Three takes on weed

First, USA Today did it’s best to create the impression that there is still a raging debate about marijuana and the gateway theory:

Most users of more addictive drugs, such as cocaine or heroin, started with marijuana, scientists say, and the earlier they started, the greater their risk of becoming addicted.

Many studies have documented a link between smoking marijuana and the later use of “harder” drugs such as heroin and cocaine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean marijuana causes addiction to harder drugs.

“Is marijuana a gateway drug? That question has been debated since the time I was in college in the 1960s and is still being debated today,” says Harvard University psychiatrist Harrison Pope, director of the Biological Psychiatry Laboratory at Boston’s McLean Hospital. “There’s just no way scientifically to end that argument one way or the other.”

That’s because it’s impossible to separate marijuana from the environment in which it is smoked, short of randomly assigning people to either smoke pot or abstain — a trial that would be grossly unethical to conduct.

“I would bet you that people who start smoking marijuana earlier are more likely to get into using other drugs,” Pope says. Perhaps people who are predisposed to using a variety of drugs start smoking marijuana earlier than others do, he says.

Besides alcohol, often the first drug adolescents abuse, marijuana may simply be the most accessible and least scary choice for a novice susceptible to drug addiction, says Virginia Tech psychologist Bob Stephens.

No matter which side you take in the debate over whether marijuana is a “gateway” to other illicit drugs, you can’t argue with “indisputable data” showing that smoking pot affects neuropsychological functioning, such as hand-eye coordination, reaction time and memory, says H. Westley Clark, director of the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The article ends up hedging its bets and qualifies just about everything she says. I find it hard to argue with the facts presented, but the emphasis and the selective inclusion suggest that the writer might be guilty of hype.

Next, a Canadian publication advocates legalizing and regulating marijuana:

Because of crimes that are related to the drug trade—most notably the killing of the four police officers in Mayerthorpe two years ago—many have been pushing for increased punishment for drug-related crimes recently. While a tactic such as increased jail time would theoretically make criminals think twice before becoming involved in the trade, there’s no statistical evidence that supports this claim.

The fact remains that it’s just too profitable an industry to be deterred by harsher punishment. Instead we need to end this failed experiment called prohibition and regulate most, if not all, drugs.

…The regulated sale of drugs would mean that one of the biggest dangers of drug use, drugs that are laced with more dangerous substances, would be systematically eliminated. As well, it would allow people to find a more accurate description of what they are taking, what it does to them, recommended doses and possible negative side effects. A more honest approach on the effect of these drugs would work better than just saying that drugs kill.

If there’s a demand for illicit drugs, like any other product, why should criminal elements be the ones who profit from it? Marijuana, for example, is more profitable than any other crop in Canada. Instead of letting criminals sell it, using the profits for other nefarious purposes, why doesn’t the Canadian government make it and sell it, eliminating the criminal element in the process? People are still going to buy it either way, after all.

Variations of this proposal a published frequently. At least this version eliminates profit potential. Most versions of this proposal suggest legalizing and regulating private sale, which raises the specter of a marijuana industry with the promotional and lobbying power of the alcohol and tobacco industries. While all variations of legalization models have an uphill battle, one that puts the government in the role of manufacturer and sales seems DOA.

Finally, STATS was riled by the USA Today article. They make several strong rebuttals to the points in the USA Today – if there is a gateway drug it’s alcohol; alcohol causes more harm; there’s lots of evidence against the gateway theory; most marijuana users experience little or no harm, etc. However, she also inserts her bias and misrepresents the USA Today article:

So, where’s the evidence that marijuana is more harmful than other substances?

The USA Today article didn’t argue that marijuana is more harmful, just that it’s not harmless. There were enough problems with the article that the straw man tactics we’re needed.