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Do Harsh Pot Laws Create a Dangerous Drinking Culture? 5 Reasons to Get Stoned Instead of Drunk

Myths about marijuana convince people that alcohol is safer, but science shows pot is the healthier choice.

Alcohol kills approximately 70,000 people per year. Prescription pills, which have helped overdose become the leading cause of accidental death in America, result in more than 20,000 deaths per year. Marijuana has never killed anybody.

Although scientific research is available to show that pot is relatively harmless, and in fact medically beneficial, myths and propaganda about the plant’s alleged harm lead to marijuana laws so severe they often have the unintended consequence of driving people to drink alcohol, a much more dangerous substance than pot.

Many people do not understand just how harsh some marijuana legislation is. In America, pot possession so minor it is not even a misdemeanor can cause caring parents to lose custody of their children, because welfare offices may charge them with neglect, regardless of how good a parent they are. The legal ramifications of pot use may make parents who want to smoke marijuana more likely to drink alcohol, which is much more likely to create abusive or otherwise harmful behavior.

Jail time is another, more obvious consequence of pot use that may drive some people to drink. Last spring in Oklahoma, legislators voted in favor of House Bill 1798, enforcing a mandatory minimum of two years in jail and maximum penalty of life in prison for manufacturing hash. This is despite the fact that in Oklahoma, state law already allowed judges to sentence pot growers to life in prison.

What's more, pot convictions can take away scholarships, food stamps, welfare, and public housing. Depriving a pot smoker of access to public assistance and housing while undermining his or her educational opportunities, may seem shocking. But politicians are escalating the punitive effort, with many states eager to implement mandatory drug testing for public assistance. Laws like these may well make alcohol a better choice than marijuana, as it does not have the same legal repercussions. Still, its health consequences are much more harmful than pot. Alcoholism not only causes liver and other types of cancers, as well as brain damage, it also increases the risk of death from car crashes and other accidents. And alcohol use is  linked to acts of violence like rape, homicide and suicide.

The health effects of drinking will kill about 30,000 people a year, but another 40,000 people die each year from car crashes and other accidents caused by excessive alcohol consumption. The dangers and death associated with alcohol use become more shocking when we consider how many Americans drink: 67 percent of U.S. adults drink alcohol, and 17.6 million adults have drinking problems. Perhaps these numbers would not be so high if people who want to smoke pot were not worried about legal, and other disciplinary, consequences of using.

Aside from tough-on-pot laws, we see so-called pot deterrents regularly in our culture, especially in athletic departments. In some schools, athletes must pass drug tests or get the boot. Disciplinary policies like these can make alcohol the more appealing option.

As Steve Fox, one of the authors of  Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?, told AlterNet:

“[M]arijuana laws, drug testing and societal pressures most definitely steer people toward alcohol every single day. Let's take one simple example. The National Football League, which inundates society with advertisements encouraging alcohol use, bans the use of marijuana among its players. In fact, it just suspended two players for marijuana use, include one player, Trent Williams, who lost $1.85 million as the result of his four-game suspension. A nearly $2 million penalty for getting high! So what will Trent Williams do the next time he wants to chill with his friends? Smoke marijuana or drink alcohol?” 

A recent  NIDA study on teen substance youth offers an example of how marijuana and alcohol use negatively correlate. The survey found that teenagers are increasingly using marijuana, and decreasing their alcohol and cigarette use, at the same time that fewer teens view marijuana as harmful. The study's authors suggest that the increase in pot use, if related to a dwindling belief that pot is bad, may be linked to "the debate over medical marijuana." In other words, teens may be increasingly hearing the medical benefits and relative harmlessness of pot and making decisions less likely to harm themselves. This should be good news.

As Fox told AlterNet,