• Recreational Cannabis

last modified today by strypey

Claims and Counter-claims for Drug Law Reform

 Cannabis Use

1. Cannabis is significantly less dangerous than alcohol.

1a. Many recreational drug experts agree that alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis

1. Cannabis is a dangerous drug. Why not just have a beer?

1a. Credible drug abuse treatment professionals agree that cannabis is dangerous.

2. Evidence shows that cannabis does not significantly impair driving safety (unless combined with alcohol). Besides which, there is no evidence that removing criminal penalties for cannabis use, cultivation, or trade would motivate people to drive while high.

2009: R. Andrew Sewell, MD et al, 'The Effect of Cannabis Compared with Alcohol on Driving'

2. Cannabis law reform would lead to more road deaths
3. A regulated, legal market in cannabis could be more easily restricted to those over 18. In the current black market, people of any age can easily access cannabis, with no quality control, from gang-run 'tinny houses' in every town and city in the country. 3. Cannabis needs to be illegal to keep it away from children.

4. There is significant evidence that some of the active ingredients in cannabis have anti-cancer properties. The latest results of long term studies covering large groups of people in multiple countries show no evidence of a link between regular cannabis use and lung cancer.

2013: Zhang et al, 'Cannabis smoking and lung cancer risk: pooled analysis in the International Lung Cancer Consortium'

4. Cannabis use leads to lung cancer 
4a. Dangers related to inhaling smoke have not been held to justify prohibition of candles, or  incense. Legalising would make it easier for users to access harm minimisation information, and equipment like water bongs, and vaporisers that reduce or eliminate the harmful parts of the smoke (which is mainly the tar). 4a. Like any activity which involves inhaling smoke, cannabis is damaging to the lungs.
5. Many pro-legalisation activists are non-smokers, including NZ Greens co-leader Metiria Turei. 5. The desire to legalise cannabis is a faulty thought process caused by cannabis use. 
6.  Going to work while impaired by any drug, especially alcohol, and even immoderate use of caffeine, can lead to accidents. There is scant evidence that cannabis use is significant factor in workplace accidents, and no evidence that legalisation would motivate people to smoke while at work. 6. Cannabis law reform would lead to more workplace accidents. 
7. Any statistical relationship between cannnabis use and use of more dangerous drugs can be explained by the fact that in a black market the same dealers are often selling all the illegal drugs. Also, once users realise that the "reefer madness" hype about cannabis is untrue, they become distrustful of all mainstream information about drugs, and more willing to experiment. Thus, it is the prohibition of cannabis which exposes users to harder drugs, leading to any "gateway" effect. 7. Cannabis is a "gateway drug" which causes users to eventually move onto more harmful drugs.

8. Depression, suicidal tendencies, and other mental illness, can lead to cannabis misuse. But "...cannabis alone is neither necessary nor sufficient to cause psychosis" - Ian Sample, Science Editor for the Guardian.

8a. The results of the "Dunedin Study" investigation into cannabis were far from conclusive. They showed that among the participants in their study, people with mental health problem at 15 were more likely to try cannabis, and that people who smoked cannabis at 18 were more likely to have mental health problems at 21. But these results were correlations, and come nowhere near to proving physiological causation. It's just as likely that fear of law enforcement and social prejudice towards cannabis users were responsible for the increased incidence of mental health problems among 21 years olds.

8. Cannabis causes mental illness, such as depression, and can lead to suicide.

8a. The "Dunedin Study" proved that cannabis causes psychosis.

9. There is no evidence that cannabis plays any significant part in poor sexual health. The nature of cannabis effects make it high unlikely that users would be more promiscuous, or less safety conscious. Alcohol, with its disinhibiting, and mentally disorientating effects is the main drug factor in sexual impulsiveness.

 9. Cannabis is a factor in STDs and unwanted pregnancies. 

 (for claims 1-9, see second comment by Bob, and fourth comment by anonymous)  

11. While there has been some increase in the proportion of THC in some strains of cannabis, especially when grown in a controlled environment, all that can be said with certainty is cannabis is available in a range of strengths. Also, stronger cannabis just means that users smoke less volume of herbal cannabis to get the same effect, which
10. Cannabis is much strong now than it was in the 1970s, which makes it more dangerous.
12. Alcohol is more dangerous than cannabis
11. Cannabis is more dangerous than alcohol

12. Legalizing cannabis would have no significant effect on cannabis use

12a. Not only do the usage rates of cannabis tend to stay the same or even decrease after legalization or decriminalization of cannabis, so do use rates among other more dangerous drugs, including legal ones like alcohol and tobacco, and illegal ones like methamphetamine and cocaine.

