By Kelly Burch
To see how the attitudes around marijuana have changed over the past decades, you need to look no further than our nation’s leaders.
George H. W. Bush was tough on drugs, shutting down some medical marijuana programs. Bill Clinton admitted to using the drug but said – famously – that he smoked, but never inhaled. George W. Bush managed to avoid the question. And Barack Obama pulled no punches when he said on the campaign trail in 2008, “When I was a kid I inhaled frequently. That was the point.”
With twenty-two states having legalized medical marijuana and two states allowing recreational use, the United States is in the midst of a pot revolution. The president chimed in on the debate again in January, when he said in a New Yorker magazine profile that pot is no less damaging than alcohol.
“As has been well-documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life,” Obama told writer David Remnick. “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
It’s an argument that comes up frequently in the debate over marijuana legalization and decriminalization. Marijuana remains a schedule 1 drug under federal law, a classification that is reserved for substances with high rates of abuse and no acceptable medical use. However, proponents of pot argue that the drug is natural, and certainly no less damaging than alcohol.
“If we think about the amounts of fallout health-wise, financially and emotionally that alcoholism has, it’s a reality check,” said Maxim Furek, the director of Garden Walk Recovery in Mocanaqua, Penn., who has researched extensively on contemporary drug trends.
While the president’s refrain is a common one, there is simply not the data to support the claim that smoking pot is less harmful than alcohol.
“It would be an uninformed comparison to compare the two [with current data],” said Dr.Ruben Baler, a neuroscientist with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). “Unfortunately, if marijuana does become legal we will have the data to make the comparison in terms of harm on driving, psychosis and relationship to mental illness.”
Baler said that his organization choses to focus on the devastating affects that marijuana can have on its users, rather than debating whether is it better or worse than another substance.
“We tend to concentrate on the personal cost of drug use,” he said. “When you move away from the population into the individual realm, rankings become meaningless.”
As many users have discovered, smoking pot can have a massive impact on an individual’s life. As marijuana is becoming more widely available through the country, perceptions of its danger are falling at the same time that potency levels soar. Research on the drug’s effects show that despite its portrayal as a harmless and natural high, there is growing proof that marijuana is addictive and dangerous in and of itself.
To see more of Kelly’s in-depth look at the issues surround marijuana legalization, check out the latest issue of Renew magazine