While conducting further research on marijuana use in the United States and its implications, I came across this little gem of misinformation on the Drug Free America Foundation’s website. It is a fine example of arrogantly scripted works of anti-marijuana propaganda. Of all the facts they present, only a select few cite sources in any way, and these facts tend largely to be red herrings, as I will explain below. I have conducted a line-by-line analysis of all of their marijuana “facts.” Note: everything that appears in bold font is a direct quote from the DFAF website.
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about marijuana. Yes there is, and a lot of it is propagated by your web site. It should be approved as a medicine, it’s harmless, it should be legalized outright just like it is in some European countries and it’s all about a laid back and worry-free lifestyle. Unfortunately, this is about as realistic as they get throughout the course of this particular essay. Even more unfortunately, this is an attempt at sarcasm. Consider these facts and statistics and give marijuana use a little more thought. I would be much more likely to consider these “facts” if you provided sourced material, but like most anti-marijuana propaganda, there exists little factual material to support your arguments.
1.) So, you think it should be legalized, just like it has in some European countries? Actually, I do. Think it hasn’t had a negative impact on the citizens of those countries? Actually, I don’t think so, but let’s go ahead and see how you are going to try and convince me otherwise.
- After the Netherlands legalized marijuana use for adults, the usage rate for 18 to 20 year olds nearly tripled from 15 to 44 percent. Let’s assume for a minute that I buy into these uncited numbers (I actually do, they were published by MacCoun and Reuter, but why don’t they tell us this?) and take a look at what they don’t tell us. Yes, initially after marijuana was legalized, use jumped by nearly 30 percent. I would consider this the same sort of celebration effect that takes place in those in their early 20s after they are allowed to legally drink. More recent studies find that pot-smoking rates in the Netherlands (where it is legal) are half of those in America (where it is illegal), and especially in juveniles. 2.5% of juveniles smoke pot monthly in the Netherlands while nearly 5% smoke monthly in the United States. 1
- Registered marijuana dealers in the Netherlands are allowed to deduct from their taxes the business expenses of drug dealing–things like guard dogs and assault rifles. This statement is just completely unfounded. Businesses that sell drugs legally in Amsterdam are not allowed to sell more than 5 grams per person and they are not wielding dogs or assault rifles. The problem arises in that Amsterdam has not legalized wholesale marijuana distribution, meaning that the suppliers of the legal sellers still operate on the black market. These people are certainly not filling out tax forms and declaring drug expenses, even though they may be using dogs and assault rifles.
2.) You think marijuana makes you mellow, relaxed and worry-free? Hopefully more often than it makes you paranoid, but let’s see what you have to say.
- According to freevibe.com, marijuana users are four times more likely to commit violent acts and five times more likely to steal as non-marijuana users. Ah, yes, their first semi-citation. Unfortunately, after combing this extremely biased website for 15 minutes, I could not find where this statistic was stated. But it’s funny, because in a 1972 drug report commissioned by Richard Nixon (he was obviously hoping for a glowering condemnation of pot), it was found that “In short, marijuana is not generally viewed by participants in the criminal justice community as a major contributing influence in the commission of delinquent or criminal acts.” 2 Even the Partnership for a Drug Free America has moved away from this propaganda, focusing instead these days on how pot induces most smokers to do nothing.
3.) You think marijuana use is harmless, that it can’t get you into any trouble or lead you into further drug experimentation? Oddly enough, I do, but let’s see why I shouldn’t think so.
- Pot users are two to five times more likely to go on to use harder drugs. I’m not even going to take issue with the truth of these statistics here, but instead attack the way they are used. The greatest problem when labeling marijuana as a gateway drug is that those who do so are confusing correlation with causation. This statement (if seeking to be logical) should actually read that people who use one substance are two to five times more likely to use another. This does not mean that people who smoke marijuana suddenly become more likely to use other drugs. This is also dangerous, because it demonizes a relatively harmless drug while making more dangerous substances seem like they do not invite further substance abuse.
- Marijuana users are 8 times more likely to use cocaine and 15 times more likely to use heroin. This is just repetition here and the result of the same faulty logic as the bullet point above. Marijuana simply comes before the other drugs because it is more readily obtained and less frightening than harder substances to most kids. But since they like statistics so much, let’s try this one out: for every 104 Americans who have tried marijuana, there is only one regular user of cocaine, and less than one user of heroin. 3
4.) You think smoking marijuana is a victimless crime? That it doesn’t affect anyone around you? For the most part, yes, unless they have to take a drug test and I exposed them to second hand smoke. But let’s see what you have to tell me here.
