The “gateway” theory is still hanging around after all these years.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, in one of his many ill-informed public statements, recently proclaimed that were he elected president in 2016, he would “crack down and not permit” states to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, calling tax revenue from marijuana “blood money”. Christie added “Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law. And the states should not be permitted to sell it and profit from it.” Fortunately I do not anticipate we will have to endure a Christie presidency, but it was fascinating to see he had resurrected an old anti-marijuana myth that most of us had thought was dead.
In taking this anti-pot position, Christie gave as his justification the so-called “gateway” theory. “Every bit of objective data tells us that it’s a gateway drug to other drugs. And it is not an excuse in our society to say alcohol is legal so why not make marijuana legal. …Well … why not make heroin legal? Why not make cocaine legal. You know, their argument is a slippery slope.”
This man is not burdened by facts, nor by intellectual rigor. He has clearly looked around for some justification for him to oppose legalization, to appeal to the far right wing of the Republican party, and the best he could find was the old, previously discarded “gateway” theory. In addition, Governor Christie makes no distinction between the dangers of smoking pot, versus using heroin and cocaine. They are all illegal, so they must be bad; while alcohol and tobacco, both of which kill hundreds of thousands of people each year, are legal, so they must be okay. A simple formula for a simple man.
Younger readers may not know that for several decades, it was this “gateway” belief – specifically that those who begin by smoking marijuana would end up as heroin addicts – that supporters of the prohibition of marijuana used to justify the enormous social costs of maintaining that policy. They believed, or at least they argued, that there was something about the marijuana high that caused smokers to lose their self-control and develop a compulsion to use other stronger and more dangerous drugs, ending up as a heroin addict. The theory implies some biological mechanism that has no basis in science.
There was never any real data to support such a theory, and in fact, the vast majority of marijuana smokers have never used heroin.
Government surveys indicate approximately 115 million Americans have smoked marijuana (44 percent of those 12 years old and older), and 34 million Americans (13 percent of those 12 years old and older) are current users; while less than 4.6 million Americans (1.8 percent of those 12 years old and older) have ever tried heroin, and approximately 669,000 (0.25 percent) are current users. If marijuana smoking actually led to heroin use, we would have a lot more heroin users.
Those who initially raised the “gateway” theory were anti-drug warriors who would ask admitted heroin addicts if they had smoked marijuana before they used heroin. Not surprisingly, most of them had. But, of course, most of them had also used tobacco, alcohol, and prescription pain killers (and sometimes other drugs) before they used heroin, yet no one is claiming that alcohol or tobacco “leads to heroin”, although both of these drugs were nearly always used by these heroin addicts even before they had smoked marijuana.
The ultimate error in the conclusion reached by those who buy into the “gateway” theory is they confuse correlation with causation. The mere fact that one may have used one or more drugs prior to initiating heroin use may be explained by cultural or socio-economic factors, such as poverty and poor social environment, association with others who use dangerous drugs, and mental illnesses.
For decades, the addiction industry – addiction researchers and addiction treatment professionals – have continued to push the myth of the “gateway” theory, as it is the basis for much of their government and pharmaceutical funding. If the theory were acknowledged to be a myth, they would lose much of their funding, and their credibility.
And the law enforcement community, which largely sees marijuana prohibition as a jobs program for themselves, are only too happy to confirm, from their “boots on the ground” perspective, that the “gateway” theory is real. It justifies their insistence on treating marijuana use as a crime, which allows them to continue to violate people’s (largely motorists’) 4th Amendment rights, by the ruse of claiming they smelled marijuana. Marijuana itself may not be so bad, they now say, but it is this danger that marijuana smokers may progress to heroin use that warrants a criminal response and the wholesale violation of personal freedom.
But that old canard simply does not sell any longer. People are far too sophisticated, and many of them have personal experiences with marijuana that contradict the marijuana-leads-to-heroin myth. It is time for even our political opponents to move on to more reasonable and credible arguments. There may be legitimate concerns about possible unintended consequences of marijuana legalization, but marijuana smokers moving on to heroin is not one of them. That’s a silly, simplistic allegation without scientific or factual basis.
Risky Political Strategy for Christie
In addition, raising the “gateway” myth as an excuse to oppose marijuana legalization by the states is a risky political tactic for Governor Christie and others currently running for president. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, 59 percent of the public (54 percent of Republicans, 58 percent of Democrats, and 64 percent of independents) say the federal government should stand aside and allow the states to experiment with different versions of legalization. And nearly 40 percent of those voters who continue to support marijuana prohibition, nonetheless oppose the federal government stepping in to impose its will on states that wish to legalize. A recent CBS News poll came to that same conclusion, finding that 65 percent of Republicans believe individual states should be allowed to decide their own marijuana policy, free from federal interference.
