Friday, May 2, 2014

Debunking Heritage Foundation's Debunking of Marijuana Myths

Even with the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, pot is still a contentious issue with both sides adamant about their positions. When the debate is this heated, there tends to be too much misinformation out there on the topic, which is how I felt when I read an article from the Right-leaning Heritage Foundation entitled Marijuana is Harmful: Debunking Seven Myths Arguing It's Fine. What I would like to do is go through their list of myths and see if they are indeed mythical or factual in nature.
  1. "Marijuana is harmless and non-addictive." Framing the effects in such absolutist terms is a straw man argument that advocates of marijuana reform don't even use. If you're smoking something, there's a good chance that it's going to come with some risks (see this interactive chart from The Heritage Foundation uses emergency room visits as a metric for just how unhealthy marijuana usage is. While 455,668 emergency room visits due to marijuana sounds like a lot, put that into context of the 129.8 million emergency room visits per annum, which would make marijuana-related emergency room visits a 0.35 percent of overall emergency room visits.  I'd be curious to see a breakdown of the diagnoses of these emergency room visits. Is this merely a reflection of individuals who abuse the emergency room? Is it that because the marijuana-based visits are due to individuals incapable handling the experience of tripping out? Inquiring minds would like to know. What I find distracting about bringing this myth up is that is we allow for other substances that can be harmful and addictive, such as alcohol (See Point #4 for further elaboration). 
  2. "Smoked or eaten marijuana is medicine." I'm going to try to sidestep the debate on medical marijuana as much as possible here. First, it would be nice if marijuana were no longer classified as a Schedule 1 drug so more conclusive studies can be performed. Second, if marijuana is as effective as the Sativex spray that the individuals mention in their analysis, does it really matter which treatment a patient chooses as long as it doesn't harm anybody else? Third, even if one is able to extract the necessary, medicinal components of marijuana that avoid one from getting high, it is a red herring argument because marijuana is also used for recreational purposes. 
  3. "Countless people are behind bars simply for smoking marijuana." Heritage Foundation brings up that 0.3 percent of state prison inmates are behind bars for smoking marijuana. Let's assume that the incarceration rate for mere pot possession is low. The number of arrests for marijuana possession is still the most common form of drug-related arrests. It still costs our justice system time and money to process these arrests, which is made all the more frustrating by low conviction and incarceration rates. Given the financial constraints that state and local budgets have experienced since the Great Recession, wouldn't it be better to focus on crimes that have actual victims?
  4. "The legality of alcohol and tobacco strengthen the case for legal marijuana." The people of Heritage Foundation's argument is "alcohol and tobacco take so many lives. Why legalize another harmful drug to the list?" Because this is a country based on the idea of freedom. Even if it comes with risks, we should have the right to consume alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana. Look at the risks of marijuana compared to alcohol. For example, one can die from alcohol overdose, but the amount of THC one would have to ingest to overdose on marijuana makes it nigh impossible to die from overdose. It would explain why the CDC does not have a category for death caused by marijuana usage. Also, a study from British Columbia Mental Health and Addictions Journal shows that health-related costs for alcohol are eight times higher than that of marijuana (Davis and Thomas, 2009). Alcohol causes more damage to the brain than marijuana (Jacobus et al., 2009). Furthermore, legalizing marijuana is shown not to increase crime rates (Morris et al., 2014). Alcohol causes way more harm to others than marijuana (Nutt et al., 2010), yet we allow for alcohol's legalization. If we see a substitution effect between alcohol and marijuana with marijuana's legalization, it would mean a decreased likelihood of harm to others. In a free society, we make certain choices and live with the consequences, whether good or bad, of those actions. We legalize alcohol and tobacco not only because we know that Prohibition doesn't work, but also because in spite of the risks of these drugs, it is preferable that we allow individuals to free to make their own choices. If we allow individuals to consume more harmful substances like alcohol or tobacco, a fortiori, we should legalize marijuana. 
  5. "Legal marijuana will solve the government's budgetary problems." No one reputable would argue that marijuana is the silver bullet of budgetary problems. I sure wouldn't. On the federal level, the leading drivers are Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. If you look at what the Congressional Budget Office publishes regarding budget reform, it's not that simplistic. Although marijuana is not meant to solve fiscal woes, it still creates a net positive for the budget. 500 economists signed off on the positive budgetary implications of legalizing marijuana. From an economic standpoint, legalizing marijuana is a no-brainer.
  6. "Portugal and Holland provide successful models of legalization." I am not going to disagree with Heritage Foundation on this one. Portugal and Holland have only decriminalized marijuana, and Holland has become more strict about its drug laws in the past few years. We have no modern-day examples of whether marijuana legalization, which is why it will be nice to see how Colorado, Washington, and Uruguay handle marijuana legalization. 
  7. "Prevention, intervention and treatment are doomed to fail, so why try?" This does not refute the argument for legalizing marijuana. Prevention, intervention, and treatment are not mutually exclusive options when it comes to marijuana legalization. The difference between legalization and prohibition is that in the former scenario, you don't pile on the additional issues that come along with prohibition.  
  8. "Colorado and Washington are examples to follow." Heritage Foundation added this so-called myth at the end as an addendum. Calling this a myth is premature. After all, marijuana has been legalized in these states for a few short months. That is hardly enough time to determine anything of substance. Rather than take a pot shot at marijuana legalization, what should be done is that we wait and see what the effects of marijuana are before making conclusions.


  1. maggie.danhakl@healthline.comSeptember 4, 2014 at 6:42 AM


    I hope all is well with you. Healthline just published an infographic detailing how marijuana affects the body. This is an interactive chart allowing the reader to pick the side effect they want to learn more about.

    You can see the overview of the report here:

    Our users have found our guide very useful and I thought it would be a great resource for your page:

    I would appreciate it if you could review our request and consider adding this visual representation of the effects of marijuana to your site or sharing it on your social media feeds.

    Please let me know if you have any questions.

    All the best,
    Maggie Danhakl • Assistant Marketing Manager

    Healthline • The Power of Intelligent Health
    660 Third Street, San Francisco, CA 94107 | @Healthline | @HealthlineCorp

    About Us:

    1. Dear Ms. Danhakl,

      Thank you for providing this interesting interactive chart. I just provided it as a hyperlink on the blog itself so my readers can view the information you provided.

      All the best!