- 80 percent of the people hurt in on the job accidents involving marijuana are the co-workers of the users – not the users themselves. Wow, would I love to see some source material for this assertion. Unfortunately, it is nowhere to be found. One piece of information I was able to find, though, was in a 1990 U.S. Postal Service study: “No significant associations were detected between drug-test results and measures of injury and accident occurrence.” 4 Maybe 80 percent of the people injured are co-workers, but how many marijuana-induced accidents actually take place? It seems very, very few.
- You’re hurting everyone around you – even people you don’t even know. One of the greatest myths of marijuana is that it is a “victimless” crime. So you know what marijuana’s doing to you? Think about the people in your life who depend on you. And what about the public safety of others when confronted with intoxicated drug users? Marijuana affects safe driving skills, such as alertness, concentration, coordination and reaction time, as well as makes it difficult to judge distances and react to signals and signs on the road. Don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s not dangerous. Most of this paragraph is simple hyperbole. The best example they can come up with is drugged driving, but let’s take a look at an actual study and not baseless assertions. In a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration study conducted in 1990-91, they found that 51.5% of all people cited for accidents had alcohol in their system while only 6.7% had marijuana in their system. 5 Even more, two-thirds of those with marijuana in their system also had alcohol in their system. A further NHTSA study conducted in the Netherlands actually found that marijuana’s effects on drivers never exceeded the effects of alcohol at concentrations of a .08% BAC (most legally accepted limits.) 6
5.) You think marijuana should be a medicine? That doctors and medical groups are saying it should be, and that those are the people trying to get it legalized, one state at a time? Yes, I actually do feel that marijuana should be a medicine given its proven beneficial effects, but let’s see why I should not feel that way. You will note that not in any way do they attempt to attack scientific evidence that medical marijuana is beneficial to many ailments. Instead, they focus on unrelated topics.
- The majority of funding for state ballot initiatives (and legislative measures) to allow marijuana to be used as medicine comes from drug legalization organizations, not qualified medical professionals. Once again, an undocumented assertion. Where does this data come from? But let’s assume that this is true, is it really surprising? Pot-smokers make up a much larger percentage of the population than doctors, and I’m sure the funding for ballot initiatives reflects this discrepancy. If you want me to believe otherwise, please provide some factual assertion.
- The bulk of the funds and the effort come not from small contributors, but from millionaires who are long-time supporters of the drug-legalization movement. Is this different from any other political fundraising? I find it hard to believe so. Obviously the wealthier among us are going to be able to donate more money to their select causes. And also, it seems obvious that those funding drug-legalization efforts would be supporters of the drug-legalization movement.
- Ballot initiatives in CA and AZ were passed through a major disinformation campaign financed by wealthy individuals who don’t even live in those states! Once again, another unqualified assertion, but let’s entertain it. You say it’s misinformation, but obviously a majority of California and Arizona citizens did not agree with you. You say the people who funded the effort did not live in the state, but once again, who cares? They were not the ones who were voting. I do find this assertion hard to believe, though, as California seems to be a breeding ground for rich legalization supporters. And anyway, would you like to suspend democracy since the election did not go your way? It seems like the kettle is calling the pot green here, or something like that.
- Proposition 215 in California and Proposition 200 in Arizona were drafted, financed and supported by legalization proponents using the compassionate pain argument as a guise for their recreational drug legalization agenda. Once again, they seem to be trying to suggest some sort of conspiracy here, but is it really surprising that Prop 215 and Prop 200 weren’t funded by anti-legalization proponents? More hyperbole here connecting “the compassionate pain argument” with “recreational drug legalization agenda.” Just because the two efforts are funded by similar organizations does not mean they are legislatively linked.
6.) You think marijuana’s not addictive? Think it’s safe? There’s no harm in having a few drinks and smoking some pot? As is evidenced by the legality of proven addictive substances like caffeine and tobacco and alcohol, this argument is largely beside the point. But no, I do think marijuana is addictive (though only slightly so), I do think marijuana is harmful (though only slightly harmful when compared with legal drugs), but no, I do not believe there is any harm in having a few drinks and smoking some pot if that is how you choose to recreate. But let’s see what you have to say, drug expert!