12b. This argument depends on two claims, one that legalization would result in increased use, and two, that increased use would result in more harm. Reported cannabis use could increase, as people feel less afraid of admitting they smoke, although the overseas evidence suggests that usage rates are more likely to drop (see 3). Even if there was an actual increase in the amount of cannabis used, this would only increase harm if people were over-using and abusing, which isn't prevented by prohibition anyway. More likely, based on overseas experience, people will move from more dangerous drugs like alcohol and tobacco, resulting in less harm.

12. Legalizing cannabis would increase cannabis use

"...what has happened overseas is that the uptake has increased often, of marijuana, where its been legalized or decriminalized..." - Damien O'Conner, NZ Labour Party MP for West Coast - Tasman

12a. Legalizing cannabis would lead to more abuse of other drugs

12b. "...we haven't sorted out care for those people who are harmed by alcohol and tobacco properly, we haven't looked after them, so before we go adding another complication to our drug harm, let's sort out the one around alcohol for a start." - Damien O'Conner, NZ Labour Party MP for West Coast - Tasman

13. Legalizing cannabis would reduce alcohol use
13. Legalizing cannabis would have no significant effect on alcohol use
14. UN drug treaties do not prevent experimentation with different ways of regulating drugs
14. UN drug treaties prevent experimentation with different ways of regulating drugs


Cannabis Economics

1. Legalizing cannabis would remove a large, easy-to-satisfy revenue source - the cannabis black market - from unregulated, violent, racketeering groups


1. We might as well keeping letting unregulated, violent, racketeering groups make easy money off cannabis, because if we legalized and taxed it, they'd find something else to make money off.
"If we took away cannabis from the gangs they'd just move into some other area. I don't believe that just legalization removes the gang issue, and the potential for them to use a harmful substance that's illegal for trading purposes and making money. They'll come up with something new." - Damien O'Conner, NZ Labour Party, MP for West Coast - Tasman

2. Prohibition is falsely conflated with strict regulation. In fact the black market in illegal drugs is totally unregulated. Legalisation would lead to more regulation, licensing of growers and retailers, quality control, and an incentive to supply users with accurate information about the characteristics and potential harm of the drug being sold. 2. Because alcohol and tobacco are being more strictly regulated, it makes sense to keep cannabis, MDMA ("Ecstasy") and LSD illegal.
3. The black markets created by drug prohibition create more harm to people and society in general than the drugs themselves. 3. There is no clear evidence that cannabis black markets in Aotearoa cause as much harm as the black markets in heroin or cocaine in US cities.

2002: Chris Wilkins, Sally Casswell, 'The cannabis black market and the case for the legalisation of cannabis in New Zealand', Social Policy Journal of New Zealand: Issue 18

4. If cannabis was legal, it could be taxed, providing revenue for public services.

4. This is an example of the " handbag economics ", the idea that the government has to earn money before it can spend it. Actually government is the primary issuer of money, a role it delegates to the Reverve Bank of NZ, which delegates it to private, commercial banks.

5. Regulation could be designed to restrict cannabis sales to not-for-profit clubs (the "grow-op" model), or prevent publicly-traded companies from being involved.
5. "The big corporations, like the cigarette companies, will move in and take over control of it... But one of the realities of legalization and taxation is that you then simply shift cannabis into the big corporate world." - Damien O'Connor, NZ Labour Party MP for West Coast - Tasman

Points of Interest

  • A good source for many of the regular arguments for and against drug law reform can be found in this comment thread on KiwiBlog, and the Transform website (thanks Paula). Stephen adds "there was an issue of Norml News back in 2001 or so, that contained a list of excerpts from various studies, reports, etc that could be used to cite from in any argument... The other great resource for dealing with pat arguments is the book Marijuana Facts/Marijuana Myths."
  • Another set of "myths" and counter-evidence from a pro-reform perspective is presented on marijuana.com
  • The case for cannabis prohibition is presented in a document called 'Marijuana Myths and Facts: The Truth Behind 10 Popular Misperceptions', issued by the US Office of National Drug Control Policy 
  • The Global Commission on Drug Policy recently released a report recommending legalisation and regulation of all drugs, based on a number of expert papers 
  • Professor David Nutt and other members of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs blog regularly on DrugScience
  • The "Dunedin study", a famous longitudinal study on the health and development of an anonymous group of people in Ōtepoti (Dunedin), Aotearoa (NZ), used its data to examine the common claim that cannabis causes mental illness.
  • A 2014 article on LiveScience examined the cannabis vs. alcohol debate, attempting a neutral evaluation of the evidence.
  • A 2014 article by Kristen Wyatt (The Associated Press), 'Colorado marijuana growers at odds over revised production rules', demonstrates that debates about cannabis law continue even after legalization of a commercial market in cannabis. The role of the state in regulating for harm reduction can be seen as coming into conflict with its role in regulating for free and fair, competitive markets in consumer products like cannabis.