A Dozen Sound-bites you’ll Hear the Prohibitionists Use To Scare the Public… And The Sound-bites you can Use To Rebut Them
California’s initiative to regulate and control cannabis has made the ballot and (as of the time I’m writing this) Oregon and Washington are petitioning to make the ballot to ask the general public to end the criminalization of adult personal possession and cultivation of cannabis. By varying degrees they will ask to provide the option of taxing and regulating the sales of cannabis as a commercial product.
So you can bet the prohibitionists whose paychecks depend on enforcing marijuana laws will be out in force, saturating the airwaves and newsprint with levels of reefer madness not seen since the 1930s yellow journalism of William Randolph Hearst and demagoguery of Harry J. Anslinger. The general public, not as savvy to the tortured straw men and rank illogic that masquerade as drug war justification, may feel in their gut they’re being lied to, but lack the quick retort necessary to rebut these fallacies.
At the NORML Stash Blog (stash.norml.org) I’ve spent the past two years picking apart prohibitionist arguments. I present to you, in no particular order, a dozen arguments against the regulation of cannabis you’re likely to hear and read, and the sound-bites and follow-ups you need to defeat them. (I’ll use California figures, but you can find the figures for Oregon and Washington, plus the government’s own statistics to back up the arguments, in the footnotes.)
Smokers and Drinkers and Tokers, oh my!
Response: 2.3 million adult Californians are using cannabis now; we’re not asking to add anything, we’re demanding regulations on what exists now.
Follow-Up: We’re spending $15.5 billion this year on Drug War, we’ve arrested 11.5 million cannabis users from time President Clinton told us he “didn’t inhale” to the time President Obama said he “inhaled, frequently”, and yet still, 22.5 million American adults will use cannabis this year. Marijuana is already a part of our culture and the only question now is whether it should be regulated by laws or controlled by criminals.
Response: 1 in 10 adult Californians are using cannabis now, so if there is a social cost, we’re paying it now, bringing in no tax money, and spending tax money on prohibition that’s not stopping anybody.
Follow-up: Alcohol kills 35,000 and tobacco kill 440,000 each year because they are toxic and very addictive, so it is no surprise they cost $148 billion and $167 billion, respectively, to society. Cannabis is “the safest therapeutically active substance known to man” and would take 1,500 lbs. smoked in 15 minutes to kill a man, according to a DEA judge.
Response: Drunk driving has consistently hovered at 28% of all fatal accidents in California for sixteen years, but nobody suggests we return to Alcohol Prohibition to solve that problem.
Follow-up: Whether cannabis is illegal or not, a few people may use it irresponsibly. However, patients given Marinol, the 5-to-10-times more potent synthetic form of marijuana’s THC, are counseled “not to drive until it is established that they are able to tolerate the drug and perform such tasks safely,” implying that a person with experience using Marinol – or marijuana – could drive safely. Also, “Some drivers may actually be able to improve performance for brief periods by overcompensating for self-perceived impairment.” Nobody wants drivers impaired for any reason, but arresting adults who possess and use cannabis without driving is not the solution.
Law & Order: Pot Zombie Unit
Response: Growing quality cannabis is not easy. Americans are allowed to brew their own beer and wine at substantially less cost, but willingly pay the price and tax to have someone do it for them.
Follow-up: Legal cannabis, even with the tax, will be cheaper than what the black market is selling now. Currently, criminals get all the benefits of $1,000-to-$8,000-per-pound tax-free cannabis that they will sell to anybody of any age. Legal cannabis would at least raise some tax revenue and cripple the profitability of the black market.
Response: Cannabis accounts for more than 60% of Mexican drug syndicates’ revenue. They may not become Boy Scouts, but they will become criminals with less money for weapons, ammunition, and bribes.
Follow-up: There are 2.3 million annual adult cannabis users in California, but only 1 million annual adult users of all other drugs combined. Mexican drug syndicates cannot just manufacture demand for other drugs where there is none.
Response: California is spending $981 million annually to prohibit cannabis. If we’re not locking people up, what’s the problem with taxing them instead of fining them?
Follow-up: California arrested 59,000 adults for cannabis in 2007. While most won’t serve lengthy jail sentences, the arrest itself can cause loss of a job, student financial aid, housing, child custody, and insurance coverage that ends up costing us all.
Pot 2.0: It’s Not Your Father’s Woodstock Weed
Response: The so-called “gateway drug theory” is a myth. According to the Institutes of Medicine, cannabis use “does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse.”
Follow-up: The only “gateway” between cannabis and hard drugs is that they are available in the same unregulated illegal market. Even though more hard drug addicts started with alcohol than started with cannabis, nobody calls liquor a “gateway drug” because you can’t pick up crack, meth, or heroin on the shelf next to it at the liquor store.
Response: Cannabis smoke – like all smoke – contains carcinogens. However, cannabis smoking does not lead to increased risk of head, neck, and lung cancer or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Follow-up: If cannabis causes any health problems, it is more of an argument for its regulation. Under legalization, California’s current 2.3 million cannabis consumers would have guarantees of potency, composition, and purity of cannabis, instead of the risks of chemicals, fungi, molds, and adulterants they face now.
Response: Cannabis use is far less harmful to the user and to society than alcohol and tobacco use. While the average potency has doubled, cannabis is non-toxic, so potency is irrelevant.
