As progressives, we love to think of ourselves as true fighters for the people–pushing for human rights, equality and positive change in the face of lies from “the other side.” This same progressive principle needs to be applied to marijuana, which is one of the most versatile plants our planet has ever given us. Many are under the false impression that it’s no longer considered the “devil’s weed” of the 1930′s. Unfortunately, on a federal level, reefer madness is still alive and well.
The federal government classifies weed as a Schedule I drug, comparable to heroin and having less medical value than drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. Even after medically-relevant studies and case examples worldwide prove otherwise, our government has refused to budge on this stance. One look at the unsourced propaganda still being pushed by the White House proves we’ve made almost no progress in Washington on this issue. For example, the White House position that potential tax revenue would be offset by higher social costs fails to take into account the money saved on enforcement, conveniently leaving billions of dollars out of their flawed equation. Further, take note of their repeated mentions of “studies,” “independent research” and “other research” while failing to actually link to any specific independent studies backing up their claims. Almost 80 years after the release of “Reefer Madness,” our government’s position still falls back to “It’s bad for you because we say it is,” while repeatedly ignoring all evidence to the contrary.
Before I risk blowing smoke out of my posterior orifice, let me point to a couple of specific examples to back up my claims. Let’s start out with the administration’s position that “marijuana smoke contains carcinogens and can be an irritant to the lungs.” The largest case-control study ever done on the topic indicates that even heavy smoking of marijuana over a period of several years poses no increased risk of any types of cancers, and may even provide some level of protection against cancer. Other studies have shown similar results, while not one legitimate study has shown a link between smoking marijuana and increased risk of lung or other cancers. Also interesting is the administration’s claim that marijuana use is associated with “impaired cognitive functioning.” While the White House lists no sources to back up their claim, researchers at Johns Hopkins University actually studied cognition in 1,318 participants over a period of 12 years. They concluded that there were “no significant differences in cognitive decline between heavy users, light users, and nonusers of cannabis.” This is barely scratching the surface, and doesn’t even begin to account for the numerous studies conducted internationally which have showcased marijuana’s safety, directly contradicting the dubious claims our government has made.
The continued inclusion of marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no medical benefit is not only absurd, but hypocritical as well. In 1988, the DEA’s chief administrative law judge, Francis L. Young, ruled (in part):
Nearly all medicines have toxic, potentially lethal effects. But marijuana is not such a substance. There is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, documented cannabis-induced fatality.
This is a remarkable statement. First, the record on marijuana encompasses 5,000 years of human experience. Second, marijuana is now used daily by enormous numbers of people throughout the world. Estimates suggest that from twenty million to fifty million Americans routinely, albeit illegally, smoke marijuana without the benefit of direct medical supervision. Yet, despite this long history of use and the extraordinarily high numbers of social smokers, there are simply no credible medical reports to suggest that consuming marijuana has caused a single death.
In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume. For example, eating ten raw potatoes can result in a toxic response. By comparison, it is physically impossible to eat enough marijuana to induce death.
Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.
Since then, 18 states and Washington D.C. have passed medical marijuana laws in some form, and many more states are debating doing the same. Yet the federal government continues to crack down on even medical marijuana, devastating dispensaries in states like California and putting people out of work in the process. The administration likes to point out statistics showing a recent increase in marijuana use among 12-17 year olds, but what it fails to talk about is the evidence showing decreased use among those same 12-17 year olds in states which have legalized medical pot. A great example is in Colorado, where a CDC study shows that marijuana use among youths went down 2.8 percent from 2009 (24.8 percent) to 2011 (22 percent). The report also showed that the availability of illegal drugs on school grounds in the state is significantly less than the national average. Positive strides like these were one reason Colorado voted to legalize possession and consumption of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use last November. Other studies, including this one published through the Institute for the Study of Labor, have examined the relationship between medical marijuana laws and youth consumption of marijuana, and found no evidence to support the claim that marijuana use increases among youth in states where medical marijuana is legal. This showcases not only how states like Colorado have developed a successful and safe medical marijuana industry in recent years, but also how effective regulation can reduce marijuana use among teenagers. Applied further, it shows that it is reasonable and realistic to believe that full legalization can be implemented and regulated in a safe and effective manner at a national level.
A Pew Research poll released yesterday shows that for the first time in 40 years of polling, a majority of Americans want marijuana legalized. This is extremely significant, but at the same time we have to continue to stress why it should be done. I’ve heard criticism from some that the pro-legalization movement too often points out that “marijuana isn’t as bad as tobacco and alcohol, so it should be legal as well.” While that may be true, it’s a flawed argument that we should discontinue using. Just because something “isn’t as bad as” something that’s legal, doesn’t mean it should be legal as well. Instead of saying marijuana is “not as bad as” something else, we need to classify it as a legitimate therapeutic product which can be effective in treating chronic illnesses and can be enjoyed in moderation recreationally. As I’ve shown, long-term effects of regular marijuana use have shown it to be relatively harmless and in some cases even beneficial, whereas long-term effects of regular tobacco use or heavy alcohol consumption have been proven to be potentially harmful. Building on that, the issue of whether to legalize recreational use has it’s roots in personal liberties–something progressives should join hands with libertarians in championing for this cause.
I’m not trying to suggest full legalization at the federal level would be easy and problem-free–we are talking about our government, after all. We need to start with reclassifying marijuana at the federal level and removing it from the list of Schedule I controlled substances. After years of documented and effective medical use, as well as numerous scientific studies showing its safety and efficacy, it is absolutely ludicrous to think that we’ve yet to accomplish even this much. Reclassifying will allow for easier access to medical and recreational use research, which will in turn speed up the process of legalization. Our government’s reasoning for not reclassifying boils down to this: We’ve been lying to them for decades, what will they think if we have to backtrack on everything we’ve said? Now that we’re collectively catching on to the charade, that reasoning fails to cut it.