But that is not likely to change the position of Christie and others who choose to hang-on to their core belief that marijuana is the “devils weed.” It is a myth that they have used as the basis of their drug war rhetoric for decades, and it has always worked before. They presume, against all odds, that it will continue to assure their popularity and re-election against those who are “soft on drugs.” What it really does is demonstrate how out-of-date their ideas are, and assure them a permanent place on the wrong side of history.
Congress: House Members Re-Introduce Bipartisan Bill To Prevent Federal Prosecutions Of State-Compliant Marijuana Consumers, BusinessesApril 27, 2015
California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, along with five other Republicans and six Democrats, has reintroduced legislation to prevent the federal government from criminally prosecuting individuals and/or businesses who are engaging in state-sanctioned activities specific to marijuana.
HR 1094 states, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the provisions of this subchapter related to marihuana shall not apply to any person acting in compliance with State laws relating to the production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marihuana.”
Representative Rohrabacher sponsored a budgetary amendment last year to limit federal interference in states with marijuana regulation schemes. (That provision expires this fall.) However, the Department of Justice has recently claimed that the law does not prevent the government sanctioning individuals or businesses in states where marijuana is legal.
“The American people … have made it clear that federal enforcers should stay out of their personal lives,” Rohrabacher said in a statement upon the bill’s reintroduction late last week. “It’s time for restraint of the federal government’s over-aggressive weed warriors.”
According to national survey data released today by Fox News, 51 percent of registered voters say that they favor “legalizing marijuana.” The figure is an increase of five percentage points since Fox pollsters asked the question in 2013. It is the first time that a majority of respondents have favored legalization in a Fox News sponsored poll. The poll is the latest in a series of national surveys showing majority support for legalizing and regulating marijuana
To learn more about HR 1940, or to contact your elected officials in support of this or other pending legislation, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.
There have been a number of national surveys released over the last few months measuring the public’s support for marijuana legalization, confirming a majority of Americans continue to favor ending prohibition by legalizing and regulating marijuana.
While one of those polls (Gallup) did register an unexpected decline in support for legalization between 2013 and 2014 (a decline within the survey’s statistical margin of error, meaning it may not reflect an actual drop in support), the poll still found 51 percent support; and several other polls continue to find an increasing majority of the public nationwide support full legalization. And because of the demographics of this issue, that support should only continue to grow over the coming years.
General Social Survey
The most important of these latest surveys may be the General Social Survey, a national survey conducted every two years, that some consider the most reliable of the many national surveys. The survey involved interviews with 1,687 respondents between March and October of 2014, and found 52 percent support full legalization, with 42 percent opposed, and 7 percent undecided. This is the first time they have found majority support for full legalization, and the level of support represents a 9 point gain since they last asked the question in 2012.
GSS has been tracking support for legalization since 1974, when support stood at only 19 percent, before falling during the Reagan years to a low of 16 percent by 1990. Support has gradually climbed since 1990, although it was only at 32 percent as recently as 2006, rising 20 points in the last decade.
Pew Research Center
The Pew Research Center’s ongoing marijuana polling found 53 percent support nationwide for marijuana legalization in March of 2015, with 44 percent opposed. This includes 59 percent support among Democrats and 58 percent among self-described conservatives; but only 39 percent support among Republicans. Pew has recorded an astounding 11-point jump in support between the years of 2010 and 2013.
Sixty-nine percent of those polled believe alcohol is more harmful to the user than marijuana. And while 62 percent oppose public marijuana smoking, 82 percent have no problem if people smoke marijuana in their homes, and 57 percent say they would not be bothered if a marijuana store opened in their neighborhood.
Also, nearly half of all adults in the country (49 percent) say they have tried marijuana, with 12 percent using marijuana during the preceding year.
CBS News Poll
In a new poll released just before April 20, CBS News continued their periodic evaluation of the public support for legalizing marijuana, finding 53 percent of the public nationwide now favor ending prohibition, the highest level of support they have ever found. When CBS first surveyed the public in 1979, they found only 27 percent support. Revisiting the issue again starting in 2009, support levels had risen to 41 percent, finally reaching a slight majority (51 percent) by 2014. This latest finding is consistent with several other national polls.
Gallup first polled the American public about their support for legalizing marijuana in 1969, the year before NORML was founded, and determined the support level at only 12 percent. This number rose to 28 percent by 1977, before beginning a decline, falling to 23 percent by 1985. Support then again began to rise gradually over the next 25 years, until finally reaching 50 percent in 2011. Gallup found support peaking at 58 percent in 2013, before showing a decline to 51 percent in 2014. (Those numbers are within the 4 percent margin of error for their telephone survey of just over 1,000 respondents; and it is the only poll that has found a decline in support since 2013.)
