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5 Things the Corporate Media and Government Don't Want You to Know About Marijuana

News outlets continue to ignore research that belies government anti-pot propaganda.
 
 
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Editor’s note: Come see Paul Armentano and many other top marijuana experts and advocates at NORML's 39th national conference taking place September 9-11 in Portland, OR. Clickhere to learn more.

Last September I penned anessay  for Alternet entitled Five Things the Corporate Media Don’t Want You to Know About Cannabis. In it I proposed, “[N]ews outlets continue to, at best, underreport the publication of scientific studies that undermine the federal government's longstanding pot propaganda and, at worst, ignore them all together.” Nearly one year later little has changed.

Here are five additional stories the mainstream media doesn't want you to know about cannabis.

1. Long-term marijuana use is associated with lower risks of certain cancers, including head and neck cancer.

The moderate long-term use of marijuana is associated with a reduced risk of head and neck cancers, according to the results of a population-based case-control studyconducted by investigators at Rhode Island's Brown University and published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research.

Authors of the study reported, "After adjusting for potential confounders (including smoking and alcohol drinking), 10 to 20 years of marijuana use was associated with a significantly reduced risk of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma” compared to subjects who never used pot.

Researchers further reported that subjects who smoked marijuana and consumed alcohol and tobacco (two conclusive high risk factors for head and neck cancers) also experienced a reduced cancer risk compared to non-cannabis users. “[W]e observed that marijuana use modified the interaction between alcohol and cigarette smoking, resulting in a decreased (cancer) risk among moderate smokers and light drinkers, and attenuated risk among the heaviest smokers and drinkers.

"Our study suggests that moderate marijuana use is associated with reduced risk of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma,” investigators concluded.

Similarly, a 2006 UCLA studyof more than 2,200 subjects reported that marijuana smoking was not positively associated with cancers of the lung or upper aerodigestive tract – even among individuals who reported smoking more than 22,000 joints during their lifetime. Researchers further noted that among some users of the drug, cannabis smoking appeared to have a cancer preventive effect.

Nevertheless, mainstream U.S. media outlets exhibited little-to-no interest in reporting on the Brown University findings, which failed to even garner a mention locally in the Providence Journal. One month following the study’s publication, international media wire service Reuters did devote some half-hearted coverage, which it published under the overtly skeptical headline “Could smoking pot cut risk of head, neck cancer?”

2. Most Americans acknowledge that pot is safer than booze.

Despite over 70 years of government propaganda alleging that cannabis is far more dangerous than alcohol, the reality is that few Americans believe it. Nor should they.

According to an August 2010 national Rasmussenpoll,  fewer than one in five Americans believe that consuming pot is more dangerous than drinking alcohol. By contrast, fifty percent of respondents, including the majority of those who said that they drank alcohol, rated the use of marijuana to be less dangerous than booze.

By all objective measures themajority is correct. According to a 2009reportby the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (which, not surprisingly, also went unreported by the mainstream press), health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers than they are for those who use cannabis, and are more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers. It stated, "In terms of (health-related) costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user."

A previous analysis  commissioned by The World Health Organization agreed, stating, “On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies." So then why is the federal government still insisting on arresting and criminally prosecuting adults who consume pot in the privacy of their own homes? And why hasn’t the corporate media ever demanded that our elected leaders answer this question?

3. The enforcement of marijuana laws is racially discriminatory.

Minorities, particularly African Americans and Hispanics, disproportionately bear the brunt of marijuana arrests despite using cannabis at rates similar to – or in some cases, less frequently – than whites.

For example, an August 2010 study (PDF)commissioned by the Drug Policy Alliance reported that African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession offenses in California at more than twice the rate of Caucasians. Authors determined: "Young blacks use marijuana at lower rates than young whites. Yet from 2004 through 2008, in every one of the 25 largest counties in California, blacks were arrested for marijuana possession at higher rates than whites, typically at double, triple or even quadruple the rate of whites.”

The study concluded, "[B]acks were arrested for simple marijuana possession far out of proportion to their percentage in the total population of the counties. In the 25 largest counties as a whole, blacks are 7% of the population but 20% of the people arrested for possessing marijuana.”

Arrest figures from New York City, the marijuana arrest capitolof the world, tell a similar tale. In 2009, New York City police made 46,400 lowest level marijuana possession arrests (NY State Penal Law 221.10) involving cases where cannabis was either used or, more often than not, possessed in public. Of those arrested, 54 percent were African American, 33 percent were Hispanic, and only ten percent were Caucasian. (Blacks and Hispanics together comprise approximately half of the city's population.)

