Rebuttal to “ Marijuana is the most dangerous drug of all time ”
Written by Hunter J. White
My name is Hunter White, I am the Communications Director for the national Republican Political organization Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP) and I write today to respectfully disagree with Mr. Katz’s characterization of marijuana as the most dangerous drug of all.
Mr. Katz article lays out a host of scary claims about marijuana. Mr. Katz argument seems to break down into three main points. First, Mr. Katz claims that marijuana is a gateway drug to harder drug use. Second, Mr. Katz claims that marijuana is unsafe, and poses a substantial risk to public health. Finally, Mr. Katz claims that organized crime will reap the befit of legal marijuana.
Marijuana as a gateway drug
Mr. Katz begins his argument by claiming that marijuana is a gateway drug. He sites his own personal experiences as a narcotic enforcement officer, and a 20-year study conducted by Professor Wayne Hall which Mr. Katz claims supports his contention.
To begin, anecdotal experiences are no replacement for actual scientific testing. If anecdotal experiences could, then marijuana would be legal as hundreds of thousands of cancers sufferers, epilepsy sufferers, MS, Parkinson’s, ALS, and those suffering from a host of other illness would be able to access marijuana.
Mr. Katz also claims that Professor Hall’s study backs up his claim. Unfortunately, it appears that Mr. Katz did not bother to read Mr. Hall’s study or is disingenuously choosing to ignore large portions of that study. Mr. Hall’s study did not claim that Marijuana is highly addictive, the precise language of the study was “If cannabis is not addictive then neither is heroin or alcohol.” A subtle distinction, but notable for its difference from Mr. Katz claim that the study reflects that marijuana is highly addictive. An honest marijuana advocate would never claim that marijuana is not additive. The issue is how additive it is. Studies from the national Institute of Health put the rate of marijuana addiction at 9% of users. For a frame of reference Heroin has an addiction rate of 23%. It is also important to note that almost in substance or behavior can become psychologically addictive. There is nothing intrinsically special about drug use. If a substance or activity effects the brains dopamine reward pathways, it can become addictive.
Other studies contradict Mr. Katz and Mr. Halls claims that marijuana is a gateway drug. Vice systematically lays out, with citations, a point by point dismantling of this argument. To put it simply, there are other factors besides marijuana use that have significantly greater impacts on the likelihood that one will go on to use other drugs besides marijuana. Socioeconomic class, preexisting mental health issues, family background, geographic location, and genetics play significantly bigger parts of addiction than marijuana use alone. Mr. Katz simply confuses correlation with causation, a common logical fallacy. Mr. Katz should also note that Mr. Halls study makes the same logical mistake by failing to account for other risk factors of addiction beyond marijuana use itself. Other studies by the National Institute of Drug abuse bolster the claim that marijuana is not a gateway drug. The vast majority of marijuana users never go on to harder drugs. This conclusion is supported by studies from the Benjamin Center of Public Policy Initiatives at SUNY New Paltz. in which the authors conclude the idea that marijuana use is a gateway to using harder drugs is a myth. A study conducted by The National Academy of Sciences and the RAND corporation found “marijuana has no causal influence over hard drug initiation.”. In fact, Mr. Katz overlooks studies that indicate that if any such gateway drug really existed alcohol seems to be it.
Truly the gateway drug idea itself is simply absurd. There is nothing intrinsic in marijuana that makes users more likely to use other drugs. The idea that some drug would make you more likely to use other drugs stretches credibility. Science does not support Mr. Katz position, or the gateway drug theory, and certainly science does not support the proposition that we should continue to lock up hundreds of thousands of Americans a year, and deny life saving medicine to millions of Americans each year because of this outdated and factually incorrect theory. Thus Mr. Katz claim that the marijuana is a gateway drug is factually false.
Further, it should be noted that Mr. Katz gateway drug theory could support an argument for legalization itself. As it currently stands marijuana is a black-market product. This means it is sold by drug dealers who often have access to other drugs as well. By moving marijuana to a safe regulated, and legal market, marijuana users would no longer have to go to drug dealers who would offer other harder drugs.
