Because Whitney Houston died from abusing alcohol, America shrugs.

February 19, 2012 | By | 4 Replies More

If Whitney Houston had died from the use of marijuana, politicians would have been screaming to enact even more vigorous anti-marijuana laws.  Those who care about evidence know, however, that marijuana is an notably safe drug–it doesn’t cause people to die.  Whitney Houston actually died after abusing alcohol, a drug that causes many people to die every year.  Because it was alcohol rather than a scheduled substance, Americans treat it as a sad occurrence, without villainizing Houston.  In modern-day America, despite the grave dangers of alcohol abuse, alcohol related deaths are given winks and nods by our politicians:

Because drinking is legal for adults, safe in moderation, the rightful font of epicurean reveries and the foundation of a multibillion-dollar industry with lobbyists galore, it gets something of a pass. . . . [H]eavy drinking is the third leading preventable cause of death in this country, after smoking and a combination of bad diet and inactivity. By conservative estimates, it’s directly related to about 80,000 deaths each year, an agent of — or co-conspirator in — cirrhosisesophageal cancer, overdose, homicide and much, much more. It seeds and squires a broad range of diseases. Multiplies the effects of illicit and prescription drugs. Adds the twitch to a trigger finger. Puts the wobble in legs on a staircase or hands on a steering wheel.  And while 8 percent of Americans ages 12 and over use illicit drugs, 34 percent are addicted to alcohol or indulge in what public health officials consider risky drinking . . . .

Image by gaspr13 at istock (used with permission)

Despite these astounding statistics confirming the rampant danger of alcohol abuse, and despite the fact that every year drunken driving causes more than five times the deaths as occurred on 9/11 (17,941), America’s politicians do not criticize the use of alcohol because most of them use or abuse alcohol themselves.  Politicians use and abuse but tolerate alcohol, while they rail on endlessly about of marijuana, which poses very little  risk of any harm. This national fretting of Americans who happen to get drunk on marijuana rather than alcohol gets politicians mad enough to spend $70 Billion each year in order to criminalize drunkenness from drugs other than alcohol, even when that drunkenness occurs in private homes.  Anyone who spends five minutes looking at the real numbers relating to alcohol use and the use of marijuana know that alcohol is highly addictive and dangerous, while marijuana is not highly addictive and not dangerous.  Yet the war on drugs other than alcohol obsesses American politicians.  We would be far better off if American politicians treated marijuana much like it treats alcohol.  Neither the possession nor use of alcohol or marijuana should be treated as a criminal issue.

I often criticize America’s “war on drugs.” My motive is not to encourage drug use.  My position is that people should avoid using any sort of drug, legal or illegal.  However, the “war on drugs” is hideous because it hurts people worse than the drugs, and it causes the criminal arrest of 800,000 Americans every year (that’s one marijuana arrest every 35 seconds).  The war on drugs injects a massive amount of violence into the sale of drugs, and it doesn’t stop the use of drugs.   Thus, the “war on drugs” falls clearly within Einstein’s definition of insanity:  “[D]oing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I can only assume Barack Obama has betrayed his clear promise to allow states to regulate marijuana because he thinks it will get him votes. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson has taken Obama to task for his hypocrisy:

Back when he was running for president in 2008, Barack Obama insisted that medical marijuana was an issue best left to state and local governments. “I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue,” he vowed, promising an end to the Bush administration’s high-profile raids on providers of medical pot, which is legal in 16 states and the District of Columbia.

But over the past year, the Obama administration has quietly unleashed a multi­agency crackdown on medical cannabis that goes far beyond anything undertaken by George W. Bush. The feds are busting growers who operate in full compliance with state laws, vowing to seize the property of anyone who dares to even rent to legal pot dispensaries, and threatening to imprison state employees responsible for regulating medical marijuana. With more than 100 raids on pot dispensaries during his first three years, Obama is now on pace to exceed Bush’s record for medical-marijuana busts. . . . The federal crackdown imperils the medical care of the estimated 730,000 patients nationwide – many of them seriously ill or dying – who rely on state-sanctioned marijuana recommended by their doctors.

America’s “war on drugs” is insane because it hurts people much more than the use of drugs, because it makes our streets dangerous, it makes criminals out of hundreds of thousands of otherwise law-abiding folks, and because it diverts government resources from problems we can solve.

