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Illegal Marijuana’s Gateway Leads Only To The Dealer


Recently, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker repeated tired old clichés about adults who choose to relax with cannabis rather than ethanol. After speaking to the Badger State Sheriffs Association, Gov. Walker told assembled reporters that the sheriffs had urged him not to support “marijuana use legally in the state of Wisconsin” because “they were still very concerned that (marijuana) was a gateway drug.”

Yes, there are still people who believe that choosing to consume cannabis leads a person inexorably to the heroin needle. This scare tactic dates back to the 1950s, when propaganda films showed reefer-toking teens falling prey to the deadly narcotic.

I’ve always found the gateway theory to be a weak marketing tactic – what, the weed is so boring you have to hype it by connecting to something more powerful? It’s like teasing your straight-to-DVD movie with “If you loved the frat-boy hijinks of ‘Animal House’, you’re going to love….” But it has held on for over sixty-five years now because there is a kernel of truth to it. Statistically speaking, the first illegal drug a heroin addict may have tried is likely to be marijuana.

This is where the sheriffs are on the issue. Their job brings them into first contact with people suffering the worst drug addictions. To them – and to much of the public – illegal drug use is just one big scary thing, like air travel. You can show them verifiable statistics that air travel is incredibly safe, but when they see plane crash after plane crash, they don’t think about the issue rationally. To them, an overdose death of a heroin addict is a plane crash and smoking marijuana is air travel. Yeah, it’s incredibly unlikely any one plane trip is going to lead to a crash, but you’ll never die in a plane crash if you never take a flight, right?

Their blind spot, of course, is that they’re only considering air travel and ignoring the fact the land travel they engage in every day is immensely more dangerous. The cars, in this stretched metaphor, would be ethanol use, or good old fashioned booze. The only sure way to avoid a car crash would be never to ride in one, right? Yet most people who are terrified of air travel think nothing of driving a car and would never warn someone else not to drive one. They’re the people who are terrified that there are “more dispensaries than Starbucks!” who are seemingly unconcerned that there are buildings with parking lots in every city’s downtown district where people go inside for the express purpose of enjoying a drug that is guaranteed to significantly increase their crash risk. Nobody ever seriously proposes that adults should never drink alcohol, especially in Wisconsin, but Gov. Walker supports locking up adults who choose a far safer recreational choice of marijuana?

Whenever I’m talking with someone who brings up the gateway theory, I ask them if they ever rode a bicycle as a kid. Almost everyone has, so I follow up by telling them that I used to play music in outlaw biker bars. When I talked with these guys in motorcycle gangs, almost every one of them told me they started out on a bicycle. So, clearly, riding bicycles is a gateway to the Hell’s Angels? No, it’s just that riding bicycles is a common first step in the progression that leads to motorcycle riding. It doesn’t mean all bicyclists are going to ride motorcycles or even that all motorcyclists are going to join biker gangs. Actually, most bicyclists never go on to ride motorcycles, just as most marijuana consumers never go on to use other drugs.

The Institute of Medicine back in 1999 put the gateway theory to rest, explaining that “In fact, most drug users do not begin their drug use with marijuana-they begin with alcohol and nicotine, usually when they are too young to do so legally… There is no evidence that marijuana serves as a stepping stone on the basis of its particular physiological effect.” Numerous follow-up studies have verified these facts.

But there is a gateway that exists for marijuana and that is to the illegal drug marketplace. There’s a reason they don’t call alcohol a gateway drug to heroin, even though far more heroin addicts have tried it than marijuana. It’s because there’s no cocaine on the grocery store shelf next the beer and there’s no heroin on the liquor store shelf next to the tequila. Marijuana’s only a gateway to illegal drugs by virtue of using the word “illegal” to describe it. Regulate marijuana and place it in adults-only stores where only marijuana is sold and identification is checked and you’ve taken away any marketing opportunity for a drug dealer to push something harder to his weed customers.

