Going to Pot: Why the Rush to Legalize Marijuana Is Harming America by William J. Bennett and Robert A. White, ESQ., Center Street (Hachette Book Group), $26.00 / $29 CAN, Pp 220, February 2015, ISBN 978-1455560738
American society is facing a serious internal threat as one state after other rushes to legalize the use of marijuana. Most states have done or are doing this in the name of its medical use. Legalizing marijuana by the states is in direct opposition to the federal laws on Controlled Substances. Obama Administration officials have said that they would not enforce federal laws on marijuana. Nearly half the states and the District of Columbia have legalized some form of marijuana use for medical purposes. In California and Colorado, thousands of neighborhood dispensaries sell marijuana to anyone with a medical marijuana identification card which is not difficult to obtain. However, New York State is implementing stricter laws. Four states have fully legalized marijuana use. This makes the United States the second nation with fully legalized marijuana use after Uruguay.
In an excellent book, Going to Pot, William J. Bennett and Robert A. White, ESQ., have busted several myths used by states to legalize marijuana use. These two authors have the right credentials to write about this important subject. William J. Bennett was the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H. W. Bush. He is also a former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities and former US Secretary of Education. Robert A. White, ESQ., has been a litigator in New Jersey for four decades. He began his legal career as an Assistant US Attorney in New Jersey.
The authors challenge the view that marijuana is safe or less harmful than alcohol. This is a myth that has penetrated the American society to the point that even President Barak Obama told David Remnick of the New Yorker that “I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.” He had earlier claimed that marijuana was “not very different from the cigarettes.” In many states marijuana is called “medical marijuana.” It is not just the Democrats who think this way. Republican governor Bobby Jindal has also called it “medical marijuana.” Consequently, the use of marijuana has lost the stigma it used to have.
According to a study of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), marijuana smoke is “an irritant to the lungs and frequent marijuana smokers can have many of the same respiratory problems experienced by tobacco smokers, such as daily cough and phlegm production, more frequent acute chest illness, and a heightened risk of lung infections.” Another NIDA study found that people who smoke marijuana more frequently but do not smoke tobacco have more health problems and miss more days of work than those who don’t smoke marijuana due to respiratory illness.
American Lung Association has drawn similar conclusions from its research. One American Lung Association study found 33 cancer causing chemicals in marijuana. Marijuana smoke, like tobacco smoke, always deposits tar into the lungs. The American Lung Association study says, “when equal amounts of marijuana and tobacco are smoked, marijuana deposits four times as much tar into the lungs. This is because the marijuana joints are un-filtered and often more deeply inhaled than cigarettes.” The authors cite several medical studies and say that marijuana increases the heart rate by 20-100% shortly after smoking. The marijuana users have a 4.8-fold increase in the risk of heart attack in the first hour after smoking the drug. No study in recent years says that marijuana is benign.
The use of marijuana also has bad psychiatric effects. According to one study, marijuana leaves negative impact on the adolescent brain. A Psychology Today article concluded that teenagers who smoke marijuana regularly are at greater risk for long term brain damage and declines in both IQ and cognitive functioning years later. It also said that daily cannabis use is on the rise among teenagers who now smoke marijuana at younger ages than ever before and, in many cases, on a daily basis. It concluded that the rise in marijuana use is caused in part “because most teenagers do not believe that smoking marijuana is harmful to their health.” President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine Sr. Stuart Gitlow estimates that upwards of 1 in 100 people using high THC (tetrahydrocannabinol – a psychoactive compound) marijuana experience psychotic symptoms. Gitlow writes, “If you look at marijuana, the intensity has changed. So I would expect it to have a somewhat higher addictive potential.” The authors say that this is the reason why more and more marijuana users are involved in car crashes. They cite recent statistics which show that more and more drivers who were fatally injured testing positive for marijuana. They were selected randomly for drug testing (excluding tobacco, alcohol, and medications administered after the crash).
The authors have busted the myth that legalizing marijuana will raise the tax revenues and lower the law-enforcement cost. They convincingly argue that the cost of the prohibition of marijuana is not prohibitive. In a 2113 landmark study, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found out that the total enforcement cost of the prohibition of marijuana in all the 50 states is between US $1.2 and $3.6 billion. It is one seventh to one half of what the Unites States pays to the United Nation. The authors write, “It is approximately the amount of additional net worth Warren Buffet obtained in one day in March.” Money is surely not the reason.
It is often said that legalizing marijuana will hurt drug cartels and push them out of business. The authors argue that legalizing one of the products will not put cartels out of business. “As of now, cartels operating in Colorado are already trying to exploit new federal banking rules that have allowed for federally regulated banks to engage in business with marijuana dispensaries. At the same time, they are actively at work raising THC levels to become the preferred provider of recreational as well as medical marijuana.” They rightly argue that the drug cartels are not solely in the marijuana business. They quote Sheila Polk who wrote, “Annually, there are three times as many alcohol-related arrests as marijuana [in Arizona]. Marijuana legalization does not mean fewer arrests.” Polk says that legalization of marijuana means that there are more charges for driving under the influence and marijuana and child neglect. It also means there are more drug-dependent newborn babies. This will lead to public disorder, putting marijuana on par with alcohol. The authors cite her as having written, “For every tax dollar collected from alcohol sales, 10 more are spent to address alcohol related criminal conduct, treatment, unemployment, and healthcare.”
Going to Pot is the best book on the subject and is likely to remain the best in the near future. It is well-written and well-referenced. Every American should read it before making any opinion on the legalization of a dangerous drug like marijuana. It should be a required read for all US lawmakers and politicians. Reviewed by Arif Jamal