Further, imagine that you are highly-stressed poor or working-poor person who has discovered that home-grown marijuana helps you get through the day. What the “war on drugs” tells you is that you should stop using free home-grown weed. Instead, you should be forced to buy expensive prescription drugs from for-profit manufacturers and for-profit drugstores  like the rich hypocrites who get their stress-relieving highs that way.   In short, they want you to buy your drugs from the corporations that give big money to their campaigns. Politicians insist that you should buy slickly-marketed drugs that have an effect comparable to expensive prescription-drugs–you are being told to act like a person of means, exhausting  your precious limited resources rather than self-medicating with a drug that can be grown essentially for free, a drug that appears to be safe to use. To top it off, if you ignore the government’s command in order to medicate yourself on the cheap (e.g., in order to have enough money to pay for rent or food), society will label you a criminal; you will be treated as though you did the moral equivalent of burglary or rape.  Mr. Obama is cracking down on even medical marijuana, even though “70 percent of Americans approve of medical pot.”

Here’s how bad things have gotten under Obama.

Abandoning the Ogden memo’s protections for state-sanctioned “caregivers,” [U.S. Attorney Melinda] Haag effectively re-declared war on medical pot. “We will enforce the Controlled Substances Act vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana,” she wrote, “even if such activities are permitted under state law.” Haag’s warning shot had the desired effect: Oakland quickly scuttled its plans, even though the taxes provided by the indoor grows could have single-handedly wiped out the city’s $31 million deficit.

Two months later, federal prosecutors in Washington state went even further, threatening state employees responsible for implementing new regulations for pot dispensaries. U.S. attorneys sent a letter to Gov. Christine Gregoire, warning that state employees “would not be immune from liability under the Controlled Substances Act.” Shocked by the threat – “It subjected Washington state employees to felony criminal prosecution!” – Gregoire vetoed the new rules. A similar federal threat in Rhode Island forced Chafee to follow suit, putting an indefinite hold on the planned opening of three state-licensed “compassion centers” to distribute marijuana to seriously ill patients.

Thousands of law enforcement officers associated with LEAP know that the “war on drugs” is much more dangerous than drugs themselves, they know that prohibition is not the answer, they know that the “war on drugs” is insane, and their evidence-based criticisms of the “war on drugs” are being ignored by Barack Obama, who is putting his political ambitions way ahead of the public good.



Category: Drug laws, Law, Politics

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (4)

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  1. Adam Herman says:

    You speak of the war on drugs, but you refer mainly to marijuana. But despite the greater dangers of other drugs, like prescription pain killers, the latest thing the government is worked up about, does not the war on drugs do greater collateral damage there as well? It’s harder for patients genuinely in pain to get painkillers now. many doctors just don’t want to prescribe them except in the most obvious cases, like after surgery or for burn victims. People with chronic conditions, where their pain is very real, but doctors can only rely on what they are told by the patient about their pain, are having a lot of trouble.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    Addendum: Addiction of any type is ugly, painful and dangerous. Drugs combined with alcohol often make things much more dangerous. My point is that we, as a society, have learned to take a deep breath and treat alcohol addiction as a tragedy rather than criminalizing it and breaking up families by throwing people in prison for possessing and using/abusing. I arguing that we should adopt that same model for drugs other than alcohol. I’m not promoting use/abuse of any drug. I’ve never used any street drug and I’m never even been drunk once. I don’t ever plan to do these things or suggest that anyone else ever do these things. If they did, however, the last thing i would ever propose is to criminalize the situation, to suggest that the police kick in doors and knock heads. What I’ve seen is a bad situation made much worse by bringing in the cops, tying up the courts and accomplishing worse than nothing. I would characterize addictions of all sorts as a public health issue and treat incidents accordingly.

  3. Mouthy Magnolia says:

    The double-standard is laughable. I don’t think alcohol should be banned (I’m of the opinion that as an adult I’m perfectly capable of taking responsibility over my body and my mind as far as all drug usage, from caffeine to psychedelics, is concerned.) I’ve never seen someone high from weed arrested over violent behavior at a bar. But the war on drugs does create violence and criminals from otherwise ordinary people. The war on drugs also creates profit for private prisons. For a country drunk on and addicted to violence and money, it’s really no surprise that the war on drugs is a good thing.

  4. Adam Herman says:

    Marijuana is certainly less dangerous than alcohol, but I’ve noticed that activists judge it by the effect it has on calm college geeks. It’s a different story for people who are already prone to violence or paranoia. Alcohol is worse, but any drug that impairs the mind’s ability to think clearly is going to have a negative effect if someone is already not inclined to think before taking action.

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