(Tomorrow… Scott Walker channels Art Linkletter and Richard Nixon…)

Source: MarijuanaPolitics.Com


About Author

Executive Director: Russ Belville has been active in Oregon marijuana reform since 2005, when he was elected second-in-command of the state affiliate, Oregon NORML. After four years with Oregon NORML, Russ was hired by National NORML in 2009, working as Outreach Coordinator and hosting the NORML Daily Audio Stash podcast until 2012. Since then, Russ launched the 420RADIO marijuana legalization network and is the host of The Russ Belville Show, a live daily marijuana news talk radio program. Russ is also a prolific writer, with over 300 articles posted online and in print in HIGH TIMES, Huffington Post, Alternet, The Weed Blog, Marijuana Politics, and more.


  1. In my experience, marijuana does NOT lead to other drug use. What I have found however, is that far too many drug dealers sell marijuana because it gives them a different audience to introduce their much more expensive and addictive products to. With legalization and regulation, I believe that this will no longer be an issue. Let me go to the weed store instead of the scary coke head down the street.

  2. I’m so tired of all the old propaganda that’s left over from the 1930s. If their arguments were true, then everyone who ever drank alcohol is likely to become an alcoholic. What the politicians forget is that some people are predisposed to having addictive personalities. Those types of people will abuse whatever is available: booze, pills, sovents, or even food. We can’t stop that sort of behaviour, but we’d be better off if medical science would look into WHY addictive personalities exist. I’m so tired of the “mommy” state of government. Politicians seem to think that we all need to be saved from ourselves and that restrictive legislation is the only way to acheive that goal.

  3. I know Scott Walker is an ignorant jerk. This is just one more article proving it. It is mind boggling how people like him get voted into an office of power. The populace of the U.S. has gone wacko.

  4. Whyiowa4medical on

    This has been my warning cry for some time!!! As I have done in research of my own case, we need to show the preventative effects of cannabis and how it greatly retards catastrophic illnesses. How did ancient man avoid the disease situations that kill off, even our young, when exposed to them??? They did not, they were drawn to cannabis and its preventative medicinal properties. This was first proven in cannabis studies as to why carcinogens had no effect, it has anti-carcinogenic properties. Its power to prevent is at least equal to its ability to heal. We must make this known very publically, very soon. Without getting access to some Alabama Marijuana Farm type weed, the only thing I can prove is accelerated drug use. I had no gateway experience with cannabis, I hated it until the age my form of genetic disease became active and only have symptoms when I can find no cannabis!!! I have several others that have experienced the same effect, different disease type. I hit my standard with cannabis treatment, but until I was able to see research of how it can prevent I thought I was only another rec smoker. I am completely certain that it has been responsible for the length of my life even though I did not smoke high CBD strains. So, let’s make sure we can hang on to THC also!!!

  5. Whyiowa4medical on

    This point is well made by Russ, what gateway? To where? From where? Yes, we all felt there would be a far more sane movement in the 70s. A lot more like Mexico had, and has now reinstated. As they are not the USA, they have enforced our laws, and harmed their own poor for too long. The last I heard (from a retired man who kept a home in Mexico so he could cheaply obtain his pharmaceutical needs), Mexico is rapidly returning to Valium hanging on the shelves like aspirin, codeine marketed the same way, and many things behind the counter that one need only ask for, up to and including amphetamine pills of all shades. Guess what? Under this system there were no Mexican pill addicts, why, because it was not worth their time. LSA was widely available for LSD research outside Mexico, as their native peoples have no need for such restrictive substances, Peyote and Mushrooms, and expertly blended forms of Salvia with other nightshades make LSD something unnecessary. Their government does not mess with Native religion, nor the substances, as even those in the government have heard of “Carlos Castenada” type witchcraft and the terrible forms of dream-walking they are able to induce upon them. They will tell you, “Believe what you wish, but the priests of the Madonna allow them to practice as they wish. So, we follow them in doing the same!” So unless one is highly trained in the use of their “medicine,” people leave it alone, but if one seeks it they will share, even to a person alone (at their own peril). Coca Leaves are handed out to those who must work in high altitudes (usually for America to some degree) and this does not generate “crack-heads”; it generates people who do not like to chew the leaves, take the powder, or smoke the paste. South American slaves dip into the coca paste and have become some of the most mindless slaves beyond the Voo Douin slavery that was prominent in Haiti.
    So, we can easily see that where it is treated as “no problem,” no problem exists. Those who can afford the medicine can buy it for about a dollar, straight off the store shelves. My neighbor, who rented his summer home here to live pretty well in Mexico and come back with boxes of Xanax, long acting morphine, muscle relaxers, and a plethora of other medicines that would have cost him his house to buy in America!!! Where is their gateway? Is it the Native People using hallucinogens on the full of the moon, or on the quarters of the sun? Is it the pills that only those who need them purchase? Is it the painkillers they buy when they already know what is wrong and no amount of doctors visits will help? Is it those who cultivate cannabis for medical reasons all their own and use it with neighbors? I look into this system that was publicized on a TV show in 2003 and personally experienced by a neighbor who stopped visiting because of cartel wars. With things back in place, and cartels becoming not so much a problem, he is thinking about returning next winter. He keeps a close eye on Mexican news and policies. When you look at a country that is very unregulated, you can easily see that this business of a “gateway” drug is absurd. It has led no native person to the needle and cannabis has given the South Dakota Native People a better way of life. It has never led a Mexican to Peyote, the heroin that can be made there, nor to the pills hanging on the shelves. Do not look at American society for your “gateway” issues, look to unrestrictive countries for most all substances to find your answers to this question!!!

