English pop singer Joss Stone has come under fire for highlighting the fact that marijuana is safer than alcohol, a viewpoint that has sparked intense debate this month in the UK.
As Stone told the UK Daily Mail:
Weed has been given this evil stamp, but how is it dangerous? It's going to make you laugh your arse off? You might go to sleep? I think alcohol is much more harmful. People beat the f**k out of each other on alcohol. But I don't smoke weed all day long. I live in Devon and hardly ever go to clubs. When I do, I'll drink three or four beers then move on to a vodka. I don't want to take all those horrible drugs. Although some sound fun, so I might dabble now and then!
She was unapologetic about her outburst, adding:
I'm very honest and I've been punished for that over and over again. Every time I say what I think I get s*** for it. But that won't stop me from being an honest person.
Yet Stone is not alone, both in her belief that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and in the absurd treatment she is enduring for conveying this simple fact. Rather, she has some pretty solid back-up amongst the UK's scientific community.
Just last week Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), the UK's official drugs advisory body, was fired after giving a lecture in which he described marijuana as less harmful than alcohol.
Following the home secretary's request that Professor Nutt resign, the remaining 28 members of the ACMD issued a joint statement expressing serious concerns about the situation and threatening to resign if they were not addressed. Some (including the nation's top chemist) have since resigned in protest. The UK government's chief science adviser and the chief executive of the Medical Research Council, Britain's leading medical research organization, also spoke out against the treatment of Professor Nutt, citing the all too frequent and often dangerous clashes between politics and scientific evidence.
Like UK pop star Stone, Professor Nutt did not go quietly, speaking out vigorously in defense of his evidence-based position.
Last night Professor Nutt said he stood by his comments. 'My view is policy should be based on evidence. It's a bit odd to make policy that goes in the face of evidence. The danger is they are misleading us. The scientific evidence is there: it's in all the reports we published. Our judgments about the classification of drugs like cannabis and ecstasy have been based on a great deal of very detailed scientific appraisal.
Gordon Brown makes completely irrational statements about cannabis being 'lethal', which it is not. I'm not prepared to mislead the public about the harmfulness of drugs like cannabis and ecstasy. I think most scientists will see this as an example of the Luddite attitude of governments towards science.'
He repeated his view that cannabis was "not that harmful" and that parents should be more worried about alcohol.
The greatest concern to parents should be that their children do not get completely off their heads with alcohol because it can kill them ... and it leads them to do things which are very dangerous, such as to kill themselves or others in cars, get into fights, get raped, and engage in other activities which they regret subsequently. My view is that, if you want to reduce the harm to society from drugs, alcohol is the drug to target at present.
Clearly Professor Nutt -- a University of Bristol professor of psychopharmacology who is certainly more qualified in this area than the politicians who fired him -- was not out to harm anyone; he was just doing his job, working in the best interest of the citizens he had been charged with serving. And Stone was not encouraging anyone to use marijuana; rather, she was speaking honestly about why she sometimes prefers to use it instead of drinking, and why she thinks she should be able to do so. Both have plenty of scientific evidence to back up their shared viewpoint, as every objective study on marijuana ever conducted has concluded that it poses far less harm than alcohol to the user and to society.
In the end, this all begs a very important and timely question that has yet to be addressed by opponents of marijuana policy reform or the mainstream media: just what is the bloody problem with pointing out the facts when it comes to cannabis and drink?
Mason Tvert is the executive director of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) and the co-author of Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, August 2009).
Follow Mason Tvert on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SAFERchoice