Follow-up: If the cannabis of the 1960s and ‘70s was so much safer, why were we arresting and jailing people for using it back then? Under regulation, cannabis potency levels can be verified and people could use the 1960s and ‘70s-style cannabis if they choose.
My God, What about the Children?!?
Response: Over 80% of seniors and 70% of sophomores say it is easy to get now. Could it be any easier when we license sellers in adults-only establishments and check customers for ID?
Follow-up: Regulating a substance doesn’t mean we’re telling kids it is “OK”. We strictly regulate tobacco for adults and through public relations campaigns and bans on commercial advertising we have shown smokers that society does not consider smoking “OK”.
Follow-up: Keeping the price of marijuana expensive is exactly what enriches the Mexican drug syndicates that have murdered 18,000 people in three years.
Response: Tobacco is legal and extremely addictive, yet teen smoking is at its lowest rates ever. We achieved that not by arresting adult smokers, but through education and ID card checks.
Follow-up: California has had legalized cannabis for medical use for fourteen years and has seen teen monthly use drop 24%-47%.
One theme you’ll notice is my focus on forcing prohibitionists to defend what we are doing now about cannabis. Their scare tactics only make sense if you think nobody smokes pot now and then suddenly once it is legal, we’ll be overrun by “potheads”. Americans – especially on the West Coast – know the Drug War is as much an utter failure as Alcohol Prohibition. Polls show a slim majority of us are supportive of common sense regulation of cannabis. Keep reminding them that cannabis is the third-most popular recreational substance now and that any argument for keeping it illegal is an argument for prohibiting the other two. When in doubt, ask the Prohibitionist why they don’t support making cigarettes and alcohol illegal for all the reasons they mention about cannabis.
554,000 adult Washingtonians, 357,000 adult Oregonians. National Survey on Drug Use and Health State Estimates of Substance Use (http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/2k7State/AppB.htm#TabB-2). ↑
Office of National Drug Control Policy, “National Drug Control Budget FY 2011 Funding Highlights” (http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/policy/11budget/fy11highlight.pdf). ↑
National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, 2008 Estimates of Substance Use (http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/nsduh/2k8nsduh/AppG.htm#TabG-3). ↑
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Smoking and Tobacco Use FastStats (http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/tobacco_related_mortality/index.htm) ↑
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, “Economic Costs of Alcohol Abuse in the United States” (http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/economic-2000/index.htm#updated). ↑
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Sustaining State Programs for Tobacco Control Data Highlights 2006” (http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/state_data/data_highlights/2006/index.htm). ↑
Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decision of Administrative Law Judge, September 6, 1988. Washington, DC: Drug Enforcement Administration (http://www.medmjscience.org/Pages/reports/jyp4.html). ↑
31% of Oregon fatal accidents, 36% of Washington fatal accidents. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Fatality Analysis Reporting System (http://www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Trends/TrendsAlcohol.aspx) ↑
US Department of Transportation, Drug and Human Performance Fact Sheets – Cannabis (http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov/People/injury/research/job185drugs/cannabis.htm). ↑
DEA System to Retrieve Information from Drug Evidence (STRIDE), (http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/factsht/drugdata/index.html). ↑
Office of National Drug Control Policy 2006, as cited by the Washington Post, “Cartels Face an Economic Battle”, October 7, 2009 (http://www.whitehousedrugpolicy.gov/publications/factsht/drugdata/index.html). ↑
216,000 adult Washingtonians, adult 111,000 Oregonians. National Survey on Drug Use and Health State Estimates of Substance Use (http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/2k7State/AppB.htm#TabB-6). ↑
Washington spends $88 million, Oregon spends $66.5 million. Jeffrey Miron, “The Budgetary Effects of Marijuana Prohibition” (http://prohibitioncosts.org/mironreport.html) with data compiled from state budgets and arrest and court data. ↑
Washington arrested 14,000, Oregon arrested 8,600 for cannabis possession alone. FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2007, state level data, compiled in the Marijuana Policy Almanac at DrugScience (http://www.drugscience.org/States/US/US_1a.htm). ↑
Institute of Medicine, “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base”, 1999 (http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=6376&page=101). ↑
Dr. Donald Tashkin, “Marijuana use and the risk of lung and upper aerodigestive tract cancers: results of a population-based case-control study”, October 2006 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17035389) ↑
Dr. Donald Tashkin, “Heavy habitual marijuana smoking does not cause an accelerated decline in FEV1 with age”, January 1997 (http://ajrccm.atsjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/155/1/141). ↑
National Institute on Drug Abuse, Monitoring the Future Survey, 2009 (http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/data/09data/fig09_3.pdf). ↑
National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, “Non-Medical Marijuana III: Rite of Passage or Russian Roulette?”, June 2008 (http://www.casacolumbia.org/download.aspx?path=/UploadedFiles/evsz1m2y.pdf) ↑
National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2008 Estimates of Substance Use (http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/nsduh/2k8nsduh/AppG.htm#TabG-16). ↑
Washington teen 30-day use declined 32%-50%, Oregon teen 30-day use declined by 1%-8%, both since 1998 passage of medical marijuana, as noted in “Marijuana Use By Young People: The Impact Of State Medical Marijuana Laws”, 2005 (http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/sourcefiles/2005TeenUseReport.pdf) ↑