As editor of Toke Signals and marijuana/dispensary reviewer for the Seattle Weekly, I live and breathe marijuana (see what I did there?) every day, and have a great chance to fully inform myself and others.
But when speaking to members of the general public, I’m often struck (and stop that! It hurts) by the wide prevalence of beliefs about marijuana that have been scientifically disproven for years or decades.
How many of these myths have you trusted lately?
1. One joint equals a pack of cigarettes.
This hoary old favorite comes back again and again, seemingly impervious to the onslaught of the real world.Prohibitionists earnestly tell us that smoking just one joint “equals a pack of cigarettes.” Or maybe it’s 16, or maybe just four cigarettes; they seem a little unclear on the exact number.
This fallacious conclusion is derived from a study by Dr. Donald Tashkin in which the UCLA researcher examined airflow resistance in the lungs of tobacco smokers compared to that in the lungs of marijuana smokers. Dr. Tashkin did find that daily pot smokers experience a “mild but significant” increase in airflow resistance in the large airways, greater than that seen in persons smoking 16 cigarettes per day.
But what they don’t tell you is that, ironically, Dr. Tashkin also found — in the largest study ever of its kind — other, more important markers of lung health, in which marijuana smokers did much better than tobacco smokers. In the decade since Dr. Tashkin’s study results were announced, I’ve never heard a single anti-marijuana speaker mention this.
They also never seem to have time to mention that Dr. Tashkin’s study unexpectedly found that smoking marijuana — even regularly and heavily! — does not lead to lung cancer.
Dr. Tashkin said these results “were against our expectations.”
“We hypothesized that there would be a positive association between marijuana use and lung cancer, and that the association would be more positive with heavier use,” Dr. Tashkin said. “What we found instead was no assication at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect.”
Subsequent studies have supported Dr. Tashkin’s findings. A 20-year study published last year showed that marijuana smokers generally did not experience any loss in lung function — and, in fact, many actually had enhanced lung capacity, which one researcher speculated might come from the practice of “deep-lunging” hits to maximize their effects.
Even in those who smoked marijuana regularly for 20 years, researchers said they still saw no evidence of breathing problems.
2. Medical marijuana has been a huge problem in states where it is legalized.
The mass media narrative seems to be “Maybe there are a few patients who need medical marijuana, but legalizing cannabis for medicinal use has led to huge problems in California. Do we really want that here?”When pressed on exactly what those “huge problems” are, anti-marijuana zealots will usually offer up some variation of the “more pot dispensaries than Starbucks in Los Angeles” argument, saying something about dispensary proliferation being “out of control.”
What they don’t mention is that the situation in Los Angeles is entirely due to a lackadaisical city council that took more than two years to draw up an ordinance regulating the dispensaries, thus opening the door to their uncontrolled proliferation.
Neither do they mention that in cities such as San Francisco and Oakland — where city governments have been on top of the developing marijuana dispensary scene for years — there haven’t been any such problems.Not only do these cities have orderly, well-run, reputable marijuana dispensaries, but in the case of Oakland at least, the city is now reaping millions of tax dollars from the shops — which, in what may be a first in American business history, asked to be taxed.
Remember, there are 17 other states besides California that have legalized medical marijuana. Have you heard about nightmare scenarios occurring in those?
What about Colorado and Washington, the two states that legalized limited recreational use and possession of marijuana last November? No horror stories from those yet either? Hmmm…
States such as New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Maine have set up systems of state-authorized marijuana dispensaries to carry out the will of the voters in giving patients safe and legal access to medical marijuana. The system hasn’t produced major problems, and is working as intended.
The other favorite argument of pot prohibitionists is that marijuana dispensaries are supposed to somehow “attract crime.”
This one seems to be particularly near and dear to the hearts of small-town police chiefs, as evidenced over and over by their apparently earnest (but completely inaccurate) testimony at city council meetings.
Dispensaries, in fact, have lower crime rates than either banks or liquor stores, according to the Denver Police Department, which certainly should know, since they have 300 of them in town.
The police chief of Los Angeles agrees. “Banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries,” L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck told the Los Angeles Daily News.
