Why The “Big Marijuana = Big Tobacco” Scare is a Lie
The Washington Post has published an op-ed entitled “The marijuana industry is following the trail blazed by Big Tobacco”. In it, Dr. Samuel Wilkinson, a resident physician at the Yale School of Medicine, warns that Big Tobacco made cigarettes more convenient, flavorful, and addictive; they aggressively marketed to children and they used lying doctors and powerful lobbies to promote more use of a dangerous drug.
First, any discussion of how bad legalization of marijuana may be must compare it to how atrocious the current prohibition of marijuana is. We know how much harm alcohol and tobacco cause, but does anybody aside from Al Capone’s ghost think criminally prohibiting them would be better? Keeping marijuana prohibited can’t even be on the table; the only discussion is about how, not if, marijuana markets should be legal.
Second, we must remember that marijuana is nowhere even close to as damaging to society or user as alcohol or tobacco. Any discussion of how to legalize marijuana that hinges on such a comparison is inherently flawed.
Third, comparing “Big Tobacco” marketing to marijuana marketing is misleading. Tobacco had to lie about its product because its product is toxic and highly addictive. They had to trot out bought-off doctors to make specious medical claims for tobacco because it isn’t medicine. But marijuana actually is non-toxic medicine and to deny that is to be willfully ignorant.
Fourth, alcohol and tobacco have to depend on new young initiates because their products taste awful and are known to be harmful when used in excess. No 50-year-old tries a cigarette for the first time and sticks with it, but a 16-year-old will because of peer pressure and immaturity. No 50-year-old tries his first alcohol by chugging from a beer bong, but a 16-year-old will for thrills and acceptance.
However, with marijuana, the fastest-growing user demographic is people 50 and older. In 2002, there were 2 teen tokers for every 1 senior. Today, there are 3 seniors for every 2 teens, and the teen user population has actually declined by 200,000. For seniors, they begin to realize that marijuana can replace the Tylenol, Ambien, Viagra, Prozac, and Chardonnay they’ve been using; for teens, marijuana becomes a stodgy old-people’s-drug devoid of counter-culture cool.
Fifth, teen accessibility and use has nowhere to go but down. Since 1975, Monitoring the Future has shown 80%-91% of teens have easy access to marijuana – what, it’s going to jump to 100% when pot shops are checking ID and making teen street dealing less profitable? Already Colorado teens are reporting less easy access than the national average and their monthly use has declined by 20 percent in four years.
Commercial marijuana marketing doesn’t have to be as ubiquitous as alcohol; in fact, the marijuana industry is already accepting of advertising and marketing restrictions at least as stringent as tobacco (the regulations that Dr. Wilkinson notes are being fought deal with restrictions on marijuana advertising as stringent as pornography). But there must be commercial marijuana markets or we suffer the same ills of today’s prohibition – criminal control of the buying, selling, and marketing of marijuana.