The Russ Belville Show

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Marijuana smoking leads to some very unpleasant behaviors from the people who do not smoke it and hate those who do.  Besides blatantly lying about models who pose for anti-meth ad campaigns, the opponents of Oregon’s Measure 80 to legalize marijuana have taken to plagiarizing each other’s reefer madness essays in local newspapers.

Portland Cannabis Examiner Jennifer Alexander notes that in the 10/20 Herald and News from Klamath Falls, Oregon contains an essay entitled “Marijuana prohibition is not a burden on society” that purports to be written by the Board of the Directors of the Citizens for Safe Schools: Debbie Vought, Jeanette Rutherford, Jeff Young, Kristy Creed, Lucas Ritter, Paul Hillyer, Tamra Narramore, Tony Swan and Vicki Kaber.

Yet when you take a look at the The Hermiston Herald you’ll find the exact same essay, published 10/13 as  “The case against marijuana legislation” written by John Shafer of Athena.  He’s a member of the Athena City Council.

Regardless who wrote it, we’re going to expose it.  Here are some of the reefer madness reasons why John Shafer (assuming he is the original author) thinks we shouldn’t legalize marijuana;

Brain development continues until age 26, but marijuana interferes with normal growth and permanently alters the teenage brain. A decades-long study looking at teenage pot-smokers who continued using into adulthood found that average IQ declined by eight points between ages 13 and 38. Quitting pot did not reverse the process.

That’s this study, which “didn’t find the same IQ dip for people who became frequent users of pot after 18.”  Nobody’s trying to legalize teenage use of marijuana; Measure 80 would set the legal age at 21.  TIME’s Maia Szalavitz also points out that the study only found “cognitive decline in about 5% of teens” and Dr. Carl Hart noted that “only 38 people in the study — around 8% of those who ever tried marijuana — used it heavily enough to get diagnosed with dependence” and that small sample size doesn’t lend itself to generalization for large populations.

But this all begs the question: wouldn’t this IQ drop be happening to teens who smoke pot now?  About 3.2 million of the 17.1 million teenagers (aged 14-17, 2012 US Stat Abst) smoke pot this year and about 195,000 of them are toking more than 350 days a year (NSDUH 2010).  and yet, IQ scores are steadily up in every industrialized country, most of which saw huge increases in marijuana smoking starting around 1960.  If you want to reduce the harms to teens, how about we try taking the marijuana market away from teens and criminals and put it into adults-only stores that check ID?

Another consideration would be: who made a law saying we have to have the greatest IQ score possible?  When I was a kid, I was tested at a 149 IQ, so had I smoked pot then, would I now be at a 141 IQ, and why should anybody care?  I ask, because it seems we have no problem in this society with the clearly deleterious effects alcohol abuse has on the brain and cognition, like a CEO whose IQ dropped from 160 to 127.  Given that far more teenagers are regular users of alcohol than cannabis, I wonder why these drug warriors never call for a repeal of the 21st Amendment?

Nobody’s encouraging teens to smoke pot.  But a permanent record as a “druggie” is going to harm their future far more than the 5% chance of at most an 8-point drop in IQ.

A peer-reviewed study published last year in the British Medical Journal showed that marijuana use increased the risk for psychosis in young adults aged 14-24.

This is one of those chicken-and-egg studies (notice how our side tends to hyperlink to the actual studies?)  Do people who experience psychotic symptoms seek cannabis to self-medicate, or does the cannabis itself cause psychosis.  This study tends to support the hypothesis that continued heavy use of marijuana leads to greater chance of psychoses in those who begin use in adolescence.  If so, yet another reason for use to put marijuana in adults-only stores.

However, this study took a look at the rates of schizophrenia and psychosis from 1881-1999 in England and found “there was no evidence of change in the incidence of psychotic disorder over time,” which is pretty remarkable when you think of the increase in marijuana use from the 1960s forward.  Think about it.  If heavy marijuana use really led to increases in psychoses, wouldn’t we have a big problem with psychotic Baby Boomers?

