February 10, 2013 in Analysis & Editorial
Despite the growing number of states decriminalizing marijuana ─ with 18 states permitting medical use and 2 recreational use ─ arrests for marijuana possession now exceed those for violent crimes according to a recently released FBI report. In 2011, there were 663,032 marijuana possession arrests versus 534,704 total violent crime arrests. Possessing marijuana would appear to be more of a concern for law enforcement than murder, rape and robbery combined.
Gun violence claims more than 30,000 lives a year. Marijuana use claims few if any. Given the current national upset over gun violence, it’s curious local, state and federal governments would willingly redirect resources that could save lives. Outlawing marijuana has actually increased gun violence by relegating it to the underground theatre of drug dealers and depriving law enforcement the funds necessary to address the issue. That includes shootings by both the police and dealers.
New York City has seen a steep increase in marijuana arrests since Mayor Michael Bloomberg has come into office. Possession of small amounts of the drug (N.Y. State Penal Law 221.10) are the number one arrest in the city. The Drug Policy Alliance estimates this pogrom has cost the city more than $75 million a year.
“These arrests are wildly expensive, do not improve public safety, and create permanent criminal records which seriously damage the life chances of the young people targeted and jailed,” said Dr. Harry Levine, a sociology professor at City University of New York and a national expert on marijuana arrests, in a recent report by the DPA.
The majority of those targeted are young persons of color. They are not the majority users, however.
“In addition, 86% of those arrests are young children of more color. I don’t believe that this represents the percentage of people who take the occasional ‘pull’. It does however better reflect the communities abused by the current stop and frisk policies. Had this been 86% of our young children of a lighter shade, there would be uproar,” Levine continues in his report.
White persons are much more likely to smoke marijuana. They are as Levine states, however, not among the majority of arrestees.
Opponents of marijuana have proposed the drug acts as a “gateway” to other drug use. They have also cited health detriments such as decline in cognition and memory, cancer, diabetes, insanity and death. These claims appear be based on anecdotal evidence. The scientific and medical communities provide concrete data to the contrary.
Marijuana is not a gateway drug.
“There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs,” according to a report by the Institute of Medicine in 1999.
Marijuana does not necessarily lead to broad-based and lasting decline in memory or cognition.
“We conclude that cognitive decline occurs across all age groups, with a significant proportion of persons of all ages showing declines near clinically significant levels after 12 years. Such decline is not associated with cannabis use in either men or women,” said a 1999 article by Constantine G. Lyketsos, Elizabeth Garrett, Kung-Yee Liang and James C. Anthony published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, Vol. 149, No. 9.
Marijuana does not cause cancer.
“Nonetheless, and contrary to our expectations, we found no positive associations between marijuana use and lung or UAT cancers … Despite several lines of evidence suggesting the biological plausibility of marijuana use being carcinogenic (1), it is possible that marijuana use does not increase cancer risk, as suggested in the recent commentary by Melamede,” said Mia Hashibe, Hal Morgenstern, Yan Cui, Donald P. Tashkin, Zuo-Feng Zhang, Wendy Cozen, Thomas M. Mack and Sander Greenland in “Marijuana Use and the Risk of Lung and Upper Aerodigestive Tract Cancers: Results of a Population-Based Case-Control Study” published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, Oct. 2006, p. 1833.
Marijuana does not cause diabetes. Evidence suggests it protects against the condition.
“Our analyses of adults aged 20-59 years in the NHANES [National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey] III database showed that participants who used marijuana had lower prevalence of DM [Diabetes Mellitus] and had lower odds of DM relative to non-marijuana users,” said a study by Norris Shaheen, et al. entitled “Decreased Prevalence of Diabetes in Marijuana Users: Cross-Sectional Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III” .
Marijuana does not cause insanity.
“… the expected rise in diagnoses of schizophrenia and psychoses did not occur over a 10 year period. This study does not therefore support the specific causal link between cannabis use and the incidence of psychotic disorders based on the 3 assumptions described in the Introduction. This concurs with other reports indicating that increases in population cannabis use have not been followed by increases in psychotic incidence ,” said a study entitled “Assessing the Impact of Cannabis Use on Trends in Diagnosed Schizophrenia in the United Kingdom from 1996 to 2005” appearing in Schizophrenia Research (Nashville, Tennessee: Schizophrenia International Research Society, September 2009) Vol. 113, Issue 2, p. 126.
Marijuana will not kill you.
“Tetrahydrocannabinol is a very safe drug. Laboratory animals (rats, mice, dogs, monkeys) can tolerate doses of up to 1000 mg/kg (milligrams per kilogram). This would be equivalent to a 70 kg person swallowing 70 grams of the drug —about 5,000 times more than is required to produce a high. Despite the widespread illicit use of cannabis there are very few if any instances of people dying from an overdose,” says Leslie L. Iversen in “The Science of Marijuana” published in 2000.
Despite the facts regarding marijuana, a fully fledged war against non-violent imbibers continues. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for a cease-fire. He proposed decriminalizing possession of 15 grams or less, even in public, last week in his State of the State address Jan. 9. The governor cited the negative impacts and disparities in mass marijuana arrests: criminalization of non-violent citizens, stigmatization, wasted resources, and racial disparities in enforcement.
“It’s not fair, it’s not right. It must end, and it must end now,” Cuomo demanded.
If indeed marijuana is not the devil-made substance the DEA contends, one might expect the trend of enlightenment and decriminalization to continue.