I went to college an ignorant young man. I was convinced the people around me were going to die at any minute. Why? Marijuana myths.
I was decently well-read. I wasn’t an end-times religious cultist and I didn’t subscribe to a fluoride-chemtrails conspiracy theory. But like tens of millions of other Americans who grew up and went to school in the 1980s and 1990s, I was the victim of a combination of both.
What I mean is that I was a product of the Just Say No-era anti-drug hysteria. I sat through D.A.R.E. class and watched endless propaganda-level PSAs. So I knew — beyond a shadow of a doubt, because I’d read it or heard it from some authoritative source out to save my soul and body — that if you smoked marijuana while also drinking alcohol, your liver would shut down.
Even in context, I should have recognized this particular gem of drug-war propaganda as absurd. College campuses across the country are not littered with corpses, and both Barack Obama and George W. Bush — drinkers who liked weed — survived to live in the White House.
But I just couldn’t bring myself to partake, which demonstrates the extent to which misinformation and nonsense pervaded the public’s collective consciousness on drugs, even drugs as demonstrably benign as cannabis — and, despite reams of science patiently and rationally refuting such feeble claptrap, how easy it is to mislead.
This is still happening now. America’s leaders, including the president’s Cabinet members, his marijuana-hating attorney general, and the man he assigned to solve the opiate crisis are still repeating exploded drug-war marijuana myths.
And why not? It’s the age of alternative facts.
You could blame Trump, or you could theorize that it’s the inevitable backlash to the enormous gains drug-policy reform has enjoyed over the past decade — with nearly every American agreeing (with science) that cannabis can be a medicine and a majority of citizens desiring an end to the drug war. But, really, this is what our government has been doing for almost half a century.
You can break the cycle, though! You don’t need to be a slave to fake news. When you hear one of these bunk talking points, you can recognize it as such — and you can have a ready rejoinder.
ALTERNATIVE FACT NO. 1 — Marijuana has no place treating the opiate crisis
“I know it’s not recreational marijuana, not recreational use, but I don’t see a role for it in this at all.” – Ohio Gov. John Kasich, March 30, 2017.
John Kasich, the moderate Republicans’ onetime hero, is sentencing his own constituents to death by adhering to age-old marijuana myths. In Ohio, drug overdoses are the most common cause of accidental death — having overcome vehicle accidents for that dubious honor over the past 15 years — and, shocker, nearly all drug overdoses are due to opiates. Not marijuana.
As it happens, chronic pain is one of the most common health problems for which opiates are prescribed (the reason why and how 780 million prescription painkillers ended up in West Virginia alone) — and chronic pain is one of the few afflictions doctors and researchers agree conclusively that marijuana can treat.
Even if weed didn’t treat chronic pain, its value in solving the opiate epidemic is clear: In the states where medical marijuana is available, opiate-related hospitalizations dropped by 23 percent, and opiate-related deaths dropped by more than 10 percent, according to a study published in May. The Just Say No-era propaganda material liked to call drugs a “deadly game.” This is true today, except it’s the rhetorical games politicians play.
ALTERNATIVE FACT NO. 2 — Marijuana legalization leads to more kids smoking weed
“In the two year average... since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, youth past month marijuana use increased 20 percent compared to the two year average prior to legalization. Nationally youth past month marijuana use declined 4 percent during the same time.” Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, “The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact,” January 2016.
“[Marijuana legalization] laws have had significant negative impacts on public health and safety, such as: Rising rates of pot use by minors...”—“Lessons Learned After 4 Years of Marijuana Legalization,” Project SAM, October 2016.
If marijuana prohibition has a Bible in America — and it does — it’s the Rocky Mountain HIDTA’s report on marijuana legalization in Colorado, which was gleefully received by the country’s anti-marijuana advocates. Many lovers of marijuana myths can quote sections of this report by heart. “These adverse outcomes should not come as surprise to anyone,” DARE’s national website intoned. They are also, by textbook definition, alternative facts.
