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Unsafe at any weed

| Monday, April 25, 2016

In terms of annoying holidays, “420” falls somewhere between Guy Fawkes Day and International Talk-Like-a-Pirate Day. The Internet, and occasionally real life, becomes infested with annoying stoners agitating for their hobby. In recent years, recreational cannabis use has been legitimized as a number of states move toward legalization.

A driving factor behind the liberalization of cannabis laws is the public perception that cannabis use does not harm users. This is simply untrue. Cannabis abuse increases the risk of lung cancer, reduced brain volume, memory impairment, schizophrenia, mouth cancers and chronic cardiovascular conditions.

While we’re on the subject, let’s dispel the myth that “marijuana never killed anyone.” It’s true that acute THC toxicity is an extremely rare cause of death, though cannabis-induced heart attacks and strokes are not unheard of. But to equate that to “zero deaths” is ignorant at best and intentionally misleading at worst. Cases of smokers chaining Marlboros until they overdose on nicotine are similarly difficult to find, but no one would dare to call tobacco harmless.

Now, I can already hear the outraged cries of the libertarians. “Well, who cares? Big Brother has no business regulating what I put into my body. I’m not hurting anyone, and the sole responsibility of government is to prevent people from hurting each other. By the way, have you heard the good news of our Lord and Savior Ayn Rand?”

First off, I always get disturbed whenever I hear “Big Brother” name-dropped to describe an oppressive or overreaching state. After all, I’m a big brother myself, and I consider myself to be a positive influence on my brother’s life (most of the time, anyway). But I digress.

Let’s ignore for a moment the externalities involved with drug abuse that result in users transferring their own self-harm onto others via increased public medical spending, drug-addled decision making and so on. Even allowing that shaky premise, there are years of precedent for the government regulating private behavior, and it is unquestionable that our society is better off for it.

One of the best examples of benevolent government regulation is in the construction of cars. A company might very well want to sell a car with no seat belts and an engine with a propensity to explode, and the consumer might very well want to buy it. However, statistics indicate that such a car is enormously dangerous. Rather than allow uninformed consumers to make fatal mistakes, the government instead determines that no such vehicle is to be sold.

Or consider the passage of the Civil Rights Acts in the 1960s. When the opponents of this legislation weren’t arguing from a position of outright racism, they often couched their arguments in terms of “individual liberty.” Further, they made claims that the free market would fix the problem of segregation, as integrated businesses would have a competitive advantage. Yet it was government intervention that eventually resulted in integration. With the benefit of hindsight, we can see how a sacrifice of personal liberty resulted in an overall benefit to society. Of course, that hasn’t stopped libertarians from scorning the Acts’ passage or conservatives using similar liberty-based arguments to support laws sanctioning anti-LGBTQ discrimination.

But perhaps the case most closely related to cannabis is pharmaceutical regulation. Back before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) existed, quacks could freely make unsubstantiated health claims about various chemicals, even to the point of selling dangerous compounds as medicine. Fortunately, the government realized that the average person lacks the time to conduct their own meta-analysis of the peer-reviewed literature, and so banned dangerous or ineffective substances from being sold as medication —now they have to be called “supplements.” Based on the numerous, well-studied negative health effects of cannabis abuse, it is unlikely that the FDA or any other consumer product regulatory body would approve cannabis for public consumption — unless, of course, they are pressured to do so by the pot lobby.

Clearly, some people get enjoyment out of abusing drugs, including cannabis (I wouldn’t know). And maybe drugs are different than other products regulated and recalled for public safety reasons: No one was trying to make Firestone tires in their garage. But based upon our existing consumer protection laws, it doesn’t make sense for the federal government to allow consumers to purchase cannabis. And to those who claim that personal liberty should override any sort of regulation, I can only say — what have you been smoking?

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • João Pedro Santos

    “Cannabis abuse increases the risk of lung cancer, reduced brain volume, memory impairment, schizophrenia, mouth cancers and chronic cardiovascular conditions.”
    Sources on this?

    • That good kush

      You know, that one study where they strapped a mask to a monkey, and pumped him with so much weed smoke that there was no oxygen, and then concluded that weed killed its brain cells instead of a lack of oxygen. that one

  • That good kush

    Your article relies on faulty analogies and premises.

    Pot smokers do not believe that smoking is not bad for you. Anytime you put hot air in your lungs you are going to damage them. Public perception is that smoking weed is not as bad for you as smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol (because that is a fact).

