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Policy

Steve Almond: For years, the government has been exaggerating the risks associated with pot, and downplaying the (by-now-pretty-darn-obvious) risks of alcohol. (Alexodus/flickr)

Let’s start here: I smoke pot.

In fact, I’ve smoked pot for many years. I celebrated the night of my bar mitzvah by smoking pot. I smoked pot on my wedding day. And while I am not smoking pot right now that’s only because it’s 10 in the morning and I try to limit my pot intake to the evening hours.

I’ve never been a serious pothead. Even in my single-dude days, I could never manage more than a few times a week. And now, as a parent of what I must reluctantly term “a brood of children,” I probably smoke up once a week at most.

If you down 20 drinks, you will probably die. And if you take 2000 hits of pot you will not die, though it is likely you will have trouble remembering where your car is, or what a car is.

I hope none of this scans as controversial. I’m not trying to be controversial. Because at this point, I don’t think of pot as that controversial drug. The days of Reefer-Madness-style paranoia are pretty much put to bed. Most Americans either smoke pot or have in the past or have friends who do. Public opinion continues to tilt toward some form of regulated legalization. Marijuana is pretty much the gay marriage of drugs.

Am I suggesting that pot is no big deal? Not exactly. It is a drug. I get that. I don’t want my kids smoking it until they’re old enough to make responsible decisions. But in a country as doped up as ours, where anti-depressants and mood stabilizers are widely prescribed, I have trouble figuring out why a natural weed that mellows most folks out is that big a flipping deal.

It strikes me as a lot smaller deal than, for instance, smoking cigarettes, or binge eating bacon, or… drinking alcohol. Which brings me to the point of this particular rant.

Some weeks ago, a group called the Marijuana Policy Project aired an ad [below] at a NASCAR race that made the simple and irrefutable point that pot is less toxic than alcohol.

They based this conclusion on a study in the American Scientist which concluded, among other things, that marijuana is 100 times less toxic than alcohol. Meaning that if you down 20 drinks, you will probably die. And if you take 2000 hits of pot you will not die, though it is likely you will have trouble remembering where your car is, or what a car is.

The study did not go into detail about other possible definitions of toxicity, but since we’re on the topic: Based on figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 41,682 alcohol-related deaths were reported in 2010. Alcohol also causes more than a million trips to the emergency room each year, and plays some role in thousands of deadly auto accidents.

While I occasionally like to have a drink, I don’t think I’m being unreasonable in stating that most of the belligerence and poor behavior I’ve encountered in social settings is due to people being drunk. Getting high generally doesn’t make people want to fight. It makes them want to eat.

For whatever reason, the folks at PolitiFact decided to assess the ad’s claims. (Maybe there are closet potheads.) Anyway, they concluded that it was “mostly true.”

[The government has] criminalized a relatively innocuous natural weed and allowed a fermented beverage that pickles people’s internal organs and common sense to become a vast and profitable industry…

But in the course of doing so, they collected a quote from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the National Institutes of Health. “Claiming that marijuana is less toxic than alcohol cannot be substantiated since each possess their own unique set of risks and consequences for a given individual,” the institute wrote.

Does anyone else smell fudge?

I mean, come on.

The fact is that for years the government has been exaggerating the risks associated with pot, and downplaying the (by-now-pretty-darn-obvious) risks of alcohol. They have criminalized a relatively innocuous natural weed and allowed a fermented beverage that pickles people’s internal organs and common sense to become a vast and profitable industry, one whose ill effects are felt most acutely among our poorest citizens.

We can all agree that the abuse of any substance, legal or illegal, is a cause for concern. But it’s about time the various branches of the U.S. government took a big hit of common sense and caught up to public opinion.

We can all agree that the abuse of any substance, legal or illegal, is a cause for concern. But it’s about time the various branches of the U.S. government took a big hit of common sense and caught up to public opinion. That includes Barack “Hell Yes, I Inhaled” Obama, whose spokesman just announced that the administration has no plans to change the legal classification of marijuana, despite mounting evidence of its medicinal value.

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Tags: Crime, Law

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