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Debunking Kevin Sabet’s Anti-Marijuana Arguments

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Yesterday, while I was taking a break from pushing paper in my cubicle, I was checking Facebook on my phone and saw a link that was posted by two of my friends. The link was to an article that marijuana opponent Kevin Sabet wrote for the Heritage Foundation. In the article, Kevin Sabet lays out his arguments against marijuana reform, which are the same arguments that he has been saying over, and over at his speaking engagements. Below are my rebuttals to his arguments. There are many, many links in both his text and mine, but I think it’s good to provide as many references as possible. Kevin Sabet’s statements are in bold font, and mine are in plain font:

“This increased potency has translated to more than 400,000 emergency room visits every year due to things like acute psychotic episodes and panic attacks.”

Doesn’t say how those visits were determined. Did they literally ask the question, ‘Are you here because you are having a psychotic episode or panic attack due to smoking marijuana?’ Or did they see that the person was there for a psychotic episode or panic attack, asked them if they had smoked marijuana in the last month, and then made the leap that the two are directly correlated? Did they take into account people’s past mental health history? It’s impossible to accept a statistic like that at face value. Sure, it sounds good when you are trying to spread propaganda, but anyone who is smart is going to want to know more.

“Mental health researchers are also noting the significant marijuana connection with schizophrenia, and educators are seeing how persistent marijuana use can blunt academic motivation and significantly reduce IQ by up to eight points, according to a very large recent study in New Zealand. Add to these side-effects new research now finding that even casual marijuana use can result in observable differences in brain structure, specifically parts of the brain that regulate emotional processing, motivation and reward. Indeed, marijuana use hurts our ability to learn and compete in a competitive global workplace.”

After reading Kevin Sabet’s claims, make sure to also read this Harvard study which found that marijuana does not cause schizophrenia, and for an equally worthy read, check out this study that found that marijuana actually helps those suffering from schizophrenia. As far as how marijuana affects the brain, check out this article by Paul Armentano of NORML. If you read that article and still believe Kevin Sabet’s claims, you should probably see a doctor about your own brain health. Marijuana use does not hurt our ability to compete in a global workplace. For evidence of that, you should read this article by the Huffington Post which offers up numerous examples of people that are extremely successful and consume marijuana.

“Additionally, marijuana users pose dangers on the road, despite popular myth.”

This is a favorite argument for marijuana opponents. They act like there will be a small army of stoned drivers on the roads the instant that marijuana is legalized. To debunk this claim, I offer up an article that lists numerous links showing that marijuana and dangerous driving are not associated, a link to a video with Russ Belville breaking down how the ‘stoned driving’ claims are false, and a link to a Time article highlighting how medical marijuana laws lower traffic fatalities in the states that passed them. The only myth being spread around is that marijuana reform results in a crisis on public roads, which is clearly not true.

“While the marijuana plant has known medical value, that does not mean smoked or ingested whole marijuana is medicine. This position is in line with the American Medical Association, American Society of Addiction Medicine, American Glaucoma Foundation, National MS Society, and American Cancer Society.

If something has medical value, how is it not medicine? Marijuana or otherwise? If marijuana is not medicine, than why does the federal government have a patent on it? Why does the federal government supply smokable medical marijuana to four patients every month, and has been for many, many years? What about the people that use medical marijuana and successfully find relief, are they liars? The National Epilepsy Foundation has called for increased access to medical marijuana, the American Academy of Neurology has endorsed medical marijuana, and a survey of 1,446 doctors from 72 countries found that medical marijuana is an effective treatment for breast cancer patients. To say that marijuana isn’t medicine is a slap in the face to science, logic, and compassion.

“But legalizing marijuana will not make a significant dent in our imprisonment rates. That is because less than 0.3 percent of all state prison inmates are there for smoking marijuana. Moreover, most people arrested for marijuana use are cited with a ticket—very few serve time behind bars unless it is in the context of a probation or parole violation.”

There is quite a bit of debate as to how many people are serving jail/prison sentences for marijuana only offenses. However, I would ask the question ‘why is ANYONE serving jail time for a marijuana only offense?’ .3, 3.3, 33.3, does it really matter? No jail bed should be reserved for a marijuana offender when so many dangerous, violent criminals go free due to lack of jail space. The punishment simply doesn’t fit the act, whether it’s one day, or in the case of Jeff Mizansky in Missouri, a life sentence.

To claim that most people just get a ticket is a just plain wrong. Some people get tickets, but others get misdemeanors and felonies. Most lose their driving privileges for a time. Most lose their ability to get financial aid in college. Many lose their right to own a firearm. In a case of a close friend, he couldn’t even coach his son’s soccer team because he had a felony on his record for marijuana cultivation. How is that right? Getting the ‘scarlet letter’ for a marijuana offense is far from simply getting a piece of paper instructing you to pay a fine. It can, and often does, ruin your life. How is that OK Mr. Sabet?