- The effects of one drug can magnify the effects and risks of another. Mixing drugs can be lethal. When you binge drink and then smoke pot, there’s a chemical in the pot that suppresses your body’s natural urge to throw up. You may die from alcohol poisoning. This statement is a red herring. Legalizing pot is not the same as condoning mixing binge drinking with heavy marijuana use. Here, they even go so far as to take advantage of one of the medical benefits of marijuana (reduces nausea) but they misuse it. Nausea is far removed from alcohol poisoning—people vomit from over-drinking because their stomach is attempting to reject a poison; they do not vomit because of queasiness.
- Currently, 60 percent of teenagers in drug treatment are seeking help for their marijuana addiction. Here is further confusion of correlation with causation. Marijuana use does not cause 60 percent of teenagers to seek out drug treatment. The disproportionate focus of law enforcement on marijuana possession simply means that a much greater number of teenagers are being arrested for pot possession and being court-ordered to attend drug treatment programs! 7 To suggest that 60 percent of teenagers undergoing drug treatment seek out this help on their own is simply dishonest.
- An Australian study found that one in three teens who smoke marijuana become psychologically addicted by the time they hit their early 20’s. Funny they should not even refer to the study by name or its authors. I would like to see this elusive study. The National Academy of Sciences has found that less than 10% of pot smokers ever become dependent. Further, most people voluntarily stop smoking in their late 20’s for professional or family reasons. 8 I think what the Australian study may have actually found is that one in three teens who smoke marijuana enjoy indulging into their late 20’s, at which point they mature out of it.
- In 1999, marijuana was the primary drug of abuse in about 14 percent of admissions to treatment facilities in the United States. 57 percent of patients had used it by age 14 and 92 percent had used it by age 18. Suggesting that this 14% figure should be cause for alarm is misrepresentation of data when one considers that a much larger percentage of people in the United States smoke marijuana than use any other drug. By comparison, 14% of admissions to treatment facilities is a very small amount for a drug that is supposedly so “addictive” and “dangerous”. Their use of statistics (57% and 92%) is troubling only because black market marijuana is so readily available to teens—often more so than alcohol. Were marijuana legalized and regulated, it would be much more difficult to obtain; unfortunately, you don’t often see drug dealers checking IDs.
7.) You think marijuana is a “safe” drug, a clean one, with no sketchy dealers or strung out violent people roaming the streets? I think it is a relatively safe drug. Yes, there are some sketchy dealers (but this is a symptom of forcing it into the black market) and yes, there are “strung out violent people roaming the streets” but generally they are using other drugs like heroine, crack, or crystal meth.
- Hashish dealers will use filler to mix with the marijuana plant resin to extend their profits. A commonly used filler in Morocco is goat dung. Well, thank God I don’t live in Morocco! Also, I might add that were marijuana legalized, we would find federal regulation removing the likelihood of using “fillers” in hash.
- Marijuana dealers will sometimes lace their drug with a highly addictive drug like crack or pcp to get their users to come back. Once again, this may or may not be true, but this is a further symptom of forcing marijuana into the black market. Federal regulation would remove all risks of buying laced pot. You are actually helping the pro-legalization cause with these facts, DFAF!
- Many drug dealers don’t use the drugs they sell. They stay straight so that they can concentrate on making money off their addicts. This is a disingenuous statement. Note that they say “drug dealers” because this statement would hold no water if they said “pot dealers.” Typically, pot dealers do smoke pot—most of them cite free marijuana as a reason for dealing or cultivating and indulge in a bowl with their clients at the time of purchasing! Of course, when you get into bulk sales of hundreds of pounds, there are profit motives as well—but the majority of pot dealers are working with much smaller amounts of marijuana and money. And are they really suggesting that kids should follow the example of drug dealers?
8.) So you know smoking tobacco is bad for you, but think something [like] marijuana isn’t the same thing? Well, you’re right. It’s not the same – it’s worse. More hyperbole, but let’s see how they qualify it (if they do.)
- Marijuana has 50 percent more tar than tobacco and contains more than 400 chemicals. What kind of chemicals? Where did these numbers come from? While it is true that marijuana has 4 times as much tar as its equal weight in tobacco, 9 this assertion remains a red herring. Supposing that the average joint smoked was the same weight as the average cigarette smoked (which tend to be about 1 gram—much larger than most joints), someone would have to smoke 5 joints a day to receive the same amount of tar as a pack-a-day smoker. You would be hard pressed to find many people who smoke up to 5 joints a day, whereas it would be much more common to find someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day.
