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You Don’t Have To Think Marijuana Is Safe To Support Legalization


legalize marijuana cannabis safe safetyBy Tom Angell

Project SAM’s Kevin Sabet and other prohibition advocates have seized on a new Wall Street Journal op-ed rehashing claims that marijuana use may be correlated with schizophrenia:

Why isn’t this getting more play? Doc at Yale School of Medicine: Pot-Smoking & the Schizophrenia Connection http://t.co/1c1TF9dBCY via @WSJ

— Kevin Sabet (@KevinSabet) July 2, 2013

Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, in a piece titled, “A Really Good Reason Not to Legalize Pot,” claims that “the move toward legalization of marijuana is premised on the assumption that it is ‘safe.'”

The argument that marijuana should be legalized because it is safe or safer than other substances like alcohol is an argument that some reformers often make, but it’s not an argument you’ll ever see me making, and it’s certainly not the only reason people in our movement want to end prohibition.

In my view, getting sucked into a debate over whether marijuana is good or bad is an unhelpful distraction from the core issues we need people to understand about prohibition.

Here’s why:

Even if some people think that marijuana is the most dangerous thing in the world and refuse to change their minds about that, advocates can still convince them to support legalization by detailing how prohibition only increases any harms associated with the drug compared to how those harms could be lessened and better managed under legal regulation.

When you make marijuana illegal, you make it impossible to test and label it for potency and purity. You make it impossible to enact age restrictions, thereby increasing access to teens. You make it so that all decisions about where, when, how and to whom marijuana is sold are made by drug dealers instead of by lawmakers and regulators with input from public health advocates. You make it so that marijuana use is criminalized and stigmatized, often making people who develop dependency issues afraid to seek help. You make it so that scarce public resources are wasted on arresting, prosecuting and locking people up instead of funding treatment and prevention programs.

And so on. Every possible harm associated with marijuana is clearly made much, much worse by prohibition.

While reformers are right that science shows marijuana to be a safer alternative to alcohol and other legal substances, I fear that my colleagues who lead with this argument are missing an opportunity to get as many new people as possible onto our side. Sure, it makes marijuana users who already support reform feel justified in their beliefs, but focusing on trying to get people to change their minds about marijuana the drug as opposed to marijuana laws can easily lead those people we still need to convince to incorrectly believe that supporting legalization is only for those who love marijuana or want to use it. And it can give people the impression that marijuana use is going to become much more widespread after prohibition ends.

At best, I fear that these arguments are a distraction from the real issues. At worst, they can make people who are on the fence go over to the other side.

Now, I’m aware that polls show a correlation between being aware that marijuana is safer than alcohol and support for marijuana legalization. I just think it’s much harder to actually get people to change their minds about marijuana the drug than it is to get them to understand the practical case for marijuana policy reform.

So, while I’m sure some of my colleagues in the movement will rightfully pick apart the holes in the above-mentioned prohibitionist screeds about schizophrenia – and for the sake of science I’m glad they will – I’d rather see more movement resources devoted to getting people to understand the mental health impact of being handcuffed and tossed in the back of a police cruiser than the mental health impact of marijuana itself.

I think the former is a much easier argument to win.

Source: National Cannabis Coalitionmake a donation


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Johnny Green


  1. York researchers challenge cannabis legislation. July18/13

    However in 2009, due to concerns about a possible link between
    stronger varieties of the drug and schizophrenia, the change in
    classification was reversed.

    Hamilton commented on the results: “Our research shows an interesting
    relationship between the Government’s decision to reclassify cannabis
    and the rate of hospital admissions for cannabis psychosis. It is
    significant as the Government’s argument for reclassification was made
    on the basis that the stronger forms of cannabis known as ‘skunk’ are
    more likely to lead to mental health problems such as psychosis.
    However, our research challenges this.”

    According to the authors of the study, published in the International
    Journal of Drug Policy: “The association is unlikely to be due to
    changes in cannabis use over this period, but possible explanations
    include changes in policing and systematic changes in mental health
    services unrelated to classification decisions.”
    July18, 2013

  2. Danny Hoardern on

    I think the whole schizophrenia thing should be looked into further, not from the view of weed being dangerous, but from the view that weed TREATS schizophrenia: http://healthland.time.com/2012/05/30/marijuana-compound-treats-schizophrenia-with-few-side-effects-clinical-trial/

    Sure, if you had a study analysing all those that took aspirin and those that don’t, your conclusion would be that those that took aspirin had a higher incidence of headache compared to the general population.

