No substantial evidence links marijuana to traffic accidents, domestic violence or cancer, yet pot is illegal and listed as a Schedule I controlled substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Meanwhile, alcohol remains legal despite the fact that it has been proven to contribute to many societal ills, including domestic violence and auto accidents.
In 2011 alone, an individual in the U.S. was arrested for marijuana use, sale or possession every 42 seconds, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program. Those numbers have been climbing.
Some of the obvious hypocrisy inherent to marijuana prohibition is highlighted in a commercial (see below) that ran a brief stint before NASCAR audiences last month, until it was removed to preserve the “family atmosphere” of the event, according to race organizers. The ad space for the commercial was purchased by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the largest marijuana legalization advocacy group in the states, and the creators of the commercial.
The Huffington Post reported that MPP celebrated the commercial as:
“… the first time a pro-pot campaign would be seen at a major sporting event. Organizers for the Brickyard 400 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway disputed that claim, noting that the boards set to display the commercial were not technically on stadium grounds. When officials with the company that had allowed MPP to purchase air time caught wind of its pro-marijuana message, they scrambled to take it down.”
In 31 seconds, the ad points to a series of clearcut ways pot is statistically less harmful than alcohol. The commercial has received more than 944,500 YouTube hits and made the rounds on Facebook.
It begins with the line: “If you’re an adult who enjoys a good beer, there’s a similar product you might want to know about—one without all the calories or serious health problems, less toxic so it doesn’t cause hangovers or overdose deaths, and it’s not linked to violence or reckless behavior.”
That product, of course, is marijuana. MPP created the commercial in an effort to clarify some of the myths and misconceptions that taint marijuana’s reputation—misconceptions MPP says are perpetuated by the U.S. government.
On its site, MPP states,
“If you’re like most Americans, you have been led to believe that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug that has destroyed the lives of millions of teens and adults. You have been encouraged to believe that marijuana causes lung cancer and is a ‘gateway’ to harder drugs. The government has even tried to convince you that most people who use marijuana are losers who sit around on couches all day doing nothing.”
MPP says its goal is to “wipe the slate clean” and replace fiction with facts about marijuana use. “We simply hope you will come to understand that it is far, far less harmful than what your government has told you,” the text states. The MPP website goes on to describes the common recreational uses of marijuana, which are similar to alcohol consumption patterns:
“None of this is ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ or ‘immoral.’ It is simply something that these responsible adults choose to do. And frequently, it is something they choose to do specifically instead of alcohol. And for good reason! Alcohol is more toxic, more addictive, more harmful to the body, more likely to result in injuries, and more likely to lead to interpersonal violence than marijuana.”
The page also includes the following bulleted list comparing alcohol to marijuana:
1. Many people die from alcohol use. Nobody dies from marijuana use. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that more than 37,000 annual U.S. deaths are attributed to alcohol use alone (this figure does not include accidental deaths). On the other hand, the CDC does not even have a category for deaths caused by the use of marijuana.
2. People die from alcohol overdoses. There has never been a fatal marijuana overdose. The official publication of the Scientific Research Society, American Scientist, reported that alcohol is one of the most toxic drugs and using just 10 times what one would use to get the desired effect could lead to death. Marijuana is one of – if not the – least toxic drugs, requiring thousands of times the dose one would use to get the desired effect to lead to death. This “thousands of times” is actually theoretical, since there has never been a case of an individual dying from a marijuana overdose. Meanwhile, according to the CDC, hundreds of alcohol overdose deaths occur in the United States each year.
3. The health-related costs associated with alcohol use far exceed those for marijuana use. Health-related costs for alcohol consumers are eight times greater than those for marijuana consumers, according to an assessment recently published in the British Columbia Mental Health and Addictions Journal. More specifically, the annual health-related cost of alcohol consumption is $165 per user, compared to just $20 per user for marijuana. This should not come as a surprise given the vast amount of research that shows alcohol poses far more – and more significant – health problems than marijuana.
4. Alcohol use damages the brain. Marijuana use does not. Despite the myths we’ve heard throughout our lives about marijuana killing brain cells, it turns out that a growing number of studies seem to indicate that marijuana actually has neuroprotective properties. This means that it works to protect brain cells from harm. For example, one recent study found that teens who used marijuana as well as alcohol suffered significantly less damage to the white matter in their brains. Of course, what is beyond question is that alcohol damages brain cells.
5. Alcohol use is linked to cancer. Marijuana use is not. Alcohol use is associated with a wide variety of cancers, including cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, lungs, pancreas, liver, and prostate. Marijuana use has not been conclusively associated with any form of cancer. In fact, one study recently contradicted the long-time government claim that marijuana use is associated with head and neck cancers. It found that marijuana use actually reduced the likelihood of head and neck cancers. If you are concerned about marijuana being associated with lung cancer, you may be interested in the results of the largest case-controlled study ever conducted to investigate the respiratory effects of marijuana smoking and cigarette smoking. Released in 2006, the study, conducted by Dr. Donald Tashkin at the University of California at Los Angeles, found that marijuana smoking was not associated with an increased risk of developing lung cancer. Surprisingly, the researchers found that people who smoked marijuana actually had lower incidences of cancer compared to non-users of the drug.
6. Alcohol is more addictive than marijuana. Addiction researchers have consistently reported that marijuana is far less addictive than alcohol based on a number of factors. In particular, alcohol use can result in significant and potentially fatal physical withdrawal, whereas marijuana has not been found to produce any symptoms of physical withdrawal. Those who use alcohol are also much more likely to develop dependence and build tolerance.
7. Alcohol use increases the risk of injury to the consumer. Marijuana use does not. Many people who have consumed alcohol, or know others who have consumed alcohol, would not be surprised to hear that it greatly increases the risk of serious injury. Research published in 2011 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research found that 36% of hospitalized assaults and 21% of all injuries are attributable to alcohol use by the injured person. Meanwhile, the American Journal of Emergency Medicine reported that lifetime use of marijuana is rarely associated with emergency room visits. According to the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, this is because: “Cannabis differs from alcohol … in one major respect. It does not seem to increase risk-taking behavior. This means that cannabis rarely contributes to violence either to others or to oneself, whereas alcohol use is a major factor in deliberate self-harm, domestic accidents and violence.” Interestingly enough, some research has even shown that marijuana use has been associated with a decreased risk of injury.