Marijuana is Unsafe
Mr. Katz next argument appears to be a litany of studies demonstrating that marijuana is unsafe for human use. Let us first begin with some simple observations. There has never been a recorded death due to marijuana alone. It is impossible to overdose on marijuana. Dronabinol is an FDA approved treatment for mitigating pain, vomiting, and appetite loss from chemotherapy drugs. To be FDA approved, it must show a clinically significant effect on those symptoms. Dronabinol is synthetic THC, the primary active ingredient in Marijuana. Apparently, the FDA believes that the active drug in marijuana is effective in treating the very symptoms Mr. Katz claims it is ineffective at treating.
Moreover, for every claim of marijuana’s ineffectiveness in treating symptoms or disorders Mr. Katz sites, there is a contradicting study to say marijuana is an effective treatment. Mr. Katz claims the American Epilepsy Society says that marijuana is ineffective and yet its most recent study published in 2017 states that CBD, the other primary active ingredient in marijuana is an effective treatment for treatment resistant forms of epilepsy. A glaring omission on his part.
Mr. Katz claims that marijuana is ineffective at treating pain. I suppose his alternative is to continue the use of prescription opioids which have fueled the opioid epidemic. Thankfully studies seem to undermine his position. Marijuana is effective at treating pain. I will say that again, and again, and again. Marijuana is an effective alternative to opioid pain treatments. What is more, chronic pain sufferers overwhelmingly prefer marijuana-based pain treatment to opioid based pain treatment citing marijuana as more effective, with less side effects, and less risk of addiction. Opioid use has fallen in states which have legalized medical marijuana, which further undermines Mr. Katz claim that marijuana is a gateway drug. Further, the Federal Government seems to believe that marijuana is an effective treatment for chronic pain, as it has already given out patents for its use for that very purpose.
Mr. Katz claims that American Glaucoma Society believes that marijuana has no scientific basis for treatment. This is factually incorrect, as numerous studies published by the American Glaucoma society indicate that marijuana effectively lowers interocular pressure, rather the American Glaucoma Society has raise concerns that the pressure reduction is short term, requiring follow up doses. This is a far different position than Mr. Katz claims they take. Further, Mr. Katz omits why the American Glaucoma Society expresses that the risk may out weigh the benefits, as the studies cite the current illegality of the substance as a major risk factor. What is more, the common theme from many of the American Glaucoma Society reports is that more scientific research is needed, rather than marijuana is ineffective. It is also important to note that the Federal government seems to believe that marijuana is a safe and effective treatment for glaucoma as the Compassionate Investigational New Drug program currently gives four glaucoma patients one ounce of marijuana a month to treat their glaucoma following a federal court ruling which found marijuana to be scientifically effective at treating the condition. Another glaring omission on Mr. Katz part.
Mr. Katz claims that Marijuana causes damage to the brain. This is simply not true. I repeat, marijuana use does not cause brain damage, or brain abnormalities. What is more, the Federal Government seems to take this position, as the Department of Health and Human Services holds a patent on marijuana as a neuroprotector, meaning the Federal Government believes it actually protects the brain rather than harming it. I am sure Mr. Katz just overlooked all the contrary evidence, rather than trying to deliberately mislead on this point.
Mr. Katz claims that marijuana is ineffective at treating symptoms of MS, and yet study, after study, after study, after study, after study seem to contradict Mr. Katz claim. What is also important to note is that all of these studies call for more research and note the current illegality of the product as a risk factor for use.
Mr. Katz claims that marijuana use poses a risk of triggering Schizophrenia, however what he fails to point out from the study he sites, or findings from other studies on this subject is that risk is only prominent in those who already have a genetic predisposition to Schizophrenia. Simply put, if one has this predisposition, they should avoid the drug. This not unlike any other risk factor or side effect of any other drug which exist. Mr. Katz fearmongering obscures the reality of the findings.
Mr. Katz cites foreign studies which indicate that immediate marijuana use is associated with impairment in ones’ ability to operate a motor vehicle and increases the risk of an accident. This should not be a surprise, if you are stoned, you should not drive, just like if you are drunk, you should not drive. Oddly enough, Mr. Katz fails to mention that studies from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration which indicate that while the detectable amounts of marijuana in those who have experienced accidents has risen slightly in states which have legalized recreational marijuana, the relative risk posed by marijuana impairment is low if any, and significantly lower than the risk posed by alcohol consumption. Further, studies in the states on vehicle accidents and marijuana use have been unable to determine a causal link between marijuana use and accidents, only an increase in the detachable amounts of marijuana in one’s system. This is significant to note as marijuana can remain in detectable amounts in one’s body for up to 90 days after use with no effect on cognitive functioning. Once again, Mr. Katz appears to be confusing correlation with causation, or he is just cherry-picking studies which support his Prohibitionist position.
Simply put, for every study Mr. Katz cited, there are a host of other studies contradicting those claims. Further, several of the studies he cites have glaring omissions such as qualifiers for risk factors, or account for outside risk factors contributing to results.
Legal Marijuana Will Increase Illegal Marijuana Revenue
Mr. Katz final claim, interestingly enough, seems to be that legal marijuana will lead to an increase in illegal marijuana revenue. This statement is questionable to say the least. Mr. Katz is of the opinion that marijuana users will continue to seek the black-market marijuana because it is tax free.
With marijuana reform sweeping this county, the conversation about the effective tax rate for marijuana is becoming increasingly important. States like California are already set to lower their tax rate on marijuana to snuff out black-market competition. Marijuana cannot be taxed too highly or else Mr. Katz fear would be justified. However, states like Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington have all adopted tax rates which have effectively snuffed out the intrastate marijuana black-market.
Mr. Katz claim stretches credulity. States like Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska have all shown that marijuana users are willing to pay a sizeable tax on marijuana if they can get access to a safe, clean, regulated product without the fear of violence inherent in the back-market.
Historical examples also seem to undermine Mr. Katz argument. Alcohol and Tabaco are highly taxed products, in some states even more highly taxed than marijuana. However, these states do not suffer a rampant black-market of bootleggers and illicit tobacco dealers. When people have a safe, legal option they are willing to pay more for the peace of mind of knowing their product is free of pesticides, molds, and other containments. People are willing to pay more to know the strength and potency of their product.
Mr. Katz claim is further undermined by the fact that studies have found that Mexican drug cartels are moving away from marijuana as a revenue source. However, cartels will continue to smuggle marijuana into states like Texas and Arizona for as long as legal marijuana remains inaccessible. Further, Mr. Katz claims also seems to overlook the fact that violent crime has gone down in states which have decriminalized, or legalized recreational marijuana.
Simply put, Mr. Katz concerns are, in some sense valid, but his conclusion and reasoning are not. Marijuana users would gladly pay a bit more for safe legal access, the cartels are pulling out of the marijuana market as cheaper, safer marijuana becomes available, and crime is dropping because if this safe, legal access.
I respectfully disagree with Mr. Katz’s characterization of the risk of marijuana. Worse yet, I believe that Mr. Katz is either grossly misinformed, willfully ignorant, or completely blind to the mountains of contradicting evidence that exist for each and every one of his positions. Mr. Katz has utterly failed to accurately reflect the real risk of marijuana and has done so without ever once acknowledging contrary facts and evidence to his position.
It is wholly irresponsible to allow one’s own personal bias to be a reason to deny medicine to millions of Americans who suffer needlessly. It is morally reprehensible to use one’s prejudices to justify incarcerating hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. It is completely shameful to allows one’s narrow view deny billions in economic growth to Americans in need of good, stable jobs. It is utterly contemptable to take to the public forum and seek to scare readers of the danger of something that they have little to no reason to fear.
Thus, for the reason cited above, I must respectfully dissent from Mr. Katz views along with the millions of Americans who know the truth. Marijuana is effective medicine. Marijuana is safe, and marijuana is not “the most dangerous drug of all times.”