Nationally, the black arrest rate for marijuana offenses is 2.5 times the arrest rate for whites, according to a NORML commissioned study from 2000. Yet it wasn’t until this year that civil rights organizations like the California chapter of theNAACPand the Latino Voters League finally began talking about the racially motivated nature of marijuana law enforcement. For the most part, editors and reporters for the MSM have still yet to notice.

4. Marijuana may be helpful, not harmful, to people with schizophrenia.

For years now the mainstream media has run rampant with reports that smoking cannabis causes or exacerbates mental illness, particularly schizophrenia. Yet several overlooked studies published earlier this year indicate that pot may actually be helpful to some patients with the disease. For example, in May a team of researchers writing in the Canadian Journal of Nursing Researchreported male schizophrenic subjects consumed marijuana "as a means of satisfying the schizophrenia-related need for relaxation, sense of self-worth, and distraction." (Survey data published in 2008 in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing also reported that many schizophrenic patients obtain relief from cannabis, finding that subjects consumed cannabis to reduce anxiety, mitigate memories of childhood trauma, enhance cognition, and "improve their mental state.")

A separate assessment of schizophrenic patients published in June in the journal Schizophrenia Researchfoundthat subjects with a history of cannabis use demonstrate higher levels of cognitive performance compared to patients who had never used the drug.

Investigators at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, the Zucker Hillside Hospital in New York, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and Princeton University compared the neurocognitive skills of 175 schizophrenics with a history of cannabis use with 280 subjects with no history of illegal drug use. Researchers reported that cannabis users demonstrated "significantly better performance" compared to nonusers on measures of processing speed, verbal fluency, verbal learning, and memory. Marijuana use was also associated with better over all GAF (Global Assessment Functioning) scores.

Authors concluded: "The results of the present analysis suggest that (cannabis use) in patients with SZ (schizophrenia) is associated with better performance on measures of processing speed and verbal skills. These data are consistent with prior reports indicating that SZ patients with a history of (cannabis use) have less severe cognitive deficits than SZ patients without comorbid (cannabis use). ... The present findings also suggest that cannabis use in patients with SZ may not differentially affect the severity of illness as measured by clinical symptomatology."

A second study published in 2010 by this same research team also questioned the media’s often repeated claim that pot use is a root cause of the illness, finding that cannabis use is not independently associated with the onset of psychosis in first-episode schizophrenia patients. The researchers concluded:  "Although cannabis use precedes the onset of illness in most patients, there was no significant association between onset of illness and (cannabis use) that was not accounted for by demographic and clinical variables. ... Previous studies implicating cannabis use disorders in schizophrenia may need to more comprehensively assess the relationship between cannabis use disorders and schizophrenia."

Other than this single story by Time Magazine’s Maia Szalavitz, no other media outlets made mention of any of the above studies, and most continue to promote the federal government’sspecious allegation that pot use causes depression, schizophrenia, and suicide.

5. Workplace drug testing programs don’t identify impaired employees or reduce on-the-job accidents.

Workplace urine testing programs are an inadequate method for identifying employees who are under the influence, and do not significantly reduce job accident rates, according to a completely ignored studypublished this past March in the scientific journal Addiction.

Investigators at the University of Victoria in British Columbia reviewed 20 years of published literature pertaining to the efficacy of workplace drug testing, with a special emphasis on marijuana – the most commonly detected drug. Researchers found: "[I]t is not clear that heavy cannabis users represent a meaningful job safety risk unless using before work or on the job; urine tests have poor validity and low sensitivity to detect employees who represent a safety risk; drug testing is related to reductions in the prevalence of cannabis positive tests among employees, but this might not translate into fewer cannabis users; and urinalysis has not been shown to have a meaningful impact on job injury/accident rates."

Authors concluded, "Urinalysis testing is not recommended as a diagnostic tool to identify employees who represent a job safety risk from cannabis use."

Not recommended but prevalent nonetheless. Many public employees in the United States are now mandated to submit to drug testing under federal workplace guidelines. And many private companies are no better. According to a 2006 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management, 84 percent of employers required new hires to pass drug screenings, and 39 percent randomly tested employees after they were hired.

Apparently corporate America, much like the corporate media, just hasn’t heard the news.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), and is the co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink (2009, Chelsea Green).
 
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