For most of our lives, we’ve been fed falsehoods to reinforce our waning support for marijuana prohibition in the United States and around the world.
Marijuana remains a controversy in America. Despite its widespread availability in state medical and recreational programs, it remains illegal at a federal level and in three states. Among them stands Idaho on the last frontier of cannabis prohibition. They did recently legalized hemp and CBD products, but only if they’re THC-free.
In the face of grassroots efforts to legalize marijuana for medical use in the state, the legislature has responded by pushing forward a constitutional ban on the substance. Passing the amendment will require two-thirds of the state senate’s support, but if it goes through, it could be a stunning blow to cannabis activists in the state.
It would restrict any referendum efforts, and legislation in support would require a repeal of the amendment, once again forcing supporters to rally two-thirds of the state’s lawmakers.
Pushing the amendment forward is an advocacy group that claims to consist of former police officers in states that have legalized, namely California, Colorado, and the state of Washington. They claim that their states have gone downhill since legalization, which they claim has led to an increase in crime and healthcare costs.
“We are from your future,” they warn in cryptic words that would seem to suggest that a world of crime and ruin is coming our way via the cannabis storm that is sweeping the nation. The reality is, many lies have been told about marijuana in order to keep it illegal.
Let’s talk about four of them that at least some of us may have grown up with:
1. It’s a Gateway Drug
When all other points fail, most prohibitionists will resort to the slippery slope in describing marijuana as the so-called gateway drug. If we legalize weed, some would have you believe that everyone will also start using heroin. But what does the research actually say, and what have been the results of legalization so far?
Based perhaps on a study in the early 90s, many have come to conclude that users of most hard drugs used marijuana first, failing, of course, to account for variables and standard controls and relying on correlation/causation.
Research has shown that the vast majority of those who use marijuana do not go on to use harder drugs. Furthermore, despite the narrative that we’ve been sold, more recent research has shown that the real gateway drug is actually alcohol.
2. Marijuana Legalization Leads to More Crime
According to our retired police officers in question, legalizing marijuana led to a rise in crime in their states.
They predict that it will do the same in Idaho if legalization creeps into their borders. But is this true? Does legalizing marijuana increase crime?
Technically, it is true that black market activity surrounding marijuana continued in states that overtaxed and regulated the drug, pricing it back onto the streets. Technically, it is also true that some studies have seemed to show an increase in crime.
However, some of these studies seem to rely on unreliable data. For example, one relies heavily on one-on-one interviews with police officers in the state. Further, these studies also often rely on data indicating an increase in arrests for other drugs and unrelated crimes.
Meanwhile, arrests related to marijuana are down drastically, according to the Reason Foundation. Contrary to the fears of some, legal marijuana has also not contributed to an increase in traffic-related crimes, and those are actually down as well. Incidentally, so are property crimes.
Further studies have shown even further drops in violent crimes and even a decrease in the occurrence of rapes. While marijuana use has risen in states where it is legal, alcohol abuse is down, as is the use of various dangerous opioids.
Even more neutral empirical studies seem to suggest that marijuana and its legalization have not contributed to any measurable rise or decrease in crime.
3. Marijuana Kills Brain cells
There are many myths about marijuana that we have learned since our formative years. Since we were in school, we have constantly been told that marijuana kills brain cells. Why wouldn’t it? It’s a drug, after all.
Some have based this assumption on early animal studies, which have since been refuted by more empirical evidence. Human studies in Costa Rica and Jamaica on heavy users have detected no damage or abnormalities in the brain.
In 2015, The Journal of Neuroscience published a study that followed the use of marijuana and its effects on the brains of both adults and adolescents. Accounting for many variables like alcohol use, they determined that marijuana had no negative structural effects.
Not only does marijuana not kill brain cells, but it may also actually improve and protect them.
Examining the brains of regular marijuana users, science seems to suggest that marijuana may actually improve the structure of the brain and strengthen its cells and receptors. Not only that, but research suggests that marijuana use may protect the brain from deterioration and even play a role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s.
The research remains inconclusive, however, and probably will be until the federal government steps out of the way.
4. Marijuana Makes People Lazy and Dumb
The stereotype of the stupid and lazy pothead is nothing new or original. It is true that using marijuana may contribute to short-term memory loss. It also slows reaction times and makes it harder to focus.
However, these effects are primarily observed in first-time or infrequent users. They also seem to occur only in the short-term after the substance is used. In other words, you seem to forget things when you’re high and when you’re still coming down—big surprise.
Does this mean marijuana damages your mind and makes you grow dumber and dumber?
Many will cite studies that suggest the IQ of marijuana users can drop as much as eight points. Such studies have also tried to correlate marijuana use to poorer academic and economic performance.
It is true that there is some limited evidence to suggest that marijuana may cause harm mentally and academically in children who start under the age of 15 because of how it affects their developing brains.
Critics say this is a matter of correlation and causation once again. The studies fail to account for varying factors like genetics, socioeconomic status, and various environmental influences. More recent twin studies seem to suggest they are right.
The stereotype that portrays the pothead as a couch potato also may soon come to an end. A study by the University of Colorado now suggests that marijuana may provide motivation for physical exercise.
As DocMJ points out, strain (the type of cannabis) seems to matter as well. In addition to a treatment for pain, Indica-dominant strains produce a relaxing, sedative effect that may contribute to sleepiness. Sativa-dominant strains, however, produce the opposite effect. Acting as an upper, Sativa-dominant strains typically give users a boost in energy, motivation, and maybe even creativity and focus.
It’s time to have an adult conversation about marijuana.
Government officials, educators, and law enforcement officers need to stop perpetuating lies about marijuana without proper evidence. Currently, the laws don’t allow for enough research, but what little we have seems to portray a different reality than the one they’re trying to paint.
Most of the evidence about marijuana is still new and flawed, and the research isn’t conclusive.
Sadly, the plant remains banned at a federal level. Classified as a Schedule one narcotic with “no currently accepted medical use,” it keeps it almost impossible for labs to do research. It also remains difficult to obtain for the purpose of research—ironically, research labs have an easier time getting a hold of cocaine.
The MORE Act was just one piece of legislation that would have made cannabis legal and allowed for more research. Sadly, it died in the senate. While we don’t have the whole picture yet, we do know that we haven’t been given the whole truth about marijuana.
What are your thoughts on marijuana legalization?