Blue Byline

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Some facts to consider in the marijuana legalization discussion

Post by Brian O'Neill on Jan. 17, 2012 at 1:24 pm with 29 Comments »
January 17, 2012 1:29 pm

Marijuana being weighed/ AP file photo

Several times over the last few months I have written columns on the controversial topic of marijuana. There’s been a lot to discuss. Legalization. Medical marijuana permits. Enforcement. I-502.

I based much of the writing on both my experiences as a police officer enforcing drug statutes as well as a few recent Trib articles. These stories ranged from status updates on marijuana legislation, a review of both Tacoma and Seattle’s stance on marijuana enforcement, and the results of an investigative piece wherein a reporter successfully applied for a medical marijuana permit.

The comments I received, which were about evenly split between those advocating for legalized marijuana and those opposed, suggested that many people had read up on the topic of cannabis. Advocates extolled marijuana’s medicinal benefit, while those opposed berated the loose enforcement of medical marijuana permits. Some expressed their concern that drug-related DUI crashes and resultant traffic fatalities would increase with legalization. Others were adamant that many of the health risks attributed to marijuana were simply wrong and that continued enforcement of marijuana laws amounted to little more than modern day prohibition.

I also discussed the federal government’s staunch position against legalized marijuana, which has placed the feds at odds with our state’s legislative process (at least as it applies to medical marijuana. Government critics have been quick to point out that politics, rather than public health, are behind the federal government’s stance.

I’m not so sure. There are countless opinions on the positive and negative effects of marijuana, especially from advocates who spread their opinion like jelly on toast. In op-ed pieces, TV news interviews, and even comments in this column, their support for legalized marijuana is loud and strong. But the one voice which has remained comparatively silent is, ironically, the federal government itself.

In fact, the feds do have an opinion on the negative effects of marijuana, and the information is alarming. I will leave it for you to decide if the federal government is a credible source, after all this is the government that led us into Iraq to find WMD’s. Here are just some of the federal government’s health facts:

  • Harvard University researchers reported the risk of heart attack increases five-fold in the hour after smoking marijuana
  • The National Institute of Health found that a person who who smokes five joints per week takes in the cancer-causing chemicals equivalent to a pack-a-day smoker
  • Smoking marijuana weakens the immune system and raises the risk of lung infections
  • Critical skills related to attention, memory and learning are significantly impaired for regular users even 24 hours after smoking marijuana
  • Marijuana has been linked with depression, suicidal thoughts and schizophrenia

Here are some statistics on marijuana use by young people:

  • 51% of youths (aged 12-17) who used marijuana received mostly C’s, D’s and F’s for grades (compared to 23% overall)
  • There has been a 7% increase in youth using marijuana since 2007
  • Youth who initiate marijuana use by age 13 generally do not attend college
  • Marijuana use by youth in states with medical marijuana laws are higher than those without (8.6% to 6.9%)
  • Youth addicted to marijuana accounted for 62% of youth admissions to state treatment programs

And some driving facts:

  • Marijuana related DUI arrests increased by 28% in the last two years
  • Drivers who test positive for marijuana are more than twice as likely as other drivers to be involved in collisions

In all, these alarming statistics on marijuana should at least give us reason to pause. It seems apparent that the debate on marijuana will continue, but it should be a discussion based on all of the facts.

Just thought you should know.



Leave a comment Comments → 29
  1. notSpicoli says:

    There are credible responses to the facts provided by the government. But rather than address them individually as I have done in the past, I will point out that here is a major problem with the information that comes from our government concerning marijuana.

    First is that the Drug czar and his minions are prohibited by law from recognizing cannabis medicinally or to entertain legalization–even if both were the most sensible policies.

    Title VII Office of National Drug Control Policy Reauthorization Act of 1998 directs the czar to “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance” in schedule 1, which includes cannabis.

    Further, the czar is forbidden from using federal funds “for any study or contract relating to the legalization (for a medical use or any other use)” of marijuana.

    In short, he is not allowed to promote the best public policy, only the policy dictated in the law that created his position.

    Along those lines, the government’s decimation of information about marijuana has historically, and unarguably, been propaganda.

    “In all, these alarming statistics on marijuana should at least give us reason to pause.”

    And during that pause, one might want to consider, “Lies, Damned Lies, and Drug War Statistics: A Critical Analysis of Claims Made by the Office of National Drug Control Policy,” in deciding if the government (now) is a “credible source.”

    In their book, professors Robinson and Scherlen conclude that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), lies, twists facts, is dishonest by telling half-truths, picks facts that support its conclusions while withholding those that don’t or make the DEA etal look bad. They conclude that the Drug Czar’s office is championing an official policy of deception using clever and sometimes clumsy attempts at statistical manipulation. Robinson and Scherlen expose the “insidious lies, unaccountable policies and failed objectives — all supported by federal tax dollars.”

    And all consistent with the mission.

    The arguments against legalization are often founded on the fact that the current policy is not working and the contention that legalization would make it worse. Many of us are unsatisfied with the status quo and maintain that regulation is safer than prohibition.

