while there will be some obstacles to overcome when the government finally decides to repeal marijuana prohibition once and for all, these challenges will be nothing legislators have not been faced with before, “and they will become easier for governments to deal with once more of them bring legal marijuana under tight regulation.”
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