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Burning Questions for the Authors of 'Marijuana Is Safer'

The authors of a new book on misconceptions about marijuana respond to the torrent of comments on an excerpt published on AlterNet.
 
 
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On August 6, AlterNet posted an excerpt from the new book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving Americans to Drink? (Chelsea Green, 2009).  Reader response was overwhelming. Within hours, the excerpt was AlterNet's most trafficked and commented upon features of the week. 

Co-authors Paul Armentano and Steve Fox have responded a selection of several of the comments, as well as some of the most common questions they have received since Marijuana Is Safer was released.

AlterNet: What do you believe are the biggest misconceptions about marijuana?

Paul Armentano: There are two broad misconceptions about marijuana.  On one side, you typically have those opposed to any change in marijuana policy claiming that the plant is far more dangerous to the user and to society than it actually is.  On the other side, you sometimes have proponents of cannabis law reform arguing that it is virtually harmless.  Both positions are incorrect, and we go to great lengths to explain this fact in Marijuana Is Safer.  The bottom line: no potentially mind-altering substance is harmless, including marijuana.  But by any measurable standard, marijuana is much safer than alcohol, and our book provides readers with an objective frame of reference – the legally regulated use of alcohol by adults – for which they can objectively compare the use of marijuana.  For those readers who don’t believe that marijuana is safer than booze, our book will change they way they think about pot; for those readers who already support changing our antiquated and draconian pot policies, our book will change the way they talk about marijuana.

AlterNet: In Marijuana Is Safer, you compare and contrast the relative harms and legal status of marijuana and alcohol. So, in what ways is marijuana safer? 

Steve Fox:  Marijuana is safer than alcohol in virtually every way that matters.  First, marijuana is far less toxic.  Alcohol, quite literally, is a poison. That is why excessive alcohol use often causes vomiting.  The body is rejecting the poison.  And, as most people know, consuming too much alcohol can result in an overdose death.  Marijuana, on the other hand, is virtually non-toxic  to healthy cells and major organs.  In fact, the active components in marijuana – known as cannabinoids -- actually mimic chemicals naturally produced by the body (so-called endocannabinoids) that are necessary for the maintenance of proper health.  Further, unlike alcohol, marijuana does not depress the central nervous system, making an overdose impossible, regardless of how much a person consumes.  (There are no recorded marijuana overdose cases in history.)  Beyond overdose deaths, the U.S. government estimates that consumption of alcohol is the primary cause of about 35,000 American deaths annually. And those are deaths attributed just to the adverse health impacts of alcohol ingestion on the body – not deaths from alcohol-induced accidents or incidents. The comparable government figure for marijuana deaths is zero. 

That said, contrasting the health effects of the two substances on the body is just one part of the equation.  The more troubling aspect of steering Americans toward alcohol is that alcohol use is far more likely to be associated with violent crime.  We devote almost an entire chapter in the book to detailing the multitude of alcohol-driven offenses.  We discuss campus-based sexual assaults and other acts of student-on-student violence.  We also provide federal government statistics demonstrating the staggering number of alcohol-related violent crimes in this country.  We even include information about alcohol-related violence from around the world.  By contrast, marijuana use is not associated with an increased likelihood of violent behavior – or even risk of serious injury.  Just the opposite.  It is actually more likely to tamp down tensions and aggressive behavior, as the former chief of the Seattle Police Department explains in the foreword to the book.

 
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