The Mr. Mackey Argument
Here in Missouri, Show-Me Cannabis Regulation has just launched a local initiative in Springfield – Missouri’s third largest city – to decriminalize the possession of up to 35 grams of cannabis. Although we prefer ending the war on cannabis outright, we believe that any measure that saves peaceful people from arrest is a step in the right direction. Arresting people for marijuana possession is fundamentally unjust and a waste of taxpayer resources. That’s our message, but the opposition has opted for something more simplistic:
That is, of course, Mr. Mackey, the school counselor from South Park, using his circular logic to talk to students about drugs. And if you think I’m oversimplifying the opposition’s message, check out the 1:00 mark in this news story from Springfield’s KY3. “Marijuana is bad”, so it should be prohibited; case closed. No need to investigate whether marijuana is more or less harmful than alcohol, or whether our prohibitionist policies pose more of a threat to users than the plant itself.
This refusal to think beyond cliches seems to pervade the prohibitionist mindset all the way to the top, as seen in Drug Enforcement Administrator Michele Leonhart’s inability to admit that marijuana is less addictive than heroin when questioned by Colorado Congressman Jared Polis. As Polis pressed a clearly flustered Leonhart on the harms of cannabis compared to drugs such as methamphetamine, crack, and heroin, she could only repeat “I believe all illegal drugs are bad.”
Fortunately for those of us who do not accept such evidence-free assertions, scientists have recently begun to compare the harms of different psychotropic substances in an objective way. The most rigorous study of the relative harms of different drugs was published in the respected British medical journal the Lancet in late 2010, and the study’s authors – including a former chief drugs adviser to the British government – found that alcohol was a little more than three and a half times more harmful than cannabis. This study isn’t the last word on the subject, of course, but there is no rigorous scientific work that I am aware of showing cannabis to be more harmful overall than alcohol.
My point is not that we should ban alcohol. We tried that. It failed miserably. The point is that we currently deal with the problems associated with alcohol use as a public health issue, not a criminal one. We urge alcoholics to seek treatment without sending SWAT teams after social drinkers. That policy is working infinitely better than alcohol prohibition. There’s absolutely no reason it wouldn’t work with cannabis.
If you agree that our cannabis policy should be based upon something more than “Marijuana is bad, mmmkay,” please consider donating to Show-Me Cannabis Regulation to help us raise the $6,000 we need to put Springfield’s decriminalization initiative on the November ballot. Right now, the National Cannabis Coalition is matching donations we receive dollar for dollar, so donate now and double your impact!
John is the campaign director for Show-Me Cannabis Regulation in Missouri and a member of the National Cannabis Coalition‘s board of directors. He first became involved in cannabis law reform when he joined the Students for a Sensible Drug Policy chapter at Washington University in Saint Louis in 2001. After graduating from college, John taught high school social studies before embarking on a career as a writer. He worked for the Show-Me Institute, a think tank that advocates free market policies for the state of Missouri from 2009 to 2011, when he joined Show-Me Cannabis Regulation. His articles have appeared in Young American Revolution, The American Conservative, and Reason Magazine, as well as newspapers across Missouri.