7 myths of marijuana legalization

In Police1 "First Person" essays, Police1 Members candidly share their own unique personal insights on issues confronting cops today, as well as opinions, observations, and advice on living life behind the thin blue line

By Keith Graves
Police1 Member

I admit I’m a bit biased when it comes to the topic of marijuana legalization. I’ve been a police officer for 25 years and have spent a good amount of my career working narcotics. As a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor, I’ve spent the last 15 years teaching anyone who would listen about the dangers of drugs and how to conduct drug investigations. 

I’ve seen people killed because of marijuana — through drug rip-offs as well as DUI accidents — and I’ve seen people lose everything through marijuana addiction. 

In 1996 I was a detective assigned to a narcotics unit. That same year, California became the first state to legalize the medicinal use of marijuana. Since then, I’ve watched marijuana use soar among our population and I’ve seen the potency of marijuana explode exponentially. 

I had a hard time expressing why legalizing marijuana was bad. I knew it in my core because I was seeing the horrible side effects of marijuana legalization on a daily basis. I had a hard time, that is, until I read a book by Kevin Sabet entitled Reefer Sanity

In this book, Sabet reviews the 7 great myths of legalization. From my own personal experience, I could relate to what Sabet was writing about. But what Sabet does — which I couldn’t express myself at the time — is back his statements with scientific research and case studies. 

I encourage all officers to become familiar with these 7 myths. We are going to need it if we are going to keep our communities safe from drug legalization. What follows is a mix of what Sabet writes in Reefer Sanity along with my own experience with the legalization of marijuana in California. 

Myth 1: Marijuana is Harmless and Non-addictive
I’ve addressed this in many of my classes and I’m glad to see Sabet addressed it in his book. Marijuana in the 1980’s and early 90s averaged just four percent THC. A number of samples now range more than 20 percent THC. Back in the 80s and 90s people usually smoked a joint, which contains .25 grams of marijuana. 

Now everyone smokes a blunt (a marijuana-rolled cigar), which is averaging close to a gram of marijuana. Smoking one blunt today, at 20 percent THC, is like smoking 16 old-school joints. As Sabet puts it, it’s like going from one light beer to a dozen shots of vodka. 

Sabet also points out, “Marijuana is not as addictive as drugs like tobacco or heroin, but its addiction rate of one in every eleven adults who have ever tried it — or one in six adolescents who have ever used it — should give us pause.” 

Myth 2: Smoked or Eaten Marijuana is Medicine
A recent study found the average “patient” was a 32-year-old white male with a history of drug and alcohol abuse and no history of life threatening disease. Further studies have shown very few of those who sought a recommendation had cancer, HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, or MS. 

We’re also beginning to see a link between medical marijuana and increased drug use in some states. The study is contained in: (O’Connell, T et al. (2007). Long-term marijuana users seeking medical cannabis in California (2001-2007).

Another caveat from his book: As THC levels rise, CBD (the part of the plant having a medicinal value) plummets. So the medical value of marijuana is decreasing as it becomes more potent. 

There is also medication available, such as Marinol that contains the medicinal qualities of marijuana without getting high. 

Myth 3: Countless People are Behind Bars Simply for Smoking Marijuana
According to studies by the Bureau of Justice, only one tenth of one percent of people in state prisons are serving sentences for first time marijuana possession. Just three tenths of one percent of people in state prisons are serving time for marijuana possession. 

According to leading drug policy researchers in the US, your chance of being arrested (for a marijuana related offense) is one in every 11,000 to 12,000 joints smoked.

Myth 4: The Legality of Alcohol and Tobacco Strengthen the Case for Legal Marijuana
Sabet points out some data from a variety of sources. He found that alcohol kills 100,000 people annually and tobacco kills another 500,000 people every year. These two legal drugs are the biggest contributors to healthcare costs in this country. 

In many respects, because of its prevalence, alcohol is far worse than any of our currently illegal drugs, including crack. For example, alcohol causes much more violence and murder in our society than any other drug.  
Myth 5: Legal Marijuana will Solve the Government’s Budgetary Problems
Society gains about 15 to 20 billion dollars a year from the taxes imposed on alcohol, while it loses over 200 billion dollars a year in healthcare, criminal justice and other costs directly related to alcohol use and abuse. That’s a ratio of 10 to 1 (or higher) of costs to revenue. Tobacco is hardly better. The $25 billion collected in tobacco taxes doesn’t even come close to offsetting the more than $200 billion in lost social costs from tobacco use. 

Myth 6: Portugal and Holland Provide Successful Models of Legalization
To sum up Myth 6, Holland and Portugal’s drug use is skyrocketing, while death rates and medical costs are skyrocketing right alongside increased use rates. Every country that has legalized drugs has regretted it and has started a path back to criminalization. 
Myth 7: Prevention, Intervention and Treatment are Doomed to Fail — So Why Try? 
Sabet does a great job defeating Myth 7. Sabet points out that it is estimated that for every dollar we invest in drug use prevention efforts, up to $10 is saved in treatment costs. NIDA has identified these core principles for successful approaches to prevention: 

1.) Successful prevention programs promote parental monitoring of children, bonding between parents and children, participation and success in school and extracurricular activities. 
2.) These programs focus on reducing risk factors for drug abuse, including academic failure, caregivers as substance abusers, peer group deviancy, availability of drugs in the community, and policies and attitudes that promote the normalization of drug use. 
3.) Effective programs are localized and community specific, and tailored to target audiences. This means that risk factors unique to each community become a focal point of education. 
4.) Prevention programs need to be implemented with a consistent message in multiple settings simultaneously, which might include schools, churches, service organizations, and youth groups, such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. 
5.) Drug free community coalitions can help to facilitate comprehensive approaches. Communities with such coalitions have shown significant reductions in cannabis use among middle school and high school age youth. 

These are just a few tidbits Sabet covers in his book. If you’re as concerned as me about the path society is taking toward the legalization of drugs, you must educate yourself. The public values your opinion as a police officer. If you give up, they will too and we all lose. 

If you can use some of these talking points to show the foolishness of marijuana legalization, then you can sway public opinion and keep us on the right path. 

About the Author
Keith Graves has been a Police Officer in Livermore, California since 1990 and is currently a sergeant assigned to supervise their training unit. Keith is a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor (IACP #3292) and routinely teaches both the DRE course and the CNOA Drug Abuse Recognition course. Keith has also taught at the basic police academy and has developed a number of drug courses for the California Narcotics Officers Association. Keith has held assignments as a Narcotics/Vice Detective, COPPS Officer, Traffic Officer, and SWAT Team Leader. Keith has taught thousands of officers and businesses about drug use, drug trends, compliance training and drug investigations. Keith earned his a BA in Business Management from Saint Mary’s College of California. Keith is the founder and president of Graves & Associates LLC, a company dedicated to providing drug training to law enforcement and private industry. Keith can be reached at keith@gravesassociates.com. 

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