And let’s not forget that the use of alcohol causes psychoses in many people and for some leads to alcohol-induced dementia.  Yet, still, nobody’s calling for the repeal of the 21st Amendment!  Why do we pretend we’re locking up the adult pot smoker to prevent some teenager from going psycho when we tolerate the adult alcoholic who’s a psycho drunk?

Adolescent pot-smokers become addicted at twice the adult rate. And, research shows that teenagers who smoke marijuana regularly do worse in school, drop out at much higher rates and have less satisfying careers as adults. With local dropout rates approaching 40 percent we cannot afford to see them go any higher.

Many teenagers who smoke marijuana are doing so to cope with bad situations in their lives that can equally affect their grades.  When they are caught with marijuana, they are kicked out of extra-curriculars and suspended, and sometimes get a juvenile record, all of which lead to higher drop-out rates.  When they become adults, they are drug-tested for the more satisfying careers.  Once again, if pot is so bad for teenagers, why do we let them make a living dealing it?  Have you ever met a teenage tequila dealer?  No, because he can’t compete with the legal adults-only liquor store.

No parent wants this for their children, but since 2008 the number of teens who smoke pot regularly (at least 20 times per month) has increased by 80 percent. The marijuana lobby’s campaign to convince us that pot is harmless is mostly to blame.

There are no data to support that assertion.  Nobody in this “marijuana lobby” wants to convince you pot is harmless.  We do want you to consider the facts and relative harms of marijuana and ask yourself whether locking up adults is a reasonable way to deal with the limited harms of marijuana.

Since 2008, the number of teens who smoke cigarettes regularly has dropped dramatically, to the point where more teens smoke pot than tobacco.  Yet nicotine is incredibly addictive; “More than a third of all kids who ever try smoking a cigarette become regular, daily smokers before leaving high school.”  How did we manage to get “a 50 percent decline in the number of smokers since 1965″ without locking up adult smokers?

No parent wants their kids smoking cigarettes, drinking beers, or toking joints, but even as we’ve allowed adults to keep smoking and drinking, we’ve seen teen use of tobacco and alcohol continue to drop year after year, and those are far more addictive substances than cannabis and far more widely available than cannabis.  We succeeded with tobacco and alcohol by setting age limits, educating adults on responsible use, educating kids on actual harms, moving the market to adults-only access, checking kids for ID, empowering cops to catch abusers, and eliminating advertising aimed at children.

Behind the wheel, marijuana poses the same problems as alcohol. Researchers at the University of Auckland compared average drivers to people killed or hospitalized by car accidents, and found that regular marijuana users were 9.5 times as likely to be in a serious or fatal car wreck. In comparison, someone who’s legally drunk (blood alcohol = .08) is 11 times as likely to be in any type of crash. The rates are similar.

Marijuana and driving doesn’t even begin to compare to the dangers of alcohol and driving.  Nobody approves of being impaired by marijuana when driving, but “the risk of all drug-positive drivers compared to drug-free drivers is similar to drivers with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.05%,” and that’s all drugs, not cannabis alone.  A drug-impaired driver is about as much of a traffic risk compared to a sober driver as a 60-year-old driver is compared to a 35-year-old.

Unlike alcohol, which gives its users “liquid courage” that leads to reckless behavior, marijuana users perceptions may change but their judgment and personality do not.  The drunk is going to tell you he’s just fine to drive; the stoner is going to chill out until he’s fine to drive.  The drunk will drive even more aggressively in relation to his impairment; the stoner will recognize his impairment and adjust by slowing down and driving more carefully.

Again, that’s not to defend stoned driving.  That’s to reflect on what’s already happening now – people smoke pot now and some of them drive.  Yet we seem to have the safest highways in the history of highway safety statistics.

According to Alan Crancer, retired research analyst for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, if marijuana use becomes more prevalent, as it would with legalization, it could overtake alcohol as the deadliest drug on the road. The marijuana lobby’s claim that pot is safer than alcohol and never killed anyone is just plain wrong.

Marijuana is safer than alcohol by every objective measure.  For marijuana to overtake alcohol, there would have to be 7.4 times more monthly marijuana users than there are today.  Over half (51%) of Americans use alcohol monthly, only 7% use marijuana monthly.

The claim that thousands of people are behind bars for simple possession is also untrue. The Justice Department researched this claim and found that almost everyone in federal prison for marijuana possession had prior offenses, pleaded down from a more serious charge, or was in possession of very large amounts — the median was 115 pounds. They’re not there for just smoking a joint.

We’re talking about passing a state law, not a federal law, so what difference to federal prison statistics make?  99% of all marijuana arrests are made at the state level.  And even in Oregon, where smoking a joint is going to get you a ticket, a fine, and six-months loss of driver’s licence, there are 199 arrests per month on marijuana possession charges.

Keep in mind that our decriminalization of marijuana only extends to one ounce, or 28 grams.  If you’re caught with 29 grams, that’s a felony charge, and there are 199 arrests for those felonies every month.  Each one requires fingerprinting and booking, with a mug shot that goes online for a felony drug arrest and is searchable in Google forever.  That felony equates to job loss, scholarship loss, security clearance loss, even child custody loss.  A friend of mine with a drug felony for growing a marijuana plant can’t even be the coach for his son’s pee-wee soccer team!

Prohibitionists will always try to minimize the effects of prohibition by pointing out how few people are in prison for marijuana possession.  But every case of marijuana possession involves someone committing felonies in the process.  Merely picking up your decriminalized half-ounce from a dealer is a felony.  A group of tokers “going in” on a decriminalized ounce by splitting the costs four ways are committing a felony conspiracy.  And anything involving a plant is a felony.

The tax story is equally misleading. Taxes on alcohol come nowhere near paying for what it costs society. These include criminal-justice and health care costs, and the most expensive of all, lost work productivity and absenteeism. Marijuana would be the same: a net drain on society.

This is the Sabet Conjecture.  Any marijuana taxes would be too little to pay for the increased costs to society, because alcohol costs society more than the taxes it brings in.  The Sabet Conjecture conveniently omits two salient points:

  1. Alcohol is both toxic and addictive and used by far more Americans than marijuana;
  2. Marijuana is already being used by Americans and we are reaping $0 in tax revenue and spending $13,000,000,000 to prohibit it.

So if marijuana use stayed steady, we’d have the same costs from marijuana as we do now and we’d bring in some taxes and we’d save a lot of that $13 billion in law enforcement.  If marijuana use went up, we’d have even more tax revenue and the costs from just the increase in marijuana use would have to be more than $13 billion for this equation to make sense.

But a recent Canadian study showed that a pot smoker costs society 1/8th that of an alcohol drinker and 1/40th that of a tobacco smoker.  It worked out to $20 per pot smoker per year in costs.  Do you really think we can’t raise $20/year in taxes from pot smokers who are accustomed to spending $150 to $600 an ounce for a weed?

And please, spare me the worry about lost productivity and absenteeism when most companies allow their nicotine addicts many extended breaks per day to go outside and get their fix and every company I know of still gets by on “Hangover Monday”.  Some companies even allow their employees to consume alcohol on the lunch hour!

Legalizing marijuana would benefit people who sell the stuff and those who only care about getting high. Legalizing marijuana sends the wrong message to our children and puts them in harm’s way. For the rest of us, keeping pot illegal is the better option. Marijuana prohibition is not a burden on society; it’s a benefit.

Actually, legalizing marijuana would harm the people currently selling the stuff who are making bank on prohibition profit.  Legalizing marijuana would change our message to kids from “Just Say No”, which just doesn’t work, to “Marijuana is for Adults”, which seems to work better with alcohol and tobacco.  The burden marijuana prohibition places on society is real in the lives that are torn apart by criminalizing peaceful productive people and breaking up their families.  Until it touches you directly when your child or friend or family member is arrested or raided, you usually can’t see it, because it is the status quo.

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