Weed FactsAs legal marijuana starts sweeping its way across the country with many legislatures submitting bills and voting in favor of new legalization laws, the debate some Americans have about the impact of legal marijuana as compared to legal alcoholic beverages has become increasingly interesting. Now The New York Times is stepping into the discussion with an article from the point of view of leading pediatrician Aaron E. Carroll, a professor of pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine. He blogs on health research and policy at The Incidental Economist, and you can follow him on Twitter at @aaronecarroll as well.

Doctor Carroll starts with the false question: Which would I rather my children use — alcohol or marijuana? That question is precisely the kind of idiotic straw-man tactic that anti-choice pundits have tried to use to reframe the debate on intellectually disingenuous grounds. Doctor Carroll quickly dismisses the question with the only sensible answer, saying “The immediate answer, of course, is neither.” No sane person has ever suggested legalizing marijuana, or alcohol for children. Falsely presupposing that is even a matter for discussion is a painfully ignorant attempt at treating the American public as if they are so dimwitted that they can not differentiate between legalizing a choice for consenting adults over 21 who enjoy or need something for medical reasons with the false equivalency that it would in any way lead to legalizing something that does not require consent or mature adult status for access. It’s akin to say ‘what kind of beer would you rather have your infant drink, Budweiser or Guinness?” Instead, it’s important that marijuana advocates work to politely and firmly keep the focus of the discussion on the actual matter at hand: Should consenting adults be allowed to decide what they ingest, imbibe or inhale… or should the government be allowed to dictate artificial restrictions that supersede your own ability to decide for yourself?

The article goes on to explain in detail that “Scans have shown that marijuana use is associated with potential changes in the brain. It’s associated with increases in the risk of psychosis. It may be associated with changes in lung function or long-term cancer risk, even though a growing body of evidence says that seems unlikely. It can harm memory, it’s associated with lower academic achievement, and its use is linked to less success later in lifeBut these are all associations, not known causal pathways. It may be, for instance, that people predisposed to psychosis are more likely to use pot. We don’t know. Moreover, all of these potential dangers seem scary only when viewed in isolation. Put them next to alcohol, and everything looks different.”

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports that alcohol use is a factor in as much as 40% of all violent crimes in the United States, including 37% of all rapes and 27% of all aggravated assaults. Throughout history, even after an exhaustive amount of research that some would argue was biased in favor of finding sinister outcomes, no such violent association has ever been found with marijuana use. Although there are studies that can link marijuana to crime, it’s almost all centered on its illegal distribution, which would become non-existent if weed was made legal on a national scale. Simply put, people who are high on cannabis are not committing violent crimes. In fact, try to imagine any circumstance where people would be smoking marijuana legally and somehow become interested in violence. About the most violent thing pot smokers have ever done is voraciously wolf-down a whole sleeve of thin mint girl scout cookies in the span of a minute or two.

Another recent study in Pediatrics investigated factors associated with death in delinquent youth. Researchers found that about 19% of delinquent males and 11% of delinquent females had an alcohol use disorder. Even five years after detention, those with alcohol use issues had a 4.7 times greater risk of death from external causes, like homicide, than delinquents without an alcohol problem.

Binge drinking accounted for approximately half of the 80,000+ alcohol-related deaths in the United States in 2010 according to a 2012 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The economic costs associated with alcohol abuse in the United States have been estimated at 225 billion dollars with binge drinking defined as four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men during any single occasion. More than 17% of all people in the United States are binge drinkers according to recent studies and the number jumps to 28% when you examine the bracket of people age 18 to 24. It’s also worth noting that Binge drinking is most common among people in households with an annual income of at least $75,000 per year. That dispells any notion of this being a condition born out of poverty. Alcohol is in fact a major middle-class problem.

Marijuana, on the other hand, kills nobody. The annual number of deaths attributed to marijuana use is statistically next to zero. A study tracked more than 45,000 Swedes for a period of 15 years and found zero increase in mortality among those who used marijuana after controlling for other factors. Another study published in the American Journal of Public Health followed 65,000 people in the United States and also concluded that marijuana use had no appreciable effect at all on mortality in otherwise healthy men and women.

2013 case-control study found that marijuana use increased the odds of being in a fatal crash by 83% while driving under the influence of alcohol to increased the odds of a fatal car crash by more than 2,200 percent. Again, nobody under the influence of any substance should ever get behind the wheel and attempt to drive a vehicle. Intelligently people only drive when sober and completely focused on the task at hand, driving under the influence of any substance should result in serious criminal penalties – but the notion that marijuana somehow makes your driving even worse than alcohol is patently false. A more recent study found that a responsible use THC level in blood tests did not increase the risk of accidents at all. However, having a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent or more increased the odds of being in a car crash by 575% as compared to driving while sober.

According to 1995 data, college students reported more than 460,000 alcohol-related incidents of violence in the United States alone. A 2011 study found that mental or physical dating abuse was more common on drinking days among college students. Conversely, a 2014 study examined marijuana use and intimate partner violence during the first nine years of marriage and concluded that people who used marijuana had lower rates of any such violence. In fact, men who used marijuana the most were statistically the least likely to commit violent acts against their partner.

Some continue to claim that legalizing marijuana would somehow make these statistics lead to entirely different results… but even that doesn’t hold any water. It is already estimated that almost half of Americans age 18 to 20 have tried marijuana at some point in their lives with more than a third having used it at least once in the last twelve months.

Every year more than 1,800 college students die from alcohol-related incidents while 600,000 more are injured under the influence of alcohol, and another 700,000 are assaulted including more than 100,000 who are sexually assaulted. According to Doctor Carroll and the New York Times “The numbers for pot aren’t even in the same league.”

All of the above lead Doctor Carroll to conclude in his article that “The number of people who will be hurt from [marijuana use], will hurt others because of it, begin to abuse it, and suffer negative consequences from it are certainly greater than zero. But looking only at those dangers, and refusing to grapple with them in the context of our society’s implicit consent for alcohol use in young adults, is irrational. When someone asks me whether I’d rather my children use pot or alcohol, after sifting through all the studies and all the data, I still say “neither.” Usually, I say it more than once. But if I’m forced to make a choice, the answer is marijuana.”

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