Critical thinking requires receiving information from more than one source, and more than one viewpoint. It also helps if the source of the information is trustworthy, such as maybe calling itself something that resembles its true purpose. This is especially important when passions and politics intrude.
Last week US Attorney General Jeff Sessions met with some marijuana activists to formulate a strategy on marijuana law enforcement. More than half the states now have voter and/or legislature approved laws allowing medical marijuana, and several have approved recreational use as well. But at the federal level it is still a Schedule 1 drug, meaning the US government believes it is highly addictive, has no medical uses and no safe uses.
Sessions feels that in the midst of an opioid epidemic and a two-thirds majority in favor of medical marijuana use, these are the people to whom he should be listening.
It is true that a prescription for medical marijuana use is often too easy to obtain, but then so are legal but highly addictive opioids. Experts disagree about whether marijuana is addictive. As for safe use, no one has ever been confirmed to die of an overdose of marijuana. And many people believe that marijuana is useful and safe for a variety of medical conditions, from chronic pain to post traumatic stress disorder, including even rehabilitation from opioid addiction.
There are concerns about marijuana legalization, including the effect it may have on the developing adolescent brain, drugged driving, and the strength and purity of current marijuana strains. But those are questions best answered by research and problems best solved by regulation. Enforcing marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug does neither.
You’d think an organization with the name Smart Approaches to Marijuana—one of the groups with whose representatives Sessions met—would favor cautious scientific research into marijuana’s harms and benefits. No. Its “primary focus is educating the public about the harms of marijuana legalization.” Its members have already decided that marijuana is an unambiguous evil. The “smart approaches” referred to mean seeking “a middle road between incarceration and legalization,” one “that neither legalizes, nor demonizes, marijuana” but “that decrease marijuana use.”
Marijuana, by most unbiased measures, is less harmful than alcohol or opioids. When Sessions answers concerns about enforcing federal marijuana laws with claims of more drug-related automobile deaths than alcohol-related automobile deaths, he’s being disingenuous.
While that was the result of one study, marijuana is not the only drug included. Therefore, there were most likely fewer marijuana-related driving deaths than with alcohol. And according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015 the number of alcohol and all drug-related driving deaths was statistically identical, making the subset caused by marijuana even smaller. A spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said “There’s no question that alcohol remains our biggest highway safety problem.”
Also, the fact that marijuana was detected in the blood of automobile accident drivers doesn’t mean they were intoxicated at the time. Trace amounts remain in the blood for days, sometimes weeks and even months after the most recent marijuana use.
Whether or not marijuana is addictive, its use can become a problem, so substance abuse treatment is and should continue to be available, as is alcohol rehab and opioid drug rehab. There seems less and less reason to outlaw it entirely, at least without further widescale scientific study.