Silly Season in Massachusetts

Sep 22, 2008

alcohol, decriminalization, drug warriors, gateway, Medical Marijuana, science, tobacco

On Saturday, New Bedford Standard-Times columnist Jack Spillane weighed with an eminently sensible and amusing take on the opposition to Question 2 , the marijuana decriminalization initiative on the November ballot in Massachusetts. He quotes some funny/scary dialogue from the press conference held by prosecutors and other opponents that managed to escape the notice of other reporters. The silliness begins with Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter:

And "I don't want to hear," he said, those "specious" and "bogus" arguments that marijuana is like alcohol. Alcohol, he informed the media event, can have health benefits. You know, like wine, he said.

And tobacco? Why, that takes a long time to do damage, he informed.

Ah, Sam, say it ain't so.

Not to be outdone, Fall River Mayor Bob Correia trotted out the time-tested "gateway" argument.

"Marijuana," he said, is "the one they start our children off with!"

Oh dear, where does one start? Pretty much every reputable authority who's actually looked at the data has concluded that both alcohol and tobacco are far more toxic and addictive than marijuana.

Last year, for example, a group of British scientists headed by David Nutt, a pharmacology professor at Bristol University and a member of the British government's official Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, published a study comparing the harm caused by various drugs in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet. They constructed a nine-category matrix of harm, looking at physical risks to the user, the risk of addiction, and effect on users' families and society as a whole.  Marijuana scored markedly lower on the harmfulness scale than both alcohol and tobacco.

As for medicinal benefits of alcohol, a recent WebMD video explained that benefits may exist, but only if you limit yourself to low doses -- more causes harm rather than benefit -- while the beneficial components in booze can also be obtained in a number of other ways that don't risk the liver and brain damage that alcohol has been proven to cause.

In contrast, the medicinal benefits of marijuana are based on marijuana's unique components, called cannabinoids, and its use for relief of pain, nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms has been noted by such prestigious organizations as the Institute of Medicine, American College of Physicians, American Nurses Association, and many others.

As for the gateway theory, it's been debunked so often that I won't bore you with a full recitation. To quote the American College of Physicians: "Marijuana has not been proven to be the cause or even the most serious predictor of serious drug abuse."

It's definitely silly season in Massachusetts. And it's likely to get worse.