Bear with me for a second as I get bureaucratic: The various high-intensity drug-trafficking areas around the country are under the purview of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. And ONDCP, the office of the “drug czar,” is by Congressional fiat prohibited from supporting marijuana legalization — so it stands to reason that HIDTA would find any reason to oppose it, including cooking the books and the selective use of data.
HIDTA based its findings on an annual questionnaire given to teens called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. HIDTA used data from 2013-2014 — before retail marijuana stores in Colorado and Washington had been open for a full year. The following year, after recreational cannabis became available in stores, that same survey showed a significant drop in youth marijuana use. Another study, this one looking at data crunched by the University of Michigan, showed no change in youth use rates in Colorado before and after legalization.
A more recent study showed that the number of teens with marijuana in their systems seeking help at the E.R. increased four times — from under 200 cases to under 700 annual cases. That study, which perpetuates marijuana myths, stopped far short of saying legalization was the cause. The preponderance of data suggests that marijuana legalization has no widespread deleterious impact on kids. Any suggestion to the contrary must carry a massive caveat — and if it does not, it’s best assigned to the wastebasket of mendacious comments designed to misdirect.
ALTERNATIVE FACT NO. 3 — Gateway theory
“There is a big difference between that [medical marijuana] and recreational marijuana… And I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people.” White House press secretary Sean Spicer, Feb. 23, 2017.
“Taking the first puff on a joint is nothing more and nothing less than taking the first step on the road to becoming a hard drug addict.” Narconon.
"Every study shows marijuana is a gateway drug. And every study shows it causes damage." New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Nov. 21, 2016.
Donald Trump assigned the task of solving America’s opiate problem to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — an unsettling development for cannabis advocates. He loves marijuana myths, and as Christie recently boasted, no person has done more to “stand in the way” — his words! — of marijuana legalization in his state than him. For intellectual foundation, Christie repeatedly refers to gateway theory, one of the most often-debunked examples of junk science imaginable. But since it’s still out there, it must be addressed.
For starters, any statement that begins with the canard “every study shows” must be immediately ignored, its issuer muzzled forever — because that’s not how scientific review works, at all. Here’s how the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (no friend to legalization!) handles the issue: “...the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, “harder” substances.” As it is, about 9 percent of people who use marijuana become addicted — compared to 15 percent of alcohol users and 33 percent of tobacco smokers. Much more reliable predictors of hard drug use include factors like poverty and mental illness — you know, the factors alive in places hardest-hit by the opiate crisis. Places where marijuana is illegal.
ALTERNATIVE FACT No. 4 — Marijuana is totally harmless
Here’s a curveball for you. If you hear anyone declaring that cannabis is entirely benign, walk away, quickly — because it’s not. That line belongs on the "marijuana myths" list too.
In fact, cannabis might have killed somebody. A few years ago, leukemia patients at the University of California, Davis Medical Center started developing severe lung infections. One patient died. Upon review, a rare fungus was found to be the cause. The patient had smoked marijuana — and upon further review, that rare fungus was found on marijuana sold in medical marijuana dispensaries in California.
This is just one possibly connected death in the annals of time. “For the vast majority of cannabis users, this is not of great concern,” as researcher Dr. George Thompson told the Sacramento (Calif.) Bee. But we also cannot say with certainty that marijuana is always 100 percent safe — in the same way that you can’t say with certainty that a plate of potato salad left out overnight is safe.
Forget for a second the studies suggesting that youth use leads to mental infirmities, and think about consumer protection. In California, the billions of dollars’ worth of marijuana sold every year is not subject to mandatory third-party testing, and won’t be until as far in the future as the end of 2018. In the states where cannabis is illegal — and thus the country’s favorite illicit drug — no products are tested for contaminants like mold, pesticides, or bacteria. The solution, of course, is to treat marijuana like any other consumer good and apply health and safety standards.
Anything else is just nonsense...just like the continuation of marijuana myths.