There are many myths surrounding the current marijuana discussion. Americans often hear that states with legal marijuana are raking in millions in tax revenue and effectively regulating legal sales with public health and safety in mind. But new findings and landmark research tell a different story. Here are some important marijuana myths, debunked:
Is marijuana really a “gateway” drug, or is that just a scare tactic?
Do most people who use marijuana go on to other drugs? No. But do most people who use other drugs start with marijuana? Most definitely.
A wide array of research has confirmed links between marijuana use and other drugs. While it is true most marijuana users won’t go on to use other drugs, research demonstrates that 99% of those addicted to other drugs started with alcohol and marijuana. Marijuana users are also three times more likely than non-users to become addicted to heroin, and a 2017 National Academy of Sciences report found a statistical association between marijuana use and the development of substance dependence for other drugs like opioids and heroin.
But isn’t everything going fine in states like Colorado that already legalized marijuana?
In Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, pot is now involved in more than one of every five deaths on the road, and that number is rising.
This immense increase in drugged driving fatalities isn’t the only failure of legalization.
Even more troubling is the fact that Colorado now leads the country in past-month marijuana use by youth. A 2017 study found that marijuana-related emergency room visits by kids in Colorado more than quadrupled since the state legalized marijuana, with most visits related to mental illness. The likely culprit: an aggressive industry pushing kidfriendly pot products, combined with a thriving black market.
Also troubling: significantly more African American and Hispanic youth are being arrested for marijuana-related offenses since Colorado legalized pot, whereas arrest rates for white kids have slightly declined. The Colorado pot lobby, now content with its thirty pieces of silver, couldn’t care less. The faux outrage over social justice issues went up in smoke as soon as legalization passed. So far in Colorado, marijuana taxes have failed to shore up state budget shortfalls. The budget deficit there doubled in the last few years, despite claims that pot taxes could turn deficit into surplus.
Most Americans now favor legal marijuana, are you saying we should oppose the will of voters?
Science and evidence – not public opinion or ideology – should drive public health and policy in America.
The surprise results of the most recent presidential election demonstrate that anything can happen, and when it comes to controversial issues, public opinion can swing back and forth. Moreover, in many places that voted for marijuana, we are now seeing evidence of “buyer’s remorse” after the proliferation of marijuana shops and advertising in communities.
Witness Colorado, where more than 70% of municipalities in the state have banned commercial marijuana operations, either by popular vote or board decisions. In Oregon, more than 75 cities have already banned recreational marijuana businesses.
Is marijuana use really linked with negative health outcomes? Science has proven – and all major scientific and medical organizations agree – that marijuana is both addictive and harmful to the human brain, especially when used as an adolescent. One in every three marijuana users will become addicted.
Actually, beginning in the 1980s, scientists started uncovering a direct link between marijuana use and mental illness. Youth who begin smoking marijuana at an earlier age are more likely to have an impaired ability to experience normal emotional responses. The link between marijuana use and mental health also extends beyond anxiety and depression. Marijuana users have a six times higher risk of schizophrenia and are significantly more likely to development other psychotic illnesses.
What is your biggest fear about marijuana legalization?
The answer is simple: Big Pot. Already in Colorado, Washington and elsewhere, massive special interest groups and lobbies have emerged to protect the marijuana industry.
The marijuana lobby already takes money directly from the tobacco industry. Just this year, the pro-legalization group Marijuana Policy Project solicited and received $150,000 in tobacco industry money.
In the emerging marijuana industry, potent edibles in the form of colorfully packaged cookies, candies, sodas and brownies are being advertised on the Internet and in mainstream newspapers and magazines across the state. A relentless marijuana lobby insists that these products are not especially attractive to children, yet continues to block controls on advertising, labeling, shape and color. When Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wanted to limit access to marijuana magazines containing cartoon ads and coupons for one dollar joints by placing them behind the counter out of reach of children, the industry sued and won. That was the first of many victories for the marijuana lobby, whose case is buttressed by protections of commercial speech as free speech.
If this sounds familiar, it should. The tobacco and alcohol industries follow similar patterns while hawking their legal, addictive substances. And we know how that story ends: money-hungry industries, targeting the vulnerable, will stop at nothing to increase addiction and profit. Why would we want to repeat that debacle with marijuana?
Dr. Kevin Sabet is a former adviser to three U.S. administrations,
and President and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which
he co-founded with former Congressman Patrick Kennedy and
senior editor of The Atlantic David Frum in 2013. He worked in the
Clinton (2000) and Bush (2002-2003) administrations, and in 2011
he stepped down after serving more than two years as the senior
adviser to President Obama’s drug control director, having been the
only drug policy staffer to ever serve as a political appointee in a
Democrat and Republican administration.