Pot Versus Alcohol: Experts Say Booze Is the Bigger Danger

Paul Armentano

For more than three decades, America’s marijuana policies have been based upon rhetoric. Perhaps it’s time to begin listening to what the experts have to say.

Speaking privately with Richard Nixon in 1971, the late Art Linkletter offered this view on the use of marijuana versus alcohol. “When people smoke marijuana, they smoke it to get high. In every case, when most people drink, they drink to be sociable.”

“That’s right, that’s right,” Nixon agreed. “A person does not drink to get drunk  A person drinks to have fun.”

The following year Linkletter announced that he had reversed his position on pot, concluding instead that the drug’s social harms were not significant enough to warrant its criminal prohibition. Nixon however stayed the course — launching the so-called “war” on drugs, a social policy that now results in the arrest of more than 800,000 Americans each year for violating marijuana laws.

Decades later, the social debate regarding the use of marijuana versus alcohol rages on. Yet among objective experts who have studied the issue there remains little debate at all. Despite pot’s long-standing criminalization, scientists agree that the drug possesses far less harm than its legal and celebrated companion, alcohol.

For example, in the mid-1990s, the World Health Organization commissioned a team of experts to compare the health and societal consequences of marijuana use compared to other drugs, including alcohol, nicotine, and opiates. After quantifying the harms associated with both drugs, the researchers concluded: “Overall, most of these risks (associated with marijuana) are small to moderate in size. In aggregate they are unlikely to produce public health problems comparable in scale to those currently produced by alcohol and tobacco  On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies.”


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