    Correlation or causeation? Hmmm…

  3. My 2 cousins grew up with me – same house. We knew something was wrong, just didn’t know it was schizophrenia till mid to late teens. I was the oldest, into pot and LSD (why not try LSD – they lied about the dangers of pot – could be they lied about all other drugs too!) when my cousin heard if you put window pane in your eye you’ll see pretty colors on your trip. (1978) He had a psychotic break – spent the next 5 days in hospital and was subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia. His grasp on reality had always been tenuous at best, he didn’t need drugs to take a trip – his trips were the norm, reality was a place he was “just visiting”. He could never “handle” pot – too trippy (hind sight is a wonderful thing – Duh). Drugs didn’t make him a paranoid schizophrenic – they simply allowed health professionals to do a more through examination and interpretation of his state of mental health – while under stress. We could call it a “mental health stress test”.

  4. Good essay Tom.
    I like the argument that there is solid proof that marijuana use does not increase when the penalties are reduced.
    All the decrim states since 1972, including Alaska where it’s been legal to use since 1975, have the same use rates
    as rest of the country where it’s still a crime.
    Ergo, criminal prohibition does not decrease use.
    Repeal of prohibition does not increase use.
    These facts are beyond debate.
    So, what does the drug war accomplish if it doesn’t even reduce use?
    What is it good for?
    Absolutely nothing!

  5. This article makes alot of sense but people don’t make sense, that is why the logical situation, full legalization of weed, isn’t happening. People will look at these fine points and turn their backs and simply say “fuck all that”. It makes me wish we were more like Vulcans, maybe then our lives wouldn’t be decided by a few greedy bastards. Our society in itself is very illogical and arguing seems to be a pointless exercise that only enrages both sides of the issue. That’s why we make stupid decisions, learn the HARD way, and kill each other. But I really believe progress is inevitable and that the entire U.S. map will be fully green. My main concern is that legalization is happening too slowly, within my lifetime would be nice.

  6. 1) Legalization of marijuana is the only way to prevent kids from abusing it.
    2) Is there any drug, legal or illegal with less harm to ppl than Cannabis and is having so about the same effect?.
    3) Is it wise and smart to destroy many ppl lives bc they smoke pot?

  7. ‘Loss of rights and fair treatment is another. Recently I seen a story
    where 7 undercover armed officers in Va pounces on a 20 year old girl,
    guns drawn, thinkng she had a 12 pack of beer when actually it was only
    water. She fled and called 911 in fear of her life not knowing they
    were the law. She was facing 15 years and 3 felonys then. All of this
    stuff has gone way too far. We are supposed to have rights.’
    My god. that is so crazy, i can hardly believe it actually happened; let alone where to begin on explaining the craziness. Including how she manage to loose them long enough to make a phone call.

  8. True, but; eventually the point must be made on it’s true safety rating. Great article.

  9. Over many years I have seen scores of persons suffering from schizophrenia come through the legal system. Paranoid schizophrenia by definition is chronic and requires onset during adolescence or early adulthood. Many of those folks were self-medicating with some sort “street drug” very commonly methamphetamine which causes it’s own issues but not uncommonly with marijuana. I think it probable that the self-medication is a result of the pre-existing mental condition and not the other way around.

  10. I agree.

    The ACLU & the NAACP has a case IMO. I’m pretty dumb but I can see it. They are making a difference and the numbers dont lie. So is the deal on polution with the carbon footprint of indoor growing. Anyone interested in polution should see that one.

    Lives ruined by minimum sentences, felony convictions, and all that too should make a difference. I often wonder if anyone that’s been arrested for simple possession is very willing to report crimes after that. How many are they? 22 million now? If so that’s a lot of people and if so that’s a lot of lost assistance.

    Loss of rights and fair treatment is another. Recently I seen a story where 7 undercover armed officers in Va pounces on a 20 year old girl, guns drawn, thinkng she had a 12 pack of beer when actually it was only water. She fled and called 911 in fear of her life not knowing they were the law. She was facing 15 years and 3 felonys then. All of this stuff has gone way too far. We are supposed to have rights.

    There are many subjects to discuss.

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