- According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), someone who smokes five joints per week may be taking in as many cancer-causing chemicals as someone who smokes a full pack of cigarettes per day. Ah, finally they cite another source, though they fail to cite the study. I did find some information on NIH-supported PubMed in an abstract that states, “marijuana smoke contains several [my italics] of the same carcinogens and co-carcinogens as the tar from tobacco”, not ‘more than’ or ‘all of’. 10 As is asserted here, since joints contain fewer carcinogens, one would have to be smoking a greater weight of marijuana than cigarettes, meaning, someone would have to smoke more than 5 joints a day to equal a pack-a-day smoker, not five joints a “week” as the DFAF asserts. The abstract goes on further to state that “In summary, sufficient studies are not available to adequately evaluate marijuana impact on cancer risk.”
- Smoking one marijuana cigarette deposits about four times as much tar into the lungs as a filtered tobacco cigarette. Here, we finally have a true statement, but like I said above, I find it hard to believe that there is a large amount of people who smoke as much marijuana daily as they smoke cigarettes.
9.) You think marijuana’s all about the laid-back, hippie, environmentally friendly lifestyle? You know the type – think West Coast. I think marijuana can be about those things, and it can also be about asserting individual liberty. Think liberal West Coast and Libertarian America. All assertions that only liberal hippies support marijuana legalization are the result of propaganda aimed at scaring conservatives away from the drug.
- U.S. Forest Service law enforcement agents estimate the street value of marijuana planted on national forest land in California alone exceeds $1 billion a year. I will believe the U.S. Forest Service’s estimate, but assert that this statement is a red herring. Street value of marijuana would become irrelevant if it were legalized and regulated by the Federal Government. While this statement seems intended to scare the reader, I think it actually demonstrates how many Americans are actually recreationally smoking pot.
- Since 1997, the U.S. Forest Service has eradicated seven million pounds of marijuana grown on California national forest land. If our nation practiced sober marijuana policies, this would be seen as an act of eco-terrorism. Hemp “yields three to four times more usable fibre [sic] per hectare per annum than forests” 11 and can be used and has been used in the past for producing a very high quality form of paper.
- Law enforcement officers and agents say hikers, hunters, and other backcountry users have been chased away at gunpoint after stumbling into marijuana gardens – on U.S. National Forest land! Once again, this assertion is beside the point; forcing marijuana onto the black market creates this type of circumstance.
(These are all straight out of National Geographic, by the way.) Great, but which issue, what was the article titled, who authored it? Maybe the intention of the article was to outline reasons for why a dangerous and wealthy black market would be destroyed by legalizing marijuana. Maybe it wasn’t, but who can say for sure without a source?
10.) Think legalization of marijuana wouldn’t lead to more kids trying it? Think legalization would have no effect on how they think about drug use and its harms? Think the issue has nothing to do with kids at all? Think again. Think the illegalization of marijuana doesn’t make it easier for kids to get their hands on it? Think misinformation about the drug doesn’t lead kids to distrust the actual harmful effects? Think marijuana-legalization proponents don’t care about kids? Think again.
- Because of the new marketing tactics of drug promoters, there is a growing perception among young people today that drugs are harmless. A decade ago, for example, 79 percent of 12th graders thought regular marijuana use was harmful; only 58 percent do so today. What marketing tactics? Which television stations are marijuana commercials airing on? In which magazines can marijuana ads be found (besides High Times)? Once again, I think there is a large correlation between gross presentation of wrong facts about the harms of marijuana and kids’ perception that all facts about the harms of marijuana must be wrong. If you are constantly telling kids in the same breath that marijuana can cause some memory loss and that marijuana can make you shoot your friend, is it no surprise that when they find some of these facts to be wrong, they assume all the facts to be wrong? I think the increasing perception that marijuana is not harmful can be attributed to: (1) the fact that compared to other drugs (even alcohol or tobacco) it is relatively harmless, and (2) focusing so militantly on fighting drug use with propaganda rather than sober facts.
- A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that teens’ brains are hardwired for addiction, making them more vulnerable to the addictive properties of drugs. Yes, this is true, but I do not find anyone suggesting that teens be allowed to smoke marijuana. In fact, if marijuana were legalized and regulated, they would find it much harder to get their hands on it.
