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Radical Rant: Marijuana Is Safer Doesn’t Mean Other Drugs Are Dangerous

Russ Belville



Marijuana legalization is well on its way to mainstream acceptance. We’ve convinced over half the people that it is a safer substance than alcohol, and they agree that it should be taxed and regulated as such.

But in making the “safer” comparison, we’ve inadvertently set up a couple of related frames that we’ll have to work hard to undo.

By putting marijuana in the “treat it like alcohol” frame, we’ve made the public concerned about the kind of problems that really only apply to alcohol, particularly the issue of impaired driving. Alcohol causes drivers to become impaired and crash into our loved ones, thinks the public; therefore, we need some sort of breathalyzer for marijuana.

Never mind that marijuana-impaired drivers have been around and haven’t seemed to cause much mayhem to date. Forget that THC behaves very differently from alcohol in the body in relation to impairment. We asked to “treat it like alcohol,” and the public wants to oblige.

By using the “safer than alcohol” frame, we’ve implicitly accepted the prohibitionist premise that drugs are “good” or “bad” based on a relative scale of safety. If marijuana is safer than alcohol—goes the reasoning—then it must certainly be much safer than other illegal drugs.

Indeed, while the public has shown majority support for marijuana legalization in the past 10 public opinion polls, support for legalization of any other drug barely hits 10 percent for the most popular ones.

It’s not just the public, though. It’s also some of our cannabis community that looks down upon the use of other drugs or even alcohol. Legalize cannabis, goes the reasoning, and then cops can focus on going after the “real” drugs. The same people who will tell you sincerely that nobody deserves jail for a plant are more than willing to see SWAT teams break down doors over coca and opium products.

But the reality is this: most people who use drugs do so in a responsible, non-problematic way, and continuing drug prohibition ruins lives, corrupts police and denies medicine to needy patients.

Some tokers are at least tolerant of psychedelics like LSD and magic mushrooms, both of which reside inexplicably on the DEA’s Schedule I drug list. Like cannabis, both of these drugs are non-toxic and hold medical benefits. Unlike cannabis, they are highly hallucinogenic and unlikely to be used on a regular basis. Why shouldn’t these drugs be available to adult consumers on the same basis as cannabis?

Some tokers also get along fine with the club drug scene, full of alphabet-soup synthetics, the most-well known being MDMA (or ecstasy). That drug was developed in the 1980s and was considered as a facilitation drug for psychotherapy to help patients break down mental and emotional barriers. Keeping these drugs illegal just makes their purity and consistency unreliable, which is the leading cause of overdoses.

Most tokers, however, tend to cast aspersions on cocaine, meth and heroin, as if these drugs were evil incarnate. Yes, these are some powerful chemicals with addictive properties, but no more powerful and addictive than prescription drugs taken under doctor’s orders by patients in America every day. Even the National Institute on Drug Abuse ranks the abuse rate of these drugs at less than 30 percent—which tells us that over 70 percent of the people using cocaine, meth or heroin aren’t exhibiting problematic use.

The “marijuana is safer” argument has some tokers up on a high horse, looking down at users of other drugs and denying them the same self-sovereignty rights we demand. But the hippie on acid, the club kid on molly and the banker on coke don’t deserve to have their liberty curtailed if they aren’t harming others, either. 

Last week’s Radical Rant: 60 Days to Marijuana Election Night 2016