Pubdate: Sat, 10 Mar 2007
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Bruce Mirken
Note: Title by MAP Editor
Cited: Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research (http://
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project (
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Crime Policy  United States  News)


Editor -- I always read Steven Winn's columns with some interest, and 
find myself agreeing more often than not, but I was taken aback by 
something he wrote: "But when the country turned against Prohibition, 
a distaste for regulating all forms of personal behavior became part 
of our national constitution."

With all due respect, Americans may like to imagine this is so, but 
it's not. If we really had a national distaste for regulating 
personal behavior, we would not have more people locked up in state 
and federal prisons for drug offenses than the entire prison 
populations (for all offenses of any sort) of England, Scotland, 
Germany, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands combined.

And we would not arrest more people for marijuana possession -- not 
sales, cultivation or trafficking, just possession -- than for all 
violent crimes combined. And we would not spend tens of billions of 
dollars a year on a "war on drugs" that has had no discernible effect 
other than to enrich criminal gangs, fill our prisons and keep 
hundreds of thousands of police, prison guards, attorneys and drug- 
war bureaucrats employed.

Indeed, despite overwhelming evidence that marijuana relieves nausea, 
vomiting, certain types of pain and other symptoms, federal law and 
the laws of 39 states bar even people with life-threatening illnesses 
from using marijuana with their doctor's recommendation to relieve a 
bit of their misery. Bear in mind that in every measurable way, 
marijuana is orders of magnitude less dangerous than either tobacco 
or alcohol. The reasons for its prohibition could be argued to be 
cultural or political or bureaucratic or historical -- or maybe 
simply a desire to regulate "undesirable" behavior -- but they are 
not scientific or medical.

One final note: Since your column was about tobacco, the issue of 
marijuana obviously brings up some of the same concerns about 
smoking. While smoking marijuana presents some of the same risks as 
tobacco (e.g. cough, bronchitis), marijuana has never been shown to 
increase one's risk of lung cancer or other tobacco-related cancers. 
In a study out of Kaiser Permanente in Oakland that followed 65,000 
people for 10 years, cigarette smokers had about an 11-fold increased 
risk of lung cancer compared to nonsmokers. But marijuana smokers who 
didn't smoke tobacco had no increased risk.

Bruce Mirken

Director of Communications

Marijuana Policy Project

Washington, D.C.
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman