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Pro Marijuana: The Debate Heats Up

August 29, 2014  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

Several states have legalized marijuana for recreational use and it is likely that more states will follow including Massachusetts. Although laws are changing, the debate over the legalization of marijuana continues. Some argue that marijuana is just as safe as, or even safer than alcohol, and legalizing it will allow for better regulation.

Others are concerned that long-term, heavy pot smoking can have lingering effects; and, legalization will expose young children and teens to a drug that can harm the developing brain.

The argument has been playing out in national media most notably with a series of opinion pieces in the New York Times, which favors legalization, and an advertising campaign from a coalition of health and consumer organizations that dispute the pro-pot editorials.

The New York Times marijuana position is a fair representation of the pro-legalization attitude in the country. This article outlines those sentiments and will be followed next week with an article outlining the anti-pot concerns of the Grass Is Not Greener Coalition.

New York Times Editorial

In the editorial Repeal Prohibition, Again, the New York Times stated that the federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana. “It has been more than 40 years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous than alcohol.”

The editors go on to say:

“…we believe that on every level — health effects, the impact on society and law-and-order issues — the balance falls squarely on the side of national legalization.” 

“…we believe that the evidence is overwhelming that addiction and dependence are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and tobacco.” 

“Moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a risk for otherwise healthy adults.”

“There are legitimate concerns about marijuana on the development of adolescent brains. For that reason, we advocate the prohibition of sales to people under 21.”

The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests

One of the arguments for legalization made by the Times is that the criminalization of marijuana is extremely costly and the effort has not reduced the amount of marijuana use in the country; about 30 million Americans use marijuana every year.

According to the Times, enforcing laws on marijuana possession costs the American justice system more than $3.6 billion every year; “police forces across the country are strapped for cash, and the more resources they devote to enforcing marijuana laws, the less they have to go after serious, violent crime.”

The Times also notes its concern about racial disparity and refers to a 2013 report from the A.C.L.U., “Whites and blacks use marijuana at roughly the same rates; on average, however, blacks are 3.7 times more likely than whites to be arrested for possession.”

What Science Says About Marijuana

In commenting on the health effects of marijuana, the Times editors assert that, “the clear consensus of science that marijuana is far less harmful to human health than most other banned drugs and is less dangerous than the highly addictive but perfectly legal substances known as alcohol and tobacco.” 

The Times also maintains that using pot cannot lead to a fatal overdose and there is little evidence that it causes cancer.  And, the Times notes that addictive properties of marijuana are low, and the misconception that its use leads to involvement with more powerful drugs has long since been disproved.

That does not mean that pot is harmless; it can produce a serious dependency, and constant use could interfere with job and school accomplishment. Noting that marijuana should be kept out of the hands of minors, the editors state that, “on balance, its downsides are not reasons to impose criminal penalties on its possession, particularly not in a society that permits nicotine use and celebrates drinking.”

As with other recreational substances, such as tobacco and alcohol, marijuana’s health effects depend on the frequency of use, the potency and amount of marijuana consumed, and the age of the user. “Casual use by adults poses little or no risk for healthy people. Its effects are mostly euphoric and mild, whereas alcohol turns some drinkers into barroom brawlers, domestic abusers or maniacs behind the wheel.”

The material from the New York Times presented in this article barely captures the depth of the editorial’s argument. If you have any interest in the debate, you can read the entire series. The series High Time: An Editorial Series on Marijuana Legalization includes Let States Decide on Marijuana, The Injustice of Marijuana Arrests, The Federal Marijuana Ban Is Rooted in Myth and Xenophobia, What Science Says About Marijuana, The Great Colorado Weed Experiment, and, Rules for the Marijuana Market. Whatever side of the debate that you’re on, this series is a well-written look at the pro-legalization position.


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