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Idaho Senator Risch Stuck in 1980s Over Marijuana

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Idaho Senator Risch Stuck in 1980s Over Marijuana


I was born and raised in Idaho. We had an old saying about our state when I lived there: Welcome to Idaho – Set Your Clock Back Thirty Years.

When you bring up the issue of marijuana legalization, that saying is eerily accurate.

I was forwarded a reply from Idaho Senator James Risch to one of his constituents who had asked about the legalization of marijuana. True to form, the Senator’s opinions on the issue are completely uninformed by the results from 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana and now 9 that have legalized adult use of cannabis.

Idaho Senator Risch on Marijuana
Idaho Senator Risch on Marijuana

Given the ratio of falsehoods-to-words in this letter, I’m surprised Trump didn’t select him for a cabinet position.

Legalization would likely cause many who do not use marijuana or other illegal substances to experiment with it, which could lead to addiction or experimentation with other dangerous drugs.

“Would likely,” as if we don’t now have four states with data on the subject.

While youth use of marijuana has not increased in states that have legalized, adult use, especially seniors, has increased. I don’t think it is controversial to posit that adults who avoided doing something enjoyable that’s illegal might decide to try it once it is legal.

But did that lead to addiction to marijuana, experimentation with other drugs, or addiction to other drugs?

According to the National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Facilities, in 2012, before any state marijuana legalization took effect, there were about 1.25 million rehab clients.

In 2016, when two states had been legal for three years, there were about 1.15 million rehab clients.

Did more people try using drugs other than marijuana?

According to the National Survey on Drug Use & Health, in 2012, there were 3.27 percent of people aged 12 and older who had used a drug other than marijuana in the past month.

In 2016, that figure rose to 3.42 percent of the population 12 and older. Aha! More people did experiment with drugs!

But, when you drill down to Colorado and Washington, it’s not so clear.

Colorado’s rate increased from 3.64 to 3.77. But that increase was driven by people 18 and older. Among the 12-17 age group, illicit drug use dropped from 4.14 to 2.74.

In Washington State, the illicit drug use rate dropped from 3.89 to 3.58, overall, and a drop from 4.49 to 2.57 among the teens.

Did legal marijuana lead to more illicit drug addiction? That’s a hard stat to come by. There has been a massive increase in addiction problems related to opioids.

But that’s not marijuana’s fault. The Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse told Congress she blames “drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes, and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies” as the factors leading to greater opioid addiction, not marijuana legalization.

Looking deeper at the underlying theme of Sen. Risch’s statement, you find the hoary “gateway drug” myth – the idea that smoking pot primes your brain to enjoy altered states, necessitating an increasing panoply of drug intake to overcome tolerance to altered states.

Funny how that “gateway drug” idea doesn’t apply to legalized alcohol. For some reason, Risch believes that adults who enjoy achieving that altered state of mind from alcohol don’t become tolerant to it and never seek increasing highs.

If marijuana was legalized, the problem of impaired motorists would increase significantly.

That’s unclear from current data. Prohibitionists like to tout statistics showing a greater number of fatality drivers who are found to have pot in their system, but that tells us nothing about their impairment, since pot stays in someone’s system long after its impairment has worn off.

Prohibs also tout figures showing more driving fatalities overall, but transportation officials attribute that to increased speed limits, cheaper gasoline leading to more miles driven, drivers distracted by electronic devices, and increased leniency in enforcing speed limits and seat belt laws.

Keep in mind, this is a Senator from a state that has a top speed limit of 80mph and doesn’t require motorcyclists to wear helmets, so take his concern about traffic safety with a grain of salt.

In addition, marijuana contains even more dangerous carcinogens than tobacco.

But did you know that dihydrogen monoxide contains a molecule ten times more flammable and twenty times more explosive than gasoline?

This old talking point is a relative of the “marijuana contains over 400 chemicals” talking point that tries to use ignorance of chemistry to scare the reader by citing the cancer risks of some of those chemicals.

Water is made up of two (di-) hydrogen molecules and one (mono-) oxygen (oxide) molecule – two chemicals, in prohibitionist parlance – and those hydrogen molecules, by themselves, are extremely flammable and explosive.

But, obviously, water is not.

Because chemistry matters.

Yes, cannabis has many constituent molecules within it. When burned, like any plant matter, the combustion will create some carcinogenic compounds.

But cannabis also has a molecule called delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol – THC – which seems to have an anti-tumoral effect. Other cannabinoids may as well have cancer-fighting properties.

There is still much research to be done, stymied as it is by marijuana’s Schedule I designation, but the bottom line is that while…

…more than 400,000 people die each year from diseases related to the use of tobacco…

…ZERO die from diseases related to the use of marijuana. An uncounted number of cancer patients even cure their disease by using marijuana!

In other words, just because something has parts that are carcinogenic doesn’t mean that something causes cancer, any more than water being two-thirds hydrogen makes it flammable and explosive.

Furthermore, you don’t have to smoke marijuana, you can vaporize it, eat it, drink it, or rub it on your skin, and get none of the carcinogens related to plant matter combustion.

These public health risks far outweigh any economic benefit that could be derived from taxes on the sale of marijuana.

The legal marijuana industry has generated so far about $1 billion in tax revenue.

Therefore, Senator Risch, proving that statement is as simple as quantifying at least $1 billion in demonstrable public health harms in the states that have raised that tax revenue.

It can be done. For the first couple years of opposing legalization, Project SAMUEL’s Kevin Sabet and Patrick Kennedy used to always trumpet how legal alcohol and tobacco only bring in tax revenue covering about one-tenth of the costs to society from booze and cigarettes.

I doubt anybody could quantify the reverse of that – find me even $100 million worth of social costs caused by the $1 billion we’ve raised in marijuana tax revenue.

And that’s without considering the savings in law enforcement and the judicial system from not wasting time busting people for smoking weed and dealing with the other crime and violence inherent in supply them through a black market. That’s not including the extra payroll tax revenue employees of legal marijuana business would contribute. That’s not even considering the rise in property values that seems to accompany legalization.

Sadly, Senator Risch is doing a terrific job representing his constituents, since a majority of 53 percent “strongly oppose” the legalization of marijuana and another 11 percent “somewhat oppose” it, according to a 2015 poll. In Idaho, about one-third of the public supports legalization, which is where the nation was back in 2001.

So, maybe not thirty years.

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