Although United Patients Group’s main focus is to provide patients, caregivers, medical personnel, and the public reliable information about medical cannabis and its use to treat serious medical conditions, we also acknowledge the role of marijuana as a safer recreational drug than others, especially alcohol.
Alcohol Is 114 Times More Dangerous than Marijuana
Research conducted earlier this year quantifying the risk of death associated with the use of commonly used mood-altering products concluded that alcohol is the deadliest substance, followed by heroin and cocaine. The report describes alcohol as 114 times more dangerous than marijuana.
Reporting on this study, the Washington Post published the following chart as a visual aid so that readers could easily gain appreciation of the magnitude of the problem:
The States alone, alcohol use claims 88,000 lives annually and shortened the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years. By analyzing data from 2006 to 2010, the CDC concluded that excessive drinking was responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among adults aged 20 to 64 years, and that the economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2006 alone was $223.5 billion, or $1.90 a drink.
People Prefer Cannabis Over Alcohol
In December 2015, we published an article on our blog examining the use of cannabis as an exit drug. The piece referenced a survey that showed that two-fifths of cannabis users chose cannabis over alcohol to avoid side effects or withdrawals, and more than two-thirds use it instead of prescription drugs.
Consequences of Prohibition
While recreational use of marijuana causes far less harm than other substances, there is another way in which marijuana causes serious harm: prohibition. Between law enforcement, prison sentences, legal costs, trafficking from Mexico, and gang activities, the cannabis black market has significant human and monetary costs.
A 2013 study by the ACLU, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” determined that more than half of drug arrests (8 million) are for marijuana, and 88 percent of those are for simple possession. African Americans are disproportionately targeted for arrest and are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than Caucasians, despite similar rates of use.
This prohibition costs states $3.6 billion per year, and it has not reduced marijuana use. Since harsher marijuana enforcement began in the 1990s, use has stayed about the same or risen slightly.
All eyes are currently on Colorado as a test for what happens when we stop cannabis prohibition. The result? So far, so good. In the first ten months of legal cannabis retail sales, Colorado allocated more than $8 million of the retail cannabis tax revenues it collected to fund youth education and drug prevention programs. The murder rate in Denver dipped from 21 to 13 in six months from 2013 to 2014, a reduction of 42 percent. The crime rate in Denver is reportedly down 15 percent, with violent crime down 2.4 percent.
The legalization in Colorado and Washington has put a notable dent in the profits and murder rate of drug cartels, especially those in Mexico, which fuel much of the American black market for marijuana. Mexican police reported a homicide drop from the 2011 high of 23,000 down to 15,649, due at least in part to Colorado’s marijuana legalization. Cartels make an estimated 30 to 40 percent of their profits from marijuana so, as Sean Dunagan, a former DEA senior intelligence resource specialist, explained to VICE News:
“Anything to establish a regulated legal market will necessarily cut into those profits. And it won’t be a viable business for the Mexican cartels — the same way bootleggers disappeared after prohibition fell.”
In terms of recreational drugs, marijuana is a far less risky choice than alcohol. A recent study published by the National Institute of Health indicated that cannabis may be an effective treatment in curing people of addiction from hard drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines and may be an effective way for people who choose to use drugs recreationally to move away from the more dangerous effects of alcohol.
While recreational marijuana use causes little harm, marijuana prohibition causes thousands of deaths, ruins millions of lives, and costs billions of dollars. We need to move away from ineffective policies based on fears and accept the truth: marijuana prohibition has caused far more harm than marijuana use ever could, and we believe it is high time we end it.