- A long-term study of 1,000 children found that those who had used marijuana by the age of 13 were more than three times as likely to develop a mental illness as adults. A tenth of these youth developed schizophrenia, compared to three percent of the non-using group. Yet one more incidence of misinterpreting correlation for causation. Youths susceptible to mental problems are much more likely to seek out substances in an attempt to self-medicate. According to an article in the journal Psychiatric Research, their “findings do not support a causal link between cannabis use and schizotypal traits.” 12 Further, while incidences of pot smoking have increased over the years, incidences of psychosis have not. 13>
- In 2003, one out of every six high school seniors admitted to driving under the influence of marijuana. This is definitely a problem, but it is not marijuana’s problem. It is high school seniors’ problem. Read: federal regulation of marijuana as a legal substance would cut down access to the drug.
11.) Think you and your family are immune to the problems of drug use and addiction? No, I don’t, and I am sure you are about to tell me why not. Note that when citing addiction statistics, they move away from referring directly to marijuana and cite general drug use and alcohol addiction instead. This is placing this information in a dishonest context, though, as the other “facts” they have provided directly address marijuana, unless it is inconvenient for their purposes.
- One in six Americans will struggle with addiction to either alcohol or illicit drugs. I won’t argue with this, but what does it have to do with marijuana?
- Four out of ten families in the United States directly suffer the effects of addiction. Addiction to what? I hope they are not trying to imply marijuana, because I would love to see the statistics.
- One out of every four deaths in America is caused by the use of addictive substances – tobacco, alcohol or illegal drugs. Still with you here, but what does this have to do with marijuana?
- The number one preventable health problem in America and in other developed countries is addiction. Again, I am with you, but what does this have to do with marijuana? These facts would be more appropriate at the end of an article on alcohol addiction, tobacco addiction, or narcotic addiction. As they are presented now, they represent the false impression that since marijuana is cited as a widely abused and very addictive drug, many of these people experiencing addiction problems must have issues with marijuana. Show me the numbers, DFAF!
In summation, this is actually a somewhat sober presentation of marijuana misinformation. There are many websites and organizations that present much more radical and dishonest “facts”. If you want to see an example, check out that freevibe.com website listed in one of the DFAF’s bullet-points above. As I have tried to assert in many of my responses, one of the greatest contributors to juvenile pot-smoking is presenting them with wild misinformation. Kids are fickle in placing their trust, and if you have proven yourself to be untrustworthy in one way, they will view you as untrustworthy in every way. If you want kids to stay away from marijuana, you do not lie to them and say that it will make them go insane and expect them to believe you when you give them honest facts about ways it can harm their health and decrease their scholastic achievements. Further, I find it entertaining that many of the problems they have with marijuana (black market, drug cartels, gangs) would be solved by legalization—the very thing they oppose.
- Abraham, M. D., Cohen, P. D. A., van Til, R., et al (1999) Licit and Illicit Drug Use in The Netherlands, 1997. Amsterdam: Centre for Drug Research (CEDRO).
- “First Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse.” 1972. Marihuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding. p. 75.
- Federal Household data, as cited in John P. Morgan and Lynn Zimmer. 1997. Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts: A Review of the Scientific Evidence. p. 36, Figure 4-2: Very Few Marijuana Users Become Regular Users of Cocaine.
- Normand, J., Salyards, S.D., Mahoney, J.J. “An Evaluation of Pre-Employment Drug Testing. Journal of Applied Psychology. December 1990; 75(6):629-639. Quote from Abstract.
- K.W. Terhune et al., “The Incidence and Role of Drugs in Fatally Injured Drivers,” NHTSA Report # DOT-HS-808-065 (1994).
- Hendrik Robbe and James O’Hanlon, “Marijuana and Actual Driving Performance,” NHTSA Report #DOT-HS-808-078 (1994)
- The DASIS (Drug and Alcohol Services Information System) Report. March 29, 2002. Treatment Referral Sources for Adolescent Marijuana Users. US Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Washington, DC.
- National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine. 1999. Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base. pp. 92-96.
- T-C. Wu, D. Tashkin, B. Djahed and J.E. Rose, “Pulmonary hazards of smoking marijuana as compared with tobacco,” New England Journal of Medicine 318: 347-51 (1988).
- Hashibe, M., et al. Epidemiologic Review of Marijuana Use and Cancer Risk.” Alcohol. April, 2005; 35(3): 265-75.
- Van Roekel, G J, 1994. “Hemp Pulp and Paper Production.” Journal of the International Hemp Association. 1: 12-14.
- J Schiffman et al. 2005. “Symptoms of Schizotypy Precede Cannabis Use.” Psychiatric Research 134: 37-42.
- The Beckley Foundation. 2006. Cannabis and Mental Health: Responses to Emerging Evidence.