    “Let’s ignore for a moment the externalities involved with drug abuse that result in users transferring their own self-harm onto others via increased public medical spending, drug-addled decision making and so on.” Perhaps the government should regulate sugar consumption as well then. Obesity is far more prevalent, is the cause of major complications and thus major medical expenses. You first say to ignore these externalities, but your analogy of seat belts relies on it completely. Your criticism is directed moreso at how medical costs get distributed throughout our system, not that the gov’t has a mandate to make laws requiring seat belts… and we could also save billions by ending the war on weed…

    Your analogy of the FDA is also suspect. The FDA protects consumers by making sure that food and drugs are fit for human consumption. The FDA does not arbitrate what is ‘healthy’ and then eliminate entire classes of foods, like say ‘sugar’ again. The FDA doesn’t say hey twinkies are bad for you and then say twinkies are illegal. They make sure that hostess doesn’t sell you moldy twinkies, and lets consumers decide what to eat. You’ve conflated these two ideas.

    • Alex S

      Most people who are avid pot smokers have no idea it is harmful to their lungs…You are right it is juxtaposed with cigarette, but the effects are also severely downplayed. It’s framed as being the “safe” alternative to smoking cigarettes.

      • RandallPoopenmeyer

        I have never heard that. Cannabis and tobacco are completely different. People most likely aren’t going to switch from one to the other because of health reasons.

        • Alex S

          That’s not the point of the article. Honestly, for being a “Notre Dame” student, it’s amazing you never had to take a rhetoric class. People aren’t switching, but the point was why aren’t we looking more scrupulously at the effects of Marijuana. If you want to say you think all marijuana smokers are aware of the health effects, that simply isn’t true. Also the fact that you can’t have a civil and intellectual conversation about this topic means that you probably are not emotionally intelligent enough to control yourself. Do you have any facts to back up your claims? He did, they just weren’t published because they didn’t give him source inclusion.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            Most cannabis users I know don’t think it is 100% healthy. I don’t really care what smokers know or don’t know, it is up to them to make health decisions for themselves.
            That is MY point. I don’t care what YOU think is bad for me, mind your own business. I pay for health insurance, I get to do what i want to my body.
            What is your problem with cannabis? Did you have someone close die of lung cancer? Do you just want to control people?
            Why don’t you focus on reinstating prohibition if you are so worried about the health of the public.

          • Alex S

            Clearly you do care what people think. Otherwise you wouldn’t have responded to the article. You want other people to know your opinion and you are rude about it. I don’t have an issue with Marijuana. I think there are medicinal uses, but it does have health consequences. These consequences are not highlighted via pop culture or social media. But IF it really is up to smokers to “make health decisions for themselves,” don’t you think that there should be more information available? You can’t make an informed, educated decision without knowing more. You really don’t think people should be made aware of potential harms? Don’t you think that there should be some acknowledgement to the fact that there are dangers? It is your choice to do whatever you want, but have a civil discussion. I am not telling you to stop smoking because it’s not my place and I do not care, but I do feel like everyone should know any potential consequences. It is illegal, which means it’s not regulated in the same way a prescription drug would be. There’s a reason we have packaging laws that include any and all health effects. It probably won’t happen for marijuana anytime soon, but that’s why there should be more literature, more accessible written pieces on the effects.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            Again, no one I know thinks it is safe and there is information everywhere about it. It is up to adults to look up that information.
            My body isn’t up for discussion of any kind.

      • Hilarious

        I would have to disagree that people view marijuana as a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes. People looking to getting a nicotine buzz are not going to get high from marijuana as a substitute. Fundamentally different things

        • Alex S

          You are clearly for the use of marijuana. I, on the other hand, have no real opinion on it. But I can assure you, if you asked your fellow Notre Dame classmates “is Marijuana safe?” most would say yes. In fact, go out and honestly do so. People don’t think about the consequences of it because it is framed as being safe and that’s mainly because of the media. Now, the effects seem to be a lot less than if you smoked cigarettes, but there are still effects. This article is just trying to bring to light that there are effects and they’re often overlooked. His point was just why don’t we think about the consequences as strongly as we would for cigarettes.

  • RandallPoopenmeyer

    Wow, so much misinformation in this, it is laughable.
    You are a moron. How did you even get into this university?

  • Prohibition generates organized crime and does not reduce consumption.