    We will be voting on legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana in November. I encourage those wishing more information about I-502 to check out the FAQ’s at the New Approach Washington’s website.

  2. Brian O'Neill says:

    Point taken, but the government’s “opinion” on marijuana is not necessarily reflected in the facts discussed in the column. That information included statistics (hard to fabricate) and research done by both Harvard University and the National Institute of Health. Fairly credible resources.

  3. serendipity says:

    There are lies, damn lies and statistics. -Mark Twain

    I agree on the stats about teenagers and grades. I do not agree with the medical evidence you cite. The feds have a vested interest in pharmaceuticals and lobbyists from those companies funding political campaigns. Let’s talk about that.

    I can just tell you this, Brian. I am tired of my pharmacist getting his life threatened by people addicted to prescription drugs. Adolescents are actually abusing prescription drugs at a rate as high as anything else. How do law enforcement officials deal with this problem? Is there a breathalizer for say anti-anxiety drugs a teenager has stolen from a parent?

    Lastly, how I treat my MS pain is my decision. To quote a chant we used liberally in college, “Keep your laws off my body!” I don’t want to take addictive prescription drugs. You have no right to make me do this to myself. You also have no idea how much pain I have been in this year. This is all balderdash.

  4. moms4marijuana says:

    Thanks for continuing to cover this topic in a respectful way.

    You should watch this documentary if you haven’t. It’s not one-sided or even entirely scientific, in spite of the title, but I think at least one of the MD’s does a fairly good job of explaining the lack of research. There is no money or prestige in conducting studies on marijuana. The pharmaceutical companies fund drug research and they are not interested in funding research on a plant that sounds like it might be a miracle drug.

    Have you seen the ads on television for prescription drugs and the warnings about the side effects? It’s terrifying.

  5. rivitman says:

    So, being generous to those who dismiss Brian’s information, the best we can come up with is that we have no good information.

    That’s not a good case for legalization either.

    Neither is the fact the we cannot seem to manage medical marijuana, and restrict it to those who have a legitimate need for it.

    Proponents don’t seem wiling to to the work necessary to validate their thinking with the rest of us.

  6. reformedliberal says:

    “So, being generous to those who dismiss Brian’s information, the best we can come up with is that we have no good information.

    That’s not a good case for legalization either.”

    On the contrary, that’s the very best possible case for legalization. After all, in a free country if there is no compelling state interest in regulating an activity, it defaults to being legal. Right?


  7. leehallfae says:

    Informative, as usual.


    Jennifer G.

  8. elmerfudd says:

    There are millions of things out there that are risky or can harm you, bicycling, toluene, caffeine, sodium, etc… That by itself is not sufficient reason to ban them. There’s probably not a soul reading this who doesn’t engage in some minor risky activity.

    That marijuana is a minor risk is self-evident. Despite widespread use, our hospitals are not overwhelmed by people suffering from marijuana overdoses, drunk drivers remain the biggest hazard on the road and stoners seem to be more of a threat to a bag of pork rinds than to the general public.

    It’s already in widespread use folks. It’s affordable, easily available and being used all over the state every day and the world hasn’t ended.

  9. By all means, let’s consider only the facts. The fact is, every assertian made by the federal government has been refuted by, more transparent agencies, than them.

  10. rivitman says:

    “if there is no compelling state interest in regulating an activity, it defaults to being legal. Right?”

    Well no. The doctrine is that which is not codified as illegal is therefore legal. There is a lot of law on the books based on collective morality only because the people want it that way.

    As for risks, I could care less about the risk to the user. It’s the hazards and nuisance they pose to the rest of us that matter.

  11. elmerfudd says:


    I wouldn’t worry about I-502 picking your pockets. It will be shot down in the courts. Making state workers complicit in regulating and distributing a federally banned substance means it won’t last much longer than the snow outside. What it will do, if it passes, is send a signal loud and clear that the people no longer support marijuana prohibition and that it’s on it’s way out. It may take a few more years, a few more initiatives and a new generation of politicians, but marijuana will be legal soon.

  12. cierlerr says:

    Statistics are all well and good, however they are meaningless without proper citation of where they came from or who they relate to. “51% of youths” does that sample refer to youths on a national scale, or was this data from a small community? Your use of stats is extremely misleading and compromises your credibility of the entire article. Please do your homework next time, instead of posting an article that looks like a high school paper.

  13. BlaineCGarver says:

    From what I can see, those that want a little personal stash could grow a couple plants in their house and never be bothered by anyone. As always, follow the money on this issue.

  14. BlaineCGarver says:

    Good write up, Sir….

  15. NewDragon says:

    Where is my post?

  16. Brian O'Neill says:


    All of the stats I provided in the column were compiled by the federal government. Sources include (as I already mentioned) the National Institute of Health and Harvard University. If you want to question their validity, that would be your homework assignment, not mine. If you still feel that this column is below your reading level, you are welcome to move on up. When you get to the next level, though, don’t shoot the messenger.