A look at the facts quickly tells us that all types of crime are, in fact, down in states with marijuana dispensaries.
Ironically, the chief problem with opening medical marijuana dispensaries in any particular place seems to be the possibility of armed federal raids — a possibility which looks to be getting bigger with the Obama Administration’s nascent crackdown on the medicinal cannabis industry.
3. Legalization is a slippery slope. If we legalize pot, what’s next? Cocaine? Heroin? Meth?majority support, according to recent polls, support drops precipitously for relaxing the laws around any other drugs.
Pot’s closest competitors, ecstasy and cocaine, each have only 8 percent support for legalization. Heroin and meth are even lower at 6 percent each, according to Angus Reid Public Opinion.
Legalizing pot won’t open the floodgates; in fact, the increased visibility of marijuana in American society only serves to highlight the stark differences between cannabis and most other illicit substances.
Now, any drug prohibition is a failed policy from the get-go, in that it seeks to legislate vice out of existence. But the American people know the difference between marijuana and hard drugs. Most Americans know someone who uses marijuana without it destroying their life.
It’s not hard to see the chasm that separates pot, and its users, from the desperately addicted scenario that goes with substances like heroin and methamphetamine.
4. If we legalize pot, there will be carnage on our highways. Look at what we’re already facing with alcohol. Do we really want MORE impaired drivers?
The simple truth of it is, there are already millions of marijuana smokers sharing our roads and highways every day.
With estimates of current marijuana users in the United States running between 40 and 100 million, you can bet that if weed truly caused wrecks, it would be a national tragedy on the level of drunk driving.
If marijuana resulted in motor impairment anywhere near the level produced by alcohol, those gory findings would have made banner headlines across the land — as has been the case with alcohol.
Many of us have, hopefully in our younger years, discovered on a very personal level that driving under the influence of alcohol is an extremely bad idea.
But think about it: How many in your circle of friends have a “I was so high I totaled my car” story?
While I’m not encouraging anyone to take bong hits then rush out onto the freeway, a growing body of evidence indicates that marijuana is, on balance, far less a road hazard than is alcohol.
The tendency for stoners to overcompensate for whatever slight impairment occurs is one reason that marijuana-related car crashes aren’t in the headlines every day.
Even the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which in its understandable quest for respectability is very cautious around the stoned driving issue, grants:
“…Emerging scientific research indicates that cannabis actually has far less impact on the psychomotor skills needed for driving than alcohol does, and is seldom a causal factor in automobile accidents.”
All of which makes it even more unfortunate — forget unfortunate; it’s tragic — that a successful cannabis legalization initiative like Washington state’s I-502 had per se DUI limits written into it.
Such limits are unsupported by science and could easily be used to unfairly target medical marijuana patients, many of whom — even when they wake up in the morning, completely unimpaired — would likely test over the per se DUI blood limit of five nanograms per milliliter (5 ng/ml).
5. If we legalize it, everybody and his brother will become a flaming pothead.
Some of the pot prohibitionists have an interesting view of human nature. They think that as humans we are mostly seething cauldrons of unholy, pent-up desires just waiting to express themselves, if only legal repercussions weren’t in the way.Now, I’m willing to grant this may be a reasonably accurate self-assessment for some of these guys, but for the rest of us, it’s just not so, when it comes to the pot laws.
The laws against marijuana been a spectacular failure in preventing its use. Since pot was made illegal 76 years ago, its popularity has risen almost every single year — even as the laws against it became more and more draconian in many locales.
The most extensive study ever taken on U.S. marijuana arrests and penalties found that marijuana arrests have no impact on usage rates.
Meanwhile, another approach has been tried in places like the Netherlands, which relaxed its pot laws in the 1970s and has since seen teen and overall marijuana use at a level half that of the United States.
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Those of us who make marijuana policy reform our work welcome an open, serious debate on the issues surrounding cannabis re-legalization.
All we ask is that in the debate, everyone should at least stick to the facts and not cling to outdated, shop-worn superstitions from the 20th Century.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in slightly different form in News Junkie Post.