Right-Wing Think Tank's Marijuana Policy Paper Takes Absurdity to New Heights

If you want to read one of the most absurd "policy" articles about marijuana in history, go quickly to the website of the Heritage Foundation to read "Legalizing Marijuana: Why Citizens Should Just Say No." I say quickly because it is truly so absurd, I believe it will be taken down from the site soon.  


I have been working in marijuana policy reform for almost nine years now. I think I have heard all of the arguments against creating a legal, regulated marijuana market more than a few times. While some arguments have some legitimacy, most are distortions of the truth, intellectually inconsistent, or flat out wrong. But this new piece from Charles Stimson, which just went up on the Heritage Foundation site last week, is batshit crazy. 

It is honestly hard to know where to begin. My real desire is to start where he did -- comparing marijuana to alcohol -- as this is my passion and it is also where he truly jumps the shark. But I think I will leave the best for last. Instead, I will start by providing some of the other creative assertions he sprinkled throughout the piece. Consider them outrageous appetizers before the main course of ridiculous. 

In no particular order:

He quotes one random study that concluded, "long-term use of marijuana may alter the nervous system in ways that do promote violence." He backs this up not by citing acts of violence by marijuana users, but by describing a couple of areas (the Netherlands, California) where the sale of marijuana was supposedly linked to an increase in crime.  

At times, it is as if he was not able to complete the most basic research to determine whether his claims had any merit. 

"It is impossible to predict the precise consequences of legalization, but the experiences of places that have eased restrictions on marijuana are not positive. Already, California is suffering crime, dislocation, and increased drug use under its current regulatory scheme."

Here are the actual consequences: Since California made the medical use of marijuana legal, the number of violent crimes in the state have steadily declined, from about 274,00 in 1996 to approximately 174,000 in 2009. Of course, as an intellectually honest person, I would not claim that is due to medical marijuana being legal. Other states have seen similar declines. But to assert that legal marijuana has caused an increase in crime in California is pure fantasy. In addition, if one were to look at cocaine use in California to determine whether "drug use" has increased in the state, it actually deceased between 2003 and 2008.  

Other times, he proves that his research, even when he attempted to conduct it, was not very reliable. Check out this section in which he calculates that a 25 square-foot plot -- about the size of a full size bed -- could produce up to 240,000(!) joints a year: 

"Under [Prop. 19], any resident could grow marijuana for "personal use" in a plot at home up to 25 square feet in size. One ounce of marijuana is enough for 60 to 120 marijuana cigarettes. One plant produces one to five pounds, or 16 to 80 ounces, of marijuana each year, and 25 square feet of land can sustain about 25 plants. Therefore, an individual will be able to produce 24,000 to 240,000 joints legally each year."

Proving that he is unable to see the forest through the marijuana plants, in one section he makes a powerful case for the need for a regulated marijuana market. 

"The lack of FDA approval means that marijuana may come from unknown sources, may be adulterated with foreign substances, or may not even be marijuana at all. Pot buyers have no way to know what they are getting, and there is no regulatory authority with the ability to go after bogus manufacturers and dealers."

Seemingly unaware of the fact that tobacco use causes about 400,000 deaths in the U.S. annually and marijuana produces no deaths, he suggests that marijuana is as bad as cigarettes and would result in similar health care costs: 

"If the heavy taxation of cigarettes is unable even to come close to making up for the health and other costs associated with their use, it seems doubtful at best that marijuana taxes would be sufficient to cover the costs of legalized marijuana--especially considering that, in addition to the other dangers of smoking marijuana, the physical health effects of just three to four joints are equivalent to those of an entire pack of cigarettes."

Stimson makes no attempt to hide his support of criminal sanctions (and public embarrassment) as a means of reducing marijuana use. 

"Marijuana's illegal status 'keeps potential drug users from using' marijuana in a way that no legalization scheme can replicate 'by virtue of the fear of arrest and the embarrassment of being caught.' With increased use comes increased abuse, as the fear of arrest and embarrassment will decrease."

Eventually, Stimson gets himself in such a lather, he suggest that the "best option" for dealing with marijuana use "may require changes in sentencing guidelines for marijuana users charged with simple possession." 

One of my favorite parts of the article is when he makes the argument that creating a legal marijuana market in one state will increase profits for Mexican drug cartels. 

