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Tobacco-Related Health Costs: $800; Booze-Related Health Costs: $165; Pot-Related Health Costs: $20 -- Any Questions?

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Writing in the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, 2009), I argue that it is irrational for our society to condone, if not encourage, the use of alcohol -- an intoxicant that directly contributes to tens of thousands of deaths annually and countless social problems -- while simultaneously stigmatizing and criminalizing the use of cannabis, a substance that is incapable of causing lethal overdose and is associated with far fewer societal costs. Well now a new study, authored by researchers from the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia at the University of Victoria and the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse at the University of Ottawa has directly compared the societal costs of marijuana and alcohol, as well as tobacco, and the final tally isn't pretty.

Health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers than they are for those who use cannabis, and are more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers, according to the report, published in the British Columbia Mental Health and Addictions Journal.

It states, "In terms of [health-related] costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user."

The study further reported that "94 percent of social costs for cannabis are linked to [law] enforcement." Hmm, perhaps that explains why law enforcement consistently speak out against marijuana law reform; pot prohibition equals job security.

The study concludes:

The harms, risks and social costs of alcohol, cannabis and tobacco vary greatly. A lot has to do with how the substances are handled legally. Alcohol and tobacco are legal substances, which explains their low enforcement costs relative to cannabis. On the other hand, the health costs per user of tobacco and alcohol are much higher than for cannabis. This may indicate that cannabis use involves fewer health risks than alcohol or tobacco.

These variations in risk, harms and cost need to be taken into account as we think about further efforts to deal with the use of these three substances. ... Efforts to reduce social costs related to cannabis, for example, will likely involve shifting its legal status by decriminalizing casual use, to reduce the high enforcement costs. Such a shift may be warranted given the apparent lower health risk associated with most cannabis use.

In other words: Do the math; end marijuana prohibition!