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​It goes without saying that certain “cultural perceptions” about cannabis are wrong. To correct these marijuana myths to a crowd of potheads would be a classic case of singing to (an albeit higher) choir. I’m gonna do it anyway.

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.

Budtender Amy Banksy at Rainier Wellness Center, Tacoma, Washington, 2011 [Steve Elliott ~alapoet~]

Budtender Amy Banksy at Rainier Wellness Center, Tacoma, Washington, 2011
[Steve Elliott ~alapoet~]

​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?

The evergreen popularity of this baseless bugaboo — a societal version of the Gateway Theory, which, by the way, is another myth — is a bit puzzling.


Copenhagen, Denmark’s Christiania section has been friendly to cannabis for years — but not to hard drugs.
[Euro Holiday]

​The answer is easy and obvious. While the legalization of marijuana now enjoys 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.

huge.67.338354-thumb-400x265​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.

• • • • • • •

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.


  • aphisith

    I drive fine on it all the time when I use to smoke and hang with my friends, more focus!

  • ready

    please don’t drive high on any thing not a good idea. as far as legalizing it …yes please!

  • VeXx

    i know a few of my friends infact drive better while high on weed, especially those in my circle with ADHD

  • This was a good article, easy to read and understand. I hope that people who are not members of the ‘choir’ will read it and take at least some of it to heart.

  • karen Murphy

    I am 63, smoked since I was 25. I raised 2 kids held down a job and drove all while smokin weed. My kids are grown have kids themselves and are fine examples of law abiding people but we smoke weed. Pay taxes etc…. It was never detrimental to our lives. I would much rather everyone smoke instead of drink.To me alcohol is far far worse. It killed my dad.

  • BigSofty

    Actually, there have been a couple of studies that show that tokers actually drive safer because they are less likely to take risks.


  • Doc O’Zee

    speak for yourself alone, and thank you for not driving high

  • Pokesmot

    Poke smot! There is very little risk just waiting on the green light to turn red. The cameras at the intersections must have captured a lot of good bong hits. Be responsible. Share the road, and take your turn, politely.

  • I, too smoke pot. I love it!! I am 43 and have been toking since I was in my teens. I don’t drive while high though but I LOVE to smoke the herb! I don’t drink and pot is a great stress reliever. More people need to educate themselves on the benefits of cannabis.

  • outstanding article! Information that must be shared liberally

  • Joe Milot

    If Pot was as BAD as THEY say it is…I would have been DEAD ALREADY…4:20 rules!!! and just don’t smoke and drive just like you DO NOT DRINK and DRIVE… 3:)

  • rafe27

    I’m 56 and smoked for 40 years. I lived in Alaska for 26 years and drove in snow storm, ice fog, dodging moose, darkness for months, never had a wreck. I’ve raised a son, got him through college, and have a nice home. Pot has made my life less stressfull, more ejoyable, and helped me kick some pharmaceutical drugs due to a work head injury.One day my dream will come true.

  • Nobody’s FOOL !

    ..This World is going to hell in a handbasket….And we’re just going to sit and watch it roll right by ?????????????????????????

  • TangerinO

    I’ll roll one right up 😉

  • StumbleMan

    Fantastic article. Thank you stumble 🙂

  • Kannibal Jones

    kinda like this

  • anthrogeek

    I was so sick from SSRI antidepressants, I had to quit taking them, pot has been a godsend for me…..

  • JB Sellars1

    make sense to have more tax money than give it to the cartels or organzied crime

  • BlackMetal Mikey Deegan

    I am 49 I love ever bet of it ya tastes great to smoke love it

  • Huah! FKG~A! 🙂

  • Lynette Sass Nagel

    I’D RATHER be driving next to someone toking it up than sucking down booze, anyday…..

  • Morris Rhoades

    What can you really expect
    from a country where the population believes that angels and wrestling are real, but the moon walk was faked? America has some of the dumbest people on the planet. It’s not hard to imagine that these same people would be gullible enough to believe a plant to be a drug.

  • HempIsntPerfect

    You can legalize it. I’ll support legalization. But I would appreciate it if you could acknowledge, in some capacity, that it is rude and unfair to smoke marijuana in public places such as concerts because others are forced to breathe in what they may not want to breathe. Supporters of hemp may think “it never hurt anyone,” and I’m not here to give you scientific studies that is has… but hurt me, years ago, and many like me. Like anything, it isn’t all good nor is it all bad. I vote for legalization when the issue arises, but I try to remind staunch supporters/smokers that not everybody enjoys the drug, some of us have had adverse reactions to it, so please stop acting as if everybody loves hemp. Thank you.

