“I must not tell lies” – Dealing with misinformation in the marijuana debate.

On the 8th of April, I published an article, A Case for the Legalization of Marijuana, for my university’s opinion magazine, detailing some reasons why marijuana should be decriminalized in the UK. I explained, with statistical evidence, that the problems alcohol and tobacco cause in the UK far outweigh the problems that marijuana consumption causes, and that if we are going to allow alcohol and tobacco to be freely distributed and consumed, it seems unusual to punish people for consuming something that is actually less dangerous.

A response to my article, A Case Against the Legalization of Marijuana, has been published to deal with my “appallingly researched and poorly argued article”. This response is full of lies, conjecture and misinformation and must be dealt with. Below, I have dealt with the 6 most ridiculous claims.

1. The article claims that legalizing marijuana would give young people “another method of intoxication”, would put the NHS under enormous pressure, and lead to the legalization of cocaine.

Young people will smoke marijuana whether it’s legal or not, and the legal ramifications rarely, if ever, occur to regular users. But leaving marijuana illegal and unregulated leaves regular users dealing with unaccountable shady drug dealers, some of whom also deal in toxic substances like cocaine. Of course nobody is forcing users to interact with drug dealers, but those who want to smoke cannabis have few alternatives. If the article is genuinely concerned about the well-being of young people, looking at the situation tells us to provide them with cleaner means of getting their drug, not penalize them for getting it in the first place.

Of course, legalization of marijuana will not eliminate the black market trade – Colorado legalized recreational marijuana and it’s underground drug trade is still alive, but the legal dispensaries are booming and have regular customers, customers who no longer deal with drug dealers and street corner personnel.

The NHS argument is again not backed up by a single shred of evidence, and the article fails to note the enormous strain alcohol use puts on our public services, from immediate stomach-related problems, to violence caused by alcohol use, to long-term liver problems.

Further more, there is absolutely no evidence that legalizing marijuana use will lead to the legalization of cocaine, or any other drug for that matter. Slippery slope arguments of that form rarely have any empirical gravity and tend to be based in emotional prejudice.

2. The article claims that marijuana sales are falling (as if that somehow means the drug should remain illegal) and claimed the drug is dangerous because it’s smoked with tobacco.

The lack of research is really startling here. Ironically, legalizing marijuana use provides great opportunities for surveying regular users and gathering statistics about how many people enjoy the substance. Right now, unless drug users regularly email the ONS, I fail to see how one could have any idea of where marijuana use is at.

While it’s true that marijuana is often smoked with tobacco, that is not the only means of consuming the substance, and it says more about the effects of tobacco than it does about the effects of marijuana. If tobacco is so dangerous, why isn’t the article calling for that to be outlawed?

People can use bongs or vaporizers, or can put marijuana in food in order to consume it. Tobacco is very optional.

3. The article claims that “drug gangs are lethal, and lowering the crime in one area (legalizing the drug) will definitely not lower the crime rate within the underground community” and that “a dealer isn’t going to let his customers walk away easy”.

The point of marijuana legalization is not to solve all the world’s problems, it’s to bring a substance which can be abused into the watchful eye of the regulatory state, to ensure that the quality of the product being sold is not shoddy and has few psychological side effects. As stated above, Colorado’s underground drug trade isn’t going away, but not prosecuting people who use marijuana in that state means a hefty proportion of users are now entirely removed from the dangers of interacting with dealers.

4. The article claims that many crimes can be indirectly linked to marijuana use, such as “knife wounds from a dealer, weed induced fights, shooting spree while high”.

This claim has been plucked out of thin air and is not supported by any study, statistical evidence or even anecdotal evidence. It’s there purely for emotional impact. Colorado’s crime statistics show that homicide rates fell 40% in Denver after marijuana was legalized. So much for those knife wounds.

5. The article claims that “the health benefits of a moderate amount of red wine each week have often been proven, however the only long-term side-effects of smoking cannabis are dangerous”.

Red wine in moderation does health benefits, but so does marijuana. Collective Evolution recently compiled twenty studies that show how marijuana can be used to treat cancer, while the National Cancer Institute explains that cannabinoids “may have a protective effect against the development of certain types of tumors”. Additionally, ProCon.org provides a list of scientific testimonies about the use of marijuana for treating glaucoma (eye conditions which can lead to blindness), with some for and some against.

There is also mounting evidence that cannabis use in small doses is a powerful agent in combating sleeplessness and stress, provided the strain consumed is not littered with psychological effects. Interestingly, that’s where the regulatory state comes in handy.

6. Finally, and worst of all, the article claims that marijuana causes “lung cancer” and “the likelihood of aggressive and violent behaviour, including domestic abuse and sexual assault”.

First of all, the lung cancer claim is not supported by scientific research, and the fact that marijuana is used to treat cancerous tumours counts against the idea that marijuana causes cancer. Cancer Research UK usefully details some of the studies conducted in this area, none of which show a conclusive link between marijuana and lung cancer. The independent marijuana education website, Learn About Marijuana, explains that marijuana use is “much less likely to cause violence in users than other substances such as alcohol and stimulants”

By contrast, alcohol is proven to cause early death and liver failure if consumed in excess, and provokes violent rages in many people who abuse it, while prolonged tobacco use effects pretty much every part of the body in a negative way. Yet again, the article makes no demands for the criminalization of either of those substances.

Additionally, it is grossly insulting to blame marijuana use on violent crimes, especially given the sedative and relaxing effect it is proven to have in most users. The perpetrator and the perpetrator alone is responsible for violent crimes, and suggesting that marijuana leads to sexual abuse is so far removed from mainstream debate it’s not worth thinking about.

In conclusion.

The only way a sensible and rational debate about marijuana legalization will be possible is if people do their research and hold themselves to the proper standards of debate. If we want the truth about marijuana legalization, we can’t bullshit our way to an argument. One must accept when the facts are not on their side, as I have done in my original article and here.

The scientific evidence currently explains that marijuana is no worse than the dangers of tobacco or alcohol (at the very least) and that it may have medicinal effects that are certainly not present in tobacco or alcohol. We can learn nothing from articles that routinely employ emotional prejudice and wild conspiratorial claims to get their point across.

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