A study released by the American Medical Association is getting a whole lot of attention this week, as it rightly should. This study, which shows that people who smoke marijuana exhibit little to no harmful pulmonary effects from their use, pokes a gigantic, gaping hole in one of the most often-employed attacks against marijuana reform.
According to the 20-year study, those who used marijuana occasionally (2-3 times a month) did not show any decrease in lung functioning and, in some cases, actually showed improvements. This is in glaring contrast to cigarette smokers, who displayed significantly less breathing ability at the end of the study. Even some heavy marijuana users showed no decrease in function.
Of course, this is antithetical to what prohibitionists and scaremongers have been claiming about marijuana for decades. One of the most commonly used arguments against marijuana reform is that it is too dangerous to be used as a medicine because of the lung damage caused by smoking (even though many patients prefer vaporizing or eating their medicine). By this logic, making marijuana legal for recreational use is out of the question because of the threat to public health and the associated costs that would be incurred.
The American Medical Association just invalidated that argument. This is the latest in what appears to be a trend of science exposing the lies in the major prohibitionist talking points.
Take teen use, for example. The drug czar has repeatedly tried to blame medical marijuana and reformers on the increase in teen marijuana use, saying that it “sends the wrong message” to young people. By looking at the available data for medical marijuana states, however, MPP was able to show that in most of those states, teen use actually decreased after the implementation of medical marijuana laws. It appears that the message reformers are sending teens is that marijuana is not as glamorous when being used by a cancer patient. That is quite a bit better than the message being sent by the government, which is that teens cannot handle hearing legitimate policy debates and that it is worth lying to them and arresting them to stop others from using marijuana in the future (a tactic we can see has failed by comparing our continuously high arrest rates with the increasing rate of teen and adult use).
Another point, brought up most often by law enforcement, is that if more people are using marijuana, the roads will become more dangerous. They conjure images of stoned drivers and bloodstained pavement and complain about lack of effective tools by which to judge marijuana impairment. This argument was similarly refuted by a recent study that showed traffic fatalities also decreased in states that allowed the medical use of marijuana. Apparently, access to marijuana leads to a drop in alcohol sales, particularly among people who may self-medicate with alcohol for painful conditions. This, combined with the fact that driving while under the influence of marijuana is far safer (yet still potentially dangerous; no one should drive impaired on any substance), leads to a marked decrease in fatal car accidents.
(As a side note, there is a time-tested and proven way of determining impairment caused by any substance or condition. It is called Standardized Field Sobriety Testing and has been in use since there have been cars on the roads. In recent years, this tool has become much more accurate through research and increased training protocols.)
The vast majority of arguments against reform tend to be based on emotion. They have little to do with facts. As more and more research becomes available that disproves the propaganda, hopefully more people will see through the smokescreen of lies and fear. When they do, our nation will make great strides toward enacting rational marijuana policies.
One of the most often-heard arguments against marijuana reform can basically be summed up as follows:
“But what about the children?”
Prohibitionists are quick to trot this one out whenever their other arguments have failed because it’s an easy way to elicit a strong emotional response. They claim that marijuana reform will lead to increased rates of use, developmental damage, and easier access to marijuana. Even talking about the issue will lead to higher rates of use, according to their arguments. Never mind that teen use rates tend to decrease in states that pass medical marijuana laws, or that licensed distributors would have ample reason to ID customers.
No, facts don’t really apply to this argument. It is very useful, however, when it comes to terrifying parents. According to the standard drug warrior mentality, the only way to keep kids away from marijuana is to arrest adults for using it. To do otherwise would “send the wrong message to our youth.”
SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - Texas law enforcement officials say several Mexican drug cartels are luring youngsters as young as 11 to work in their smuggling operations.
Steven McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, told Reuters the drug gangs have a chilling name for the young Texans lured into their operations.
"They call them 'the expendables,'" he said.
McCraw said his investigators have evidence six Mexican drug gangs -- including the violent Zetas -- have "command and control centers" in Texas actively recruiting children for their operations, attracting them with what appears to be "easy money" for doing simple tasks.
The policy of marijuana prohibition is the primary reason cartels are able to bring in so much profit from distribution within the U.S., the reason they are in such brutal competition with each other, and the catalyst for using cheap and available child conscripts within our borders. Instituting more rational marijuana policies and bringing marijuana into a regulated, legal market would greatly diminish the power of the cartels, as well as their need to corrupt our youth. Licensed businesses, unlike cartels, must obey child labor laws and other regulations in order to stay in business.
Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske and other prohibitionists don’t want to hear that, though. It seems as if they have no problem using imaginary children to scare people away from reform. Real children, however, are “expendable.”
The last two weeks have been full of announcements from the federal government about marijuana policy. None of them has been positive, and none of them should be surprising.
First, the Department of Justice stated that it retained the ability to prosecute anyone who cultivates, processes, or distributes medical marijuana, regardless of state law. As noted earlier on this blog, this is not really a change in policy, but it is certainly disappointing to see the Department of Justice is unwilling to publicly recognize the legitimacy of state medical marijuana laws and would rather have patients purchasing their medicine from dangerous, illicit dealers.
Then, in a move that shouldn’t have surprised anyone, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the agency tasked with determining the legal status of drugs according to the Controlled Substances Act, decided to keep marijuana as a Schedule I substance. This classification means that the DEA will continue to assert that marijuana has no accepted medical use and should continue to be a high enforcement priority. Never mind the growing mountain of peer-reviewed studies that show the medical efficacy and relative safety of marijuana. The DEA will only pay attention to government studies, which are not approved unless the goal is to find negative effects, not medical benefits. We should not expect them to reschedule marijuana in the foreseeable future, especially since marijuana enforcement is an easy source of cash and prestige. Americans for Safe Access is currently appealing the decision in federal court, however, and hopefully they will gain some traction on this point and force the DEA to recognize the evidence in support of medical marijuana.
All this was followed by the release of the National Drug Control Strategy, which basically states that the Obama administration will continue to use scarce resources to combat the use of marijuana through criminal justice means, as well as a slightly increased program of harm reduction (which the President has said was going to be his primary focus). The strategy admits that marijuana use is at its highest in the last eight years, yet wants to continue the same strategy it has been utilizing during that same period!
The new strategy also mentions medical marijuana and, while admitting that there may be some medical uses for individual components of marijuana, continues to say that it should pass through the FDA approval process. This would be nice, if we could get all the federal agencies whose stamps of approval are needed to actually allow such research. So far the efforts of those trying to go through the official research and approval process have been blocked. In addition, the new strategy claims that medical marijuana “sends the wrong message to children” and increases the likelihood of adolescents using marijuana. This point ignores the fact that in most medical marijuana states, teen use has actually decreased since passing medical marijuana laws. Data supporting this can be found in the Marijuana Policy Project’s Teen Use Report.
So what does all this mean?
It means that all we can expect from the federal government is support of the status quo. We might get some minor concessions here and there, and the fact that the Ogden Memo has been (mostly) followed by the DOJ should not be overlooked. However, we should not look to the federal government to change policy in any drastic way simply of its own free will. They must be legally compelled to do so.
This is why we don’t need statements of policy, nice as they may be. We need different laws. We need something much more binding than policy statements, which can be distorted and rescinded at any moment without legal backing. It is imperative that we convince our legislators to support bills that will weaken the federal government’s control over marijuana policy and enforcement.
Please contact your representative in Congress, and tell them to support H.R. 2306. This bill would remove the federal government’s ability to interfere with state marijuana laws and policies. Legal change is what we really need if we want to see positive change in federal behavior.
Today, the Marijuana Policy Project released an updated version of the Teen Use Report, which analyzes all available data from medical marijuana states both before and after passing their medical marijuana laws. The purpose behind this was to find out if permitting patients to use their medicine “sends the wrong message” to teens, as prohibitionists are so quick to claim.
Well, it turns out that it doesn’t. In fact, of the 13 states with available data, teen use rates have stayed the same or decreased since enacting medical marijuana laws. In some cases, these drops in teen use are pretty significant. This is not meant to imply that there is a causal relationship between medical marijuana and a drop in teen use. What the report does show, however, is that there is definitely no causal relationship between medical marijuana and an increase in teen marijuana use.
Not surprisingly, we’ve seen that arresting anyone for marijuana, even teenagers, does nothing to curb adolescent marijuana use. Some parents may be asking right about now, “how do I prevent my teenager from using marijuana?”
According to a study released this week by the University of Washington, the answer is … talk to them!