“Marijuana is safer than alcohol, so marijuana should be treated like alcohol” is a catchy, often-used mantra in the legalization debate. But this assumes that our alcohol policy is something worth modeling. In fact, because they are used at such high rate due to their wide availability, our two legal intoxicants cause more harm, are the cause of more arrests, and kill more people than all illegal drugs combined. Why add a third drug to our list of legal killers?

No one has ever died from a marijuana overdose. Also, no one is saying ‘regulate marijuana like cigarettes’ so why is that even included in Mr. Sabet’s argument? Marijuana does not cause more arrests, aside from being arrested for marijuana obviously.  Marijuana as a ‘legal killer?’ Seriously? Repeat – no one has ever died from a marijuana overdose. Ever. In the history of the world.

Unfortunately, we can’t expect  societal financial gain from marijuana legalization. For every $1 in revenue the U.S. receives in alcohol and tobacco taxes, we spend more than $10 in social costs.

I have heard Mr. Sabet repeat this argument over, and over, and over. It’s almost as if he believes that if he repeats it enough, people will equate the social and physical harms of alcohol and tobacco with marijuana. The problem with that being MARIJUANA IS NOT ALCOHOL OR TOBACCO. For the love of mankind Mr. Sabet, quit using this argument. Throwing out statistics about how much it costs society for alcohol and tobacco is irrelevant. Marijuana has never killed anyone. Marijuana doesn’t rot your liver. Marijuana does not increase crime, specifically violent crime. Marijuana is safer than tobacco. Marijuana is not associated with the pulmonary complications that are associated with tobacco use.

Mr. Sabet is comparing apples to oranges. Statistics are not available yet out of Colorado as far as social costs, but I guarantee the state does not spend/receive at the same ratio as alcohol or tobacco. In January alone, Colorado brought in 3.5 million dollars in marijuana related taxes. Show me 3.5 million dollars for the entire year in social costs to Colorado and I’ll gladly shut up. Mr. Sabet, please, please, for the sake of sanity, academics, and common sense, quit using this argument.

“Portugal and Holland provide successful models of legalization.”

No American, other than marijuana opponents, uses this argument anymore. I don’t know anyone right now that is pointing to Portugal or Holland. Everyone I know and work with points to Colorado. Inconveniently for Kevin Sabet, a poll was just released that shows majority of people in Colorado think ‘marijuana legalization is good for the state.‘ No need to look to other countries for examples Mr. Sabet, just look to the State of Colorado, which is clearly a success.

Less than 8 percent of Americans smoke marijuana versus 52 percent who drink and 27 percent of people that smoke tobacco cigarettes. Coupled with its legal status, efforts to reduce demand for marijuana can work. Communities that implement local strategies implemented by area-wide coalitions of parents, schools, faith communities, businesses, and, yes, law enforcement, can significantly reduce marijuana use. Brief interventions and treatment for marijuana addiction (which affects about 1 in 6 kids who start using, according to the National Institutes of Health) can also work.”

Most of that statement I actually agree with. Yes, lets build a coalition. I’m not all for the treatment part, but if people want to voluntarily go to treatment, by all means, let them go if you want to. But lets be clear – forcing someone into rehab and having them voluntarily attend treatment are two different things. We can’t take the approach of ‘if you use marijuana, than you are an addict, and therefore you need treatment.’ Not everyone who uses marijuana needs treatment, just as not everyone that uses alcohol needs treatment.

***

In summary, Kevin Sabet is incorrect with most of his anti-marijuana arguments. He relies on examples from the tobacco and alcohol industries, both of which are far more harmful than marijuana. That’s not a matter of opinion, or spin. It’s a fact. Science and studies clearly prove that. I will agree with him that marijuana policy is not easy, but locking even one person in jail and/or ruining even one person’s life for marijuana use is wrong on many levels. Saying that marijuana isn’t medicine, knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of examples of people successfully using it instead of other substances that are more harmful, is ridiculous at best.

Marijuana prohibition is an extremely racist public policy, and there is no place in America in 2014 for racism. Police and jail resources are limited, and should be dedicated to REAL crime. Kevin Sabet cannot refute those arguments directly. Instead, he continues to play the ‘public policy three card monte’ which is not constructive for anything. Marijuana legalization works, and someday future generations will wonder why Kevin Sabet was given a platform to spread his propaganda by the Heritage Foundation and others that support his current work.

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