Open letter to Representative Doyle Heffley:
Dear Representative Heffley:
Today you issued a press release (pasted below) which I saw on Capitolwire. In it you mentioned both my name and my bill to legalize marijuana. I welcome the discussion. I do however feel that some of the factual assertions and implications in your press release are misleading. So I thought it would be enlightening for people to have the other side of the story available to them. Thus, I am taking the liberty of penning this reply.
First, you begin your press release by pointing out that 1,800 Pennsylvanians died “as a direct consequence of drug use” and that 18 residents of your county died of “drug overdoses” in a recent year. You then, two paragraphs later, assert that marijuana is “the second most abused drug in Pennsylvania.” Unfortunately, the structure of your missive conflates two totally unrelated things. It implies that a) people die of drug abuse and b) marijuana is a highly abused drug, therefore implying that people are dying of marijuana overdoses.
This is untrue. It is important to point out that the number of people who die each year “as a direct consequence” of marijuana use is exactly zero. It is physically impossible to overdose on marijuana as one might on alcohol, heroin or cocaine. So people should understand that out of the 1,800 Pennsylvanians who die from overdosing on drugs each year, marijuana is responsible for 0% of those deaths.
Further, not to pick too many nits, but I feel you were a bit sloppy in your terminology in this opening section of your press release. You say that marijuana is “the second most abused drug” in Pennsylvania. You cite no source for that information, but more to the point, that is only even theoretically true if you consider all marijuana use to be abuse. And the only way you can do that is to equate illegality with abuse. Because in terms of actual use, most people who use marijuana do not “abuse” it.
A middle-aged business executive who comes home from work and has a hit of a marijuana cigarette no more “abuses” pot than the same man who comes home and has a glass of wine “abuses” alcohol. Most marijuana users use it responsibly and do not “abuse” it. And further, since marijuana is not physically addictive and you cannot overdose on it, it becomes much more difficult to “abuse” it at all.
Then, in the heart of your argument, you say my legalization bill is bad because marijuana is a “gateway drug” and you cite a Yale Study in support of your position. Before getting into what the study actually says, I would just note that I find the whole concept of marijuana being a “gateway drug” sort of amorphous. Different people define that differently. I’m not sure what you mean.
You could be saying that there is some physical property of marijuana that causes people to try other drugs. You could be saying that a willingness to try one intoxicant somehow predicts a willingness to try others, but more-so in the case of marijuana. However, as I shall soon demonstrate, neither of these things is true.
The only theoretical way marijuana could be a gateway drug is the requirement that one buy it illegally, from a criminal. When one goes into a State Store and buys a bottle of Citron, the clerk behind the counter is unlikely to say that he has Cocaine available as well. But when one buys pot behind a bowling ally, that is much more likely to happen, which makes the gateway effect a consequence of prohibition, not of marijuana itself.
You say in your press release that of people in the study who abused prescription drugs, “more than 34 percent had used marijuana”. You clearly are hoping that people draw the conclusion that there is a causal effect between the use of pot and the eventual migration to prescription drug abuse.
Yet, that is misleading. For reasons that one can only assume relate to how inconvenient they are for your argument, you leave out certain key facts. Specifically, you leave out the rest of the sentence you cite, In its entirety, the sentence says: “For this population [prescription drug abusers], prevalence of previous substance use was 57% for alcohol, 56% for cigarettes, and 34% for marijuana”.
This paints a very different picture, does it not? The facts are that those who abuse prescription drugs are ALMOST TWICE AS LIKELY to have previously used either booze or tobacco than marijuana. Yet, you are fine with people buying, selling, using, tobacco and alcohol. Yet someone who uses marijuana should be considered a criminal and face prosecution?
When you include all of the facts, you are either making the case FOR not AGAINST marijuana legalization, or you are making the case for banning alcohol and tobacco. The fact is that anything bad you can say about marijuana’s health effects, or “gateway” effects, or intoxication effects, you can say far worse about alcohol and tobacco.
You then cite an additional fact that does not support your conclusion that prohibition is a good policy. You say that according to PA Youth Survey Report 5% of kids who have tried marijuana “at least once in their lifetimes” have “admitted abusing painkillers“. Wow. First, according to your own press release, 95% of those who tried marijuana did not go on to abuse prescription painkillers. So if marijuana is a “gateway drug“, its a really ineffective one.
Further, those number, standing alone, are utterly meaningless. How many of those kids also drank, or smoked cigarettes? In fact, neither this study, nor the Yale study you cite makes any claims about causation between marijuana use and the use of other drugs, thus lending no support to prohibition on this basis. If you want to see actual studies, here are a few of the leading studies that have show NO LINK between marijuana use and hard drugs:
Of course all of this talk about marijuana’s effect on young people ignores the fact that my bill only allows marijuana use, possession and purchase for people over 21 years of age.
I hope there is one thing we can agree on. I hope we can agree that these important public policy decisions should be made based on sound, actual science, and not old wives’ tales or irrational fears. I hope both of us feel that we should look at the data and make decisions based on an objective review of where that data takes us.
My own view is that any honest look at the science will show that far more harm is caused by prohibition than by marijuana use, and that far more damage is done by treating people as criminals, giving them criminal records, forcing people to buy marijuana underground, forcing the creation of an often violent black-market, then is caused by the actual use of a plant which is non-addictive, and is far less harmful than tobacco and alcohol, which are perfectly legal. I hope you look at the science closely, and if it shows what it does show, you will join me in supporting an end to this cruel, heartless, and pernicious prohibition that is destroying so many lives.