  • Trish Happel

    If they would just get their big noses outta God’s business & legalize marijuana… We could just grow our own & everybody would be happy, I know I would be! LOL. I know a lot of people that say they can’t smoke it cause it makes them feel weird or numerous other reasons, I tell those people that it wasn’t meant for them then. Marijuana has been my bipolar meds since I was 9 years old & that’s what God put it here for in the first place, so we don’t have to be on pills that make you all weird & stuff. I’ve been hearing about legalization for over 40 years, but I’ll believe it when I see it! LOL! Peace, Love & Happiness to all my fellow “potheads” out there! 😉

    And by the way…. I was in the Military, held down 2 jobs at one time, ran a household & functioned as a “normal” adult. People are shocked when they find out that I smoke because I don’t act like a “pothead”. I had a psychiatrist interview me for over an hour & was told that I didn’t need rehad! LOL!

  • Trish Happel

    Amen Karen! My feelings exactly!! 🙂

  • Ghosty

    #4 I agree but the amount of stoned drivers on the road would go up. There are people that cannot drive sober. So there are definitely people that can’t drive high and shouldn’t. I personally can drive high but not on every strain. So I can see the other side to that and it is legitimate. There are going to be cons but the pros out weigh them significantly. Good article though.

  • Melissa S. Griggs

    Smoker for over 30 years. Only problems I’ve ever had with cannabis were legal.

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    We might as well enjoy the show.

  • Eric

    i wish all doubters would understand and believe these FACTS!! not the BS drivel they have been brainwashed with for over 75 years! wise up! Some unbiased “committee” should be set up get a person stoned and let him perform driving technigues on a closed road way; then allow same person to do same techniques while drunk lets see what the results of that would be before we condemn its use.. most dui people would rather smoke than drink but because of the laws that can ruin a career and a life these people ” CHOOSE to drink and drive and take their chances than lose a career because they got a hot urine in some dumb ass random urine screen for their job.

  • Jonathan Kody Brackett

    I love you guys for this

  • Charles Waller

    Great commentary.

  • Dr.007 ‘Roger’ Gardy

    The Word ‘Marihuana’ was Created By Newspaper tycoon..William Randolph Hearst, who, Was Friends With Adoph Hitler, & Supported his Ideals…Hearst, also is known as the Father of Taboid Journalism…I Refuse to Follow an Unjust Law, Based Only on Fabricated Newspaper Stories, By a White Supremeist Overpain Control Freak Newpaper CEO

  • Nancy Ann McLaughlin

    I have Crohn’ s Disease and Chronic Pain, I know from personal experience that Pot helps relieve both conditions, so I am all for legalizing Pot in every state!!!

  • none user

    Marijuana is already hear and has been for ages. Just depends on if one wants to continue making drug lords rich along with thier continued killing of thousands of innocent people, to keep the money train open! People whom choose to smoke Marijauna are going to keep on doing so, history proves this. Do we need prohibition again…I think not. By the way, I’m not a marijuana user myself.

  • JB Sellars1

    Many drugs come from plants but this one does`nt kill..

  • JB Sellars1

    How ironic we can save America on back of cannabas & hemp.

  • Chipshot

    Here is something that isn’t a myth! I am closely acquainted with 7 different people who smoke weed. They all have something in common…they are all, everyone of them…the whole bunch…every last one…underachievers! Additionally, none of them handle the pressures of life very well. Now…none of that is a myth because I have seen it with my own eyes! Here’s something else…I have a brother and sister who smoke it and ever since they started, their life lost direction and they didn’t set any goals and work toward those goals. I have another brother and sister who don’t smoke weed and both of them are successful. By the way, we are between 53 and 62 years old and I have seen this go on since about 1968 when my siblings got started on that life robbing, good for nothing, have a good time right now but waste your life away stuff. Say whatever you like you dummasses but you can’t tell me that what happened in my family isn’t true because I saw it with my own eyes. It never fails, weed may not give you cancer physically but it does mentally. Hmmmmmm, I don’t smoke the stinkin’ stuff and some of the others wonder why I am the strongest person in the family. Magin’ dat!!!!

  • charles

    I to and a partaker of the herb, but one thing I have been wondering. (I doubt this is also true but still a good question) ive herd allot of my life that the use of pot in males have been known to cause saggy “man boobs”. Is this true? I have also herd that use also lowers brain function. Is there a study on either of these subjects that could open my mind a bit more? I have been smoking marijuana since I was about 8 or 9, and would love to head more please.

  • Shane Williams Sr.

    5. If we legalize it, everybody and his brother will become a flaming pothead.

    In regard to this I wish people would add a seldom use fact which was proven by the coverage of the legalization in Washington State. Business will do a better job regulating than ANY government agancey.

    The first guy to buy pot in Wa. was fired after his job saw him on the news. They have a 0 tolerance policy which he signed and they enforced.

    And aren’t the *regulations* by the business community more cost effective than government ones anyway? You dont need police making criminals out of regular people, you dont have the cost of housing, investigating and prosecuting these non criminals… Win win.

  • Ima

    Some males do get a condition referred to as “gynecomastia”. They state that “exposure to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active component in cannabis, can result in a “decrease in testosterone levels, a reduction of testicular size and abnormalities in…sperm.” However, this is not proven.

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  • michael marion

    I have a seizure disorder if I smoke weed instead of taking Dilantin how would that work for me