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Letters to the Editor

Readers write about the debate over whether or not to legalize marijuana.

May 27, 2009

Reasons to legalize marijuana

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Regarding the May 22 editorial, "Legalize marijuana? Not so fast": Marijuana is not a "harmless" substance. Very few things humans put into their body are. However, cannabis's potential health risks to the user are low compared with those of other intoxicants – alcohol and tobacco in particular – and the drug's relative impact on society is nominal.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control, alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of death in America, trailing only tobacco smoking and poor diet. By contrast, marijuana use – as admitted by the Monitor – cannot cause fatal overdose and is relatively nontoxic to healthy human cells and organs.

In fact, a 2007 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study reported that cannabis use was responsible for zero deaths and only 0.2 percent of the estimated total burden of disease and injury in that country. (Marijuana use rates in Australia are comparable to those in the United States.)

Further, it is disingenuous to highlight pot's potential risks, of which there are relatively few, while simultaneously ignoring the costs associated with enforcing marijuana prohibition, of which there are many.

The continued criminalization of cannabis has led to the arrest of over 20 million Americans since 1965, empowered and enriched criminal entrepreneurs, and alienated millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens while creating widespread disrespect for the rule of law among minorities and young people. At the same time, this expensive and arbitrary policy has done virtually nothing to address the very concerns voiced by the Monitor.

Clearly it is time to try a different approach.

Paul Armentano

Deputy director, NORML | NORML Foundation

Vallejo, Calif.

The Monitor asserts that "activists claim that it may ease symptoms for certain patients – though it has not been endorsed by the major medical associations representing those patients." Not true. Here are two of many examples:

In 2003, the American Academy of HIV Medicine stated that, "When appropriately prescribed and monitored, marijuana/cannabis can provide immeasurable benefits for the health and well-being of our patients." And in 2008, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society said that it "supports legislation to remove criminal and civil sanctions for the doctor-advised, medical use of marijuana by patients with serious physical medical conditions."

Bruce Mirken

Director of communications, Marijuana Policy Project

San Francisco

Of course marijuana hasn't been endorsed by the major medical associations or the Food and Drug Administration. Those groups receive a large portion of their funding from Big Pharma. If marijuana is legalized, Big Pharma stands to lose big time. Marijuana costs very little compared to manufactured medications.