  17. notSpicoli says:

    At the risk of sounding contentious, a mere 24 minutes after my post you responded to it. It is clear that the you could not have considered the arguments in the book I referenced, a tome of almost 300 pages that took me a week to plow through.

    Studies done by Harvard or the NIH are, of course, credible. And in this regard you have missed the point.

    The issue is how those studies are “used” by the ONDCP and how these stories are presented by the news media. They spin the information, over reach in their conclusions far beyond the researchers themselves, and ignore that which does not confirm or support their positions.

    As I have stated, there are responses to all the statistics and facts provided by the government. First step though is to go to the original source of the information.

    By way of example, Dr. Middleman, the author of the Harvard heart attack study cautions against making too much of the data. Dr. Middleman noted marijuana’s tendency to increase heart rates in reclining smokers. If those rates are rapidly changed people with pre-existing coronary trouble may experience heart attacks.

    Doing the homework means reading the study and finding that in some people smoking marijuana raises the heart rate from 20-40 beats a minute (like exercising) and thus smoking marijuana temporarily raises the risk of heart attack in people already at risk of heart disease.

    Specifically, Dr. Middleman noted marijuana’s tendency to increase heart rates in reclining smokers. If those rates are rapidly changed — for example, if the smoker stands up — people with pre-existing coronary trouble may experience heart attacks. And the numbers? The study examined 3,882 heart attack sufferers, of which 124 were marijuana users. Of those users, 37 said they used marijuana within 24 hours of their heart attack and 9 within the previous hour. The risk of heart attack, the researchers calculated, was 4.8 times higher than normal within an hour of smoking, but dropped to 1.7 times normal risk by the second hour.

    Now compare.

    “Harvard University researchers reported the risk of heart attack increases five-fold in the hour after smoking marijuana.”

    This is not the same as, “Two out of a thousand marijuana smokers who have heart disease experience a five fold risk for heart attack one hour after smoking.”

    As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

    Over the decades the government has made outrageous claims about marijuana. One fact that the government has seemed to backed off from since 1986 is that, “ Marijuana leads to homosexuality, the breakdown of the immune system, and therefore to AIDS,” according to Carlton Turner, White House Drug Czar.

    I could cite hundreds more but all point to the same conclusion: when it comes to marijuana, don’t look to the government for reliable, objective information. Go to the original sources.

    Marijuana law reform rests on providing accurate information in which people can make informed, rational decisions about a public policy issue. Indoctrination, propaganda, and misinformation–on either side of the debate–is unhelpful.

  18. NewDragon says:

    NOTSPICOLI, why do you support taxing freedom? Taxes are stealing. You don’t come across to me as a thief but yet you you are ok if government steals the money from someone. This is what’s wrong with USA. Everyone only wants to defend their issue, when in fact everyone should be defending freedom. Taxes are not voluntary! They are forced theft. If you don’t think so, try not paying. Men with guns will eventually show up and kill you if you resist.

  19. serendipity says:

    “Harvard University researchers reported the risk of heart attack increases five-fold in the hour after smoking marijuana.”

    “The National Institute of Health found that a person who who smokes five joints per week takes in the cancer-causing chemicals equivalent to a pack-a-day smoker.”

    These are your two citations, Brian. Two sentences. Where did the rest of your data come from? How about you cite your own data in your own article. You could go to a local source: The UW Medical Center in Seattle where research has been done for many years.

  20. Lynnwoodfats says:

    The disturbing thing is that not one of these comments have the words liberty or freedom in them. Reeamber when people used to say, “It’s a free country”. I don’t hear that much anymore.

  21. Lynnwoodfats says:

    Oops, typo, must have been that “bud”.

  22. Brian O'Neill says:

    I wrote the column because the feds continue to stringently enforce federal statutes against marijuana. In that light, would the government view on pot be relevant? Obviously, the answer is yes. If you want to challenge the data, call the DEA.

  23. notSpicoli says:

    “If you want to challenge the data, call the DEA.” Brian O’Neill

    This flip concluding remark is as irrelevant as it is inexplicable. I suggest that you do some more research.

    Start with my two posts and go from there.

  24. notSpicoli says:

    The LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) website published a Blue Byline of its own on Tuesday as well, “Speaking out, but still silenced: Anonymous cop criticizes War on Drugs.”

    Interesting reading.

  25. NewDragon says:

    Notspicoli why are you in favor of taxing? I ask you because I’ve seen you say you are ok with that and even encourage it. I wonder who you work for.

  26. BlaineCGarver says:

    IIRC, Washington AG is part of a suit against DC vis-a-vis state rights…perhaps that will decided this and a plethora of issues.

  27. duke_of_hurl says:

    all the negative comments about legalizing MJ are from people that dont use it..ive been using it for over 25 yrs and im not seeing any negative affects..i notice positive affects though..

  28. duke_of_hurl says:

    im equal to a ten pack a day smoker…i can tell you now that isnt true…

  29. If our federal government is so concerned with the peoples health,can they know something more than the Canadian government? Canada is legalizing…

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