"Legalize marijuana, and the demand for marijuana goes up substantially as the deterrence effect of law enforcement disappears. Yet not many suppliers will operate legally, refusing to subject themselves to the established state regulatory scheme-- not to mention taxation--while still risking federal prosecution, conviction, and prison time. So who will fill the void? Violent, brutal, and ruthless, Mexican DTOs [drug trafficking organizations] will work to maintain their black-market profits at the expense of American citizens' safety."

Apparently, he was not paying attention last month when more than 2,000 businesses in Colorado voluntarily subjected themselves to state regulations - and taxation - by applying for licenses to cultivate, sell and manufacture marijuana and marijuana-infused products. 

But wait! Stimson suddenly realizes that some legitimate businesspeople in America might actually start cultivating and selling marijuana. Well, that's a relief. Except it isn't. 

"As competition from growers and dispensaries authorized by the RCTCA cuts further into the Mexican DTOs' business, Californians will face a real possibility of bloodshed on their own soil as the cartels' profit-protection measures turn from defensive to offensive."

Given all of this crazy, what could possibly be worth saving until the end? Well, as promised, it is his comparison of marijuana and alcohol. As a co-founder of the organization SAFER, which is dedicated to educating people about the relative harms of the two substances, and a co-author of Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink?, I was actually excited to see him start the article by tacking this topic. I assumed he would make a strong argument about how both substances have their harms and it is irresponsible to encourage the use of either one. 

I was wrong. He threw caution, science and evidence into the wind and went off as if he was receiving a grant from Anheuser-Busch to produce the article. What Stimson wants every health conscious American to know is that alcohol is a much safer substance than marijuana. To put his assertions in context, let me start by providing you some basic facts about the two substances. 

For starters, marijuana is less addictive than alcohol. Not only is a user less likely to become addicted to marijuana than to alcohol, but the withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol are far more severe. One can actually die from alcohol withdrawal. The most severe symptoms associated with marijuana withdrawal are generally anxiety and irritability. 

Marijuana is also far less toxic than alcohol. Just ten times the standard intoxicating dose of alcohol can be fatal. By comparison, in thousands of years of use, there has never been a marijuana overdose death. While marijuana is essentially non-toxic, alcohol is a poison, which is why its use can lead to vomiting and hangovers. More strikingly, the health effects of alcohol cause approximately 33,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The comparable number for marijuana is zero. 

Finally, alcohol is associated with violent behavior; marijuana is not. This is not just backed up by criminal justice statistics, but by our collective experiences. We have all seen alcohol-fueled violence. What you don't see is marijuana-fueled violence. 

Undaunted by the facts, Stimson launches into his "alcohol is safer than marijuana" public service announcement. 

"Nearly every culture has its own alcoholic preparations, and nearly all have successfully regulated alcohol consumption through cultural norms. The same cannot be said of marijuana. There are several possible explanations for alcohol's unique status: For most people, it is not addictive; it is rarely consumed to the point of intoxication [author's note: huh!?]; low-level consumption is consistent with most manual and intellectual tasks; it has several positive health benefits; and it is formed by the fermentation of many common substances and easily metabolized by the body.

"Alcohol differs from marijuana in several crucial respects. First, marijuana is far more likely to cause addiction. Second, it is usually consumed to the point of intoxication. Third, it has no known general healthful properties, though it may have some palliative effects. Fourth, it is toxic and deleterious to health. Thus, while it is true that both alcohol and marijuana are less intoxicating than other mood-altering drugs, that is not to say that marijuana is especially similar to alcohol or that its use is healthy or even safe.

"In fact, compared to alcohol, marijuana is not safe. Long-term, moderate consumption of alcohol carries few health risks [unless you consider things like breast cancer a risk] and even offers some significant benefits.  The effects of regular marijuana consumption are quite different. Marijuana has toxic properties that can result in birth defects, pain, respiratory system damage, brain damage, and stroke."

Finally, in a wonderful example of a kettle calling a (non-black) pot black, Stimson ends the section by accusing advocates of marijuana policy reform of deceiving the public: "To equate marijuana use with alcohol consumption is, at best, uninformed and, at worst, actively misleading.

No, telling the public that alcohol carries few health risks and is less harmful than marijuana is, at best, reckless and, at worst, intentionally dangerous and socially irresponsible. 

But it's OK, Mr. Stimson, we round-earthers can handle the insults based on your own ignorance. We've been ignored. We've been ridiculed. Now we are enjoying the fight. Because next, we win. 

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