I understand the arguments for the legalization of marijuana: It can generate tax revenue. It can reduce illegal supply and demand. It can strip power from cartels and lessen crime across and at our borders. And it isn't so dangerous as other illegal drugs or alcohol.
President Barack Obama even claimed one of those arguments when he recently told New Yorker Editor David Remnick, "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 explained, "(Smoking marijuana is) not something I encourage, and I've told my daughters I think it's a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy." But then he added, "I don't think it is more dangerous than alcohol."
With the president entering the cannabis conversation ring, debate has intensified around the nation. But what's the truth in the alcohol-vs.-marijuana dispute?
CNN recently reported on some extensive studies and evidence surrounding the topic, especially in comparing use, addiction, withdrawal and the effects on using motorized vehicles. Let me summarize those and cite some others. (Next week, I will discuss in greater detail how alcohol and marijuana compare in their effects on our minds, bodies and relationships.)
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol remains the leading addictive substance consumed in the U.S. But according to the Drug Enforcement Administration, marijuana is categorized as a Schedule I substance -- in the same classification as heroin, LSD and Ecstasy. The National Institute on Drug Abuse points out that 9 percent of marijuana users will become addicted to it. (By comparison, about 20 percent of cocaine users become addicted.) More than 4 million people abused pot or had an addiction problem with it in 2011, according to Fox News.
Alcoholics can suffer from the following withdrawal symptoms: depression, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, fever, nausea and even seizures. And CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, explained, "There is clear evidence that in some people, marijuana use can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia, anxiety and nausea." The National Institute on Drug Abuse added that the drug is linked to "school failure" and that high doses "can cause psychosis or panic when you're high," according to Fox News.
Of course, we know the dangers of drinking alcohol and driving. Similarly, a recent study published in the British Medical Journal showed that marijuana users who drove within three hours of smoking nearly doubled their chances of causing a crash compared with sober drivers. And the American Society of Addiction Medicine just released a statement saying the drug "impairs memory, motor function and respiratory health when smoked -- and can be addictive."
To say marijuana isn't so dangerous as alcohol is like saying a plain doughnut isn't so bad for us as a glazed one. The point is what? Wouldn't it simply be better to ditch the doughnuts from our diets and try whole-wheat toast with organic peanut butter and sliced bananas as a more nutritious way to start our days?
It suffices to say here that justifying the use of one drug because it's not so dangerous as another drug is weak reasoning in any book and bad grounds for justifying usage of either of them. And such a statement coming from a sitting president of the United States is simply reckless leadership run amok.
As far as why the president gave his pro-marijuana comments to The New Yorker, I think Donald Moorse, a Portland, Ore., medical marijuana dispensary owner, hit the cannabis nail right on the head: The president's views "will influence people throughout the country. I think that's why he made the comments."
And how does the president justify his pro-marijuana stance? He believes that if marijuana is legalized, fewer young blacks and Latinos will be imprisoned.
Obama said about the legalization of pot in Washington and Colorado: "It's important for it to go forward because it's important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished."
And he explained who those "select few" are when he said: "Middle-class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do. And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties."
Fox News summarized that "the president echoed the argument that pro-legalization advocates often make, stressing the cost to society of locking up minor drug offenders."
So let me get this straight: If pot is legalized, we pay less to incarcerate minor drug offenders by unleashing and increasing major pot smokers and smoking in every stratum of society as if there will be no price to pay -- personal, monetary or otherwise -- in doing so?
No wonder the Drug Free America Foundation said on its website this past week about Obama: "His laissez-faire attitude about legalization has drug policy and prevention experts scratching their heads in confusion as to why the President will not give clear guidance on this important issue."
The foundation went on to say, "President Obama is surrounded by ... myriad ... experts who have voiced serious concerns about the harms of marijuana and rejected legalization, so either he is seriously ill-informed about the issue or is completely ignoring warnings from his highly-esteemed advisers."
Fox News also noted that Obama's own Office of National Drug Control Policy "lists a range of negative health and mental consequences from the drug, including schizophrenia, lower IQ ('as much as an 8 point drop') and higher risk of heart attack."
More double talk and more double standards from the White House. How shocking.
Remember the days when presidents modeled and espoused healthy living, beginning by denouncing drug use rather than justifying it?
Maybe it's time we fight all addictive drugs instead of making excuses for using them. Maybe it's time we teach and model for young people that life can be good enough on its own merit without altering reality by drug use.
I'm not here making a case for or against the medicinal use of marijuana. However, it's very difficult for me to believe that America, average healthy Americans and particularly our younger generations are going to be better off with pot's legalization.
I'm all for freedom, but when liberty turns into licentiousness, it's time to reconsider why we're doing what we're doing. Just because we can doesn't mean we should. And if that's the case, what other illicit passion is going to be next in the lineup of legalization?