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Obama: Stop Driving Americans - and White House Guests - To Drink

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At a press conference in California last week, President Barack Obama's new drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske declared:

"Marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit."

Meanwhile, the President was at the White House trying to defuse the situation surrounding the controversial and highly publicized arrest of his friend, Harvard Professor Henry Lewis Gates, Jr., by inviting him and the arresting officer, Sgt. Jim Crowley, to the White House for a beer.

Yes, that's right. Just after President Obama's top drug policy official told the country that marijuana is "dangerous," the President himself was touting the enjoyable effects of alcohol, a far more dangerous substance. But don't take my word for it. Just look at every objective study that has ever been conducted on the two drugs, including these:

  • According to the American Scientist, the magazine of the Scientific Research Society, alcohol is among the most toxic recreational drugs, requiring just 10 times its typical effective dose to cause death. Marijuana, on the other hand, is among the least toxic recreational drugs, requiring more than 1,000 times the effective dose to cause death.
  • According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States, with about 35,000 deaths attributed to its use each year, including hundreds from accidental overdose. The CDC does not report any deaths attributable to the use of marijuana, and there has never been a single documented case of a fatal marijuana overdose in history.
  • According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), alcohol use is associated with an elevated relative risk of injuries, whereas the Journal of Trauma reports that marijuana use is not associated with such risk.
  • According to the Research Institute on Addictions, alcohol is "clearly the drug with the most evidence to support a direct intoxication-violence relationship," whereas marijuana "reduces the likelihood of violence during intoxication." Unsurprisingly, the U.S. Department of Justice reports that about 3 million violent crimes occur each year in which victims perceive the offender to have been drinking at the time of the offense. This works out to about 8,200 alcohol-related violent crimes a day!
  • According to a study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors, alcohol use is associated with "significant increases in the daily likelihood of male-to-female physical aggression," whereas marijuana use is "not significantly associated." In fact, researchers at the U.S. Department of Justice found that two-thirds of victims who suffer violence by an intimate (a current or former spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend) reported that alcohol had been a factor.
  • According to a study commissioned by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana is far less addictive than alcohol.

The facts go on and on, and so could I, but you get the point. Our president, however... well... not so much.

You may be thinking, "Wait a minute. We are just talking about a beer. One beer isn't dangerous." True. But consider again what Kerlikowske said. He did not assert it is dangerous to use too much marijuana. He did not provide warnings based on the THC content of various strains of marijuana (which would still be inaccurate, as high-THC strains have not been proven to be any more harmful than low-THC strains, but I digress). Kerlikowske simply stated, "Marijuana is dangerous." The message he intended to convey is that all marijuana is dangerous, from a joint of ditch weed to an eighth of Purple Kush.

So, given the fact that marijuana is clearly less harmful than alcohol, shouldn't he also issue a warning to the public that "alcohol is dangerous"? And, using the same all-inclusive language he used for marijuana, wouldn't that mean that even one beer is considered "dangerous" by this administration? Again, I am not arguing that one beer is dangerous. I simply believe there should be some kind of connection between scientific evidence and the positions the administration espouses.

Unfortunately, this kind of logical reasoning is apparently not en vogue in Obama's White House. Instead, his administration is sending an incredibly dangerous message to the American people. The message is that they should be using alcohol rather than making the rational choice to use a less harmful substance instead. To make matters worse, the administration continues to support a system under which those who prefer to make the safer choice to use marijuana are threatened with arrest and other serious punishments.

We need to put the era of anti-marijuana propaganda in the past. If the drug czar is going to continue talking about marijuana, he should be required to talk about its true harms, including the fact that it is relatively far less harmful than alcohol. And with respect to the president, he should be more aggressive in addressing the nation's dangerous pro-alcohol, anti-marijuana policy, which is steering countless Americans toward using alcohol and away from making the safer choice.

Come on, President Obama, stop driving our nation -- and your own White House guests -- to drink.

Mason Tvert is executive director of SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation) and co-author of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?

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