By: Lamar Greene
The proponents of recreational marijuana have consistently said that regulations should somewhat resemble alcohol, with a minimum age, strict motor vehicle limitations, etc. Concerns with respect to alcohol do translate to recreational marijuana, such as consumption by younger populations. If cannabis is to be regulated like alcohol, then what is the cannabis level that is appropriate for driving? We also need to consider that marijuana is stronger than it was 25 years ago and this has implications for new initiates to cannabis use. Another aspect of this is work concerns occupational health. Does the NFL, for example, tell players in Seattle or Oakland that they cannot use marijuana despite them residing in states that have legalized the drug? There are many issues between the federal government and states, and between states and private business, that need to be deliberated and discussed so people are not negatively affected as state policies continue to unfold.
When looking at the differences between alcohol and marijuana, we know that alcohol is more harmful in terms of social and medical costs and physical harms to the body. When thinking about driving regulations for cannabis, we should frame our laws around the findings from evidence-based research. Continuing to have social problems with alcohol should not preclude use from making recreational marijuana safe with minimal social harm.
I think the science is clear on the harms associated with cannabis use. Outside the potential negative effects of cannabis on youth, there are relatively few harms related to adult cannabis use. The social harms from cannabis are relatively small, but the harms caused by the criminal justice system via the criminalization of cannabis is pervasive.
Some proponents for the legalization of recreational marijuana argue that state governments who have struggling budgets should legalize the drug for economic purposes. What is your perspective on this?
We should never support legalization merely for an economic opportunity. The central argument is that the scientific evidence shows that marijuana is not harmful to civil society, especially in comparison to alcohol and tobacco. The first concern should be that legalizing recreational marijuana won’t cause additional harm to civil society, then we should consider economic and tax benefits.
The gateway argument is an unscientific argument. The logic of the gateway argument is that drugs like marijuana eventually lead to the abuse of other, more dangerous drugs like cocaine and heroin. The central problem with the gateway argument is that its logic is backwards. The gateway argument often functions by asking people already using hard drugs like cocaine and heroin users what drugs they started with. Most, if not all, people who use heroin, for example, will reporting initiating their drug use with alcohol and marijuana. Thus, if you ask the question this way, you would say that cannabis leads to heroin since everyone who uses heroin started out with marijuana; ergo, pot is a gateway to heroin. But to really demonstrate that one drug is a gateway to another, you need to start at the beginning of the line and assess people who have used cannabis as adolescence to examine the number that went on to use heroin.
Note: The responses in this article are paraphrased responses of answers that Dr. Zibbell gave in the interview.