  6. They dont give one fuck about serve and protect.Its about saving grant money.If more sm8ked pot dwi crashes would dtop.What kills me is legalization makes thierwork easier.But if they knew that they would have obeen doing thier researchand realized that fact already.

  7. Thanks for bringing Tobacco along for this sordid ride down the road that surely leads to Hell and Heroine addiction. It’s truly fitting that tobacco shares this “first step” status along with alcohol. My first sip of beer and my first stolen puff of tobacco were at age 14. My first toke at 17. Guess what happened after that?

    After 40 years – cannabis is my only adjunct therapy to life.

  8. Gerhard Balthasar on

    Down here in Germany, “It sends the wrong signal” and “It’s a gateway drug” are the both most accepted reasons (see politicans, the media or people surveys) to keep it illegal… The propaganda lives on!

  9. This is one of the best writings I have read critically analyzing and attempting to explaining the law enforcement point of view. You will have to do some digging through the NIDA website but on an answer and question page to parents about the dangers of pot the director says “most kids start with tobacco or alcohol before pot.” Even if the gateway is right (which it is not), why start at the second source? Why let source 1 a free ride to lead to source 2?

  10. The true gateway drug is prescription pills. Ask someone addicted to pain pills.I can name 3 people 2 have died 1 will one of these days. They all started on pills. Then snorted them. Then heron and pills depending on availability. 2 lives gone I am only one person. I can think of at least 15 pot smokers no other drugs been doing 20 years. Good jobs, good family life, good people.

  11. darthhillbilly on

    It has been my experience that prohibition is the “Gateway.” I pointed out to someone previously that in the years since I came of age, I have never had a person in a liquor store try to upsale me some weed or crack. I can say that when buying weed I have been offered sex, pills, crack, coke, meth, and rufies. No business owner is going to risk prosecution, or fines, when marijuana is their livelihood. Drug dealers also do not ask for I.d.. in Highschool I had a harder time scoring booze than weed. Now in Colorado they are one year in, and despite multiple “undercover stings” not one business owner has been brought up on charges for sales to a minor. Think about that…not ONE… let it sink in…not one!!! Take marijuana off street corners, place it behind store counters, and you will be making it harder for kids to buy.

  12. Scott Walker was a big hit (so to speak) at the CPAC meeting in Washington this week and stands a good chance of becoming the Republican candidate for President. If he is elected to that office, you can kiss legal cannabis, and probably most all medical use, goodbye. If you don’t bother to participate or vote, you have no one to blame but yourself.

  13. Whats the matter for paying a person for weed?
    the usa has no problem paying the pill pushers for their pill habits

  14. It only seamed like a gateway drug when you had to buy it illegally, the ‘dealer’ usually had other ‘illegals’ at his access.

    So not really a gateway, more like an enabler or a door opener.

    Legalization takes care of that.

  15. Can’t wait to hear all the Glibertarians in here tell me how Scott Walker is EXACTLY the same as the Democrats who could have held the office of Governor of WI…

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