Beyond the Beltway
Another recent survey of 1,032 interviews (with a margin of error of 3.05 percent), released in by Beyond the Beltway, a collaboration between the Benson Strategy Group and SKD Knickerbocker, found that 61 percent of the public currently support full legalization, with regulated sales as in Colorado and Washington, while 39 percent disagree. This is the highest national support level yet reported. Even 48 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of self-identified conservatives, said they support legalization. The support nationwide for eliminating the possibility of arrest and jail, and substituting a small fine, enjoyed the support of 72 percent.
A poll released in December of 2014 by a Washington, DC think tank called Third Way found support for full legalization at 50 percent, while 47 percent remained opposed. Interestingly, the poll also found 67 percent of those surveyed support Congress enacting a bill providing states the right to legalize marijuana without federal interference (the de facto Obama policy), establishing what they called a “safe haven” for those states wishing to move forward with legalization.
While 64 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of self-identified conservatives favored legalization, only 32 percent of Republicans agreed. The survey also confirmed a gender gap remains, with 52 percent of men supporting legalization, but only 45 percent of women.
Quinnipiac University Colorado Poll
A survey of 1,049 Colorado voters taken in February of 2015 shows that two years after Colorado voted to legalize marijuana, a solid majority of the public continue to support the new law. The survey found that 58 percent of Colorado voters support keeping pot legal, while 38 percent are opposed to the new law. There is no evidence of “buyers’ remorse” among the voters in Colorado.
The gender gap continues, with 63 percent of men in support, but only 53 percent (but still a majority) of women. The poll also found the usual generational gap, with 82 percent of voters ages 18-34 favoring it, while only 46 percent support among those 55 and above.
Survey USA Colorado Poll
After a year of legalized marijuana in Colorado, in a survey conducted for the Denver Post by Survey USA and released in late December 2014, 90 percent of those who had initially voted for legalization in 2012 would still do so today; and 95 percent of those who opposes the initiative would still oppose it today. Amendment 54 passed with 55 percent support.
Interestingly 12 percent of those interviewed said friends or family visiting from out of state had asked to visit a recreational marijuana shop. Twenty-two percent of respondents reported they currently use marijuana, with 70 percent of those saying their level of use had remained the same since the new law took effect. Seventy-eight percent of respondents ranked smoking marijuana as their favorite method of use; while 15 percent favored “vaping”, and 5 percent favored edibles.
Forty-five percent of current users say they get their marijuana from a recreational dispensary; 24 percent from a medical dispensary; 18 percent from a friend; 7 percent grow their own; and 6 percent continue to rely on a black-market dealer.
Because of the small numbers of voters asked their views on marijuana (175), the poll has a 6-7 percent margin of error.
Quinnipiac University Poll in Three Swing States
According to a March 2015 poll by Quinnipiac University, marijuana legalization is likely to become a crucial issue in three swing states in the 2016 presidential elections. Fifty-one percent of Pennsylvanians, 52 percent of Ohioan and 55 percent of Floridians report they favor legalization, a level of support higher than that registered for any of the current presidential candidate, including Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Rand Paul, Mario Rubio and Ted Cruz.
As any legitimate pollster will tell you, this data is accurate within a statistical range, depending on the number of people polled and the method of polling. So it is not perfectly precise data by any means, and is at best a snapshot of support at a particular moment. But it is nonetheless valuable as a gauge over time as to which direction the country is headed on a particular issue, and with marijuana legalization, support remains strong and the direction appears headed even higher.
Drug Enforcement Administration head Michele Leonhart is stepping down, US Attorney General Eric Holder has confirmed.
Members of the US House Oversight Committee gave Leonhart a vote of “no confidence” last week after an Office of the Inspector General report revealed that senior DEA officials had participated in sex parties arranged by Colombian drug cartels and had also received weapons and cash from cartel members. None of the agents involved were fired by director Leonhart.
Michele Leonhart began serving as the agency’s acting director in November 2007 before being confirmed as DEA administrator in 2010.
Leonhart had consistently taken a hardline stance against any change in marijuana policy. Early in her tenure she oversaw dozens of federal raids on medical marijuana providers and producers in states that had legalized the plant. She set aside a verdict from the agency’s own administrative law judge that sought to expand and facilitate clinical research into marijuana as a medicine and she rejected an administrative petition calling for marijuana rescheduling hearings. She openly criticized remarks made by the President acknowledging cannabis’ relative safety compared to alcohol, and criticized the administration’s efforts to allow states to implement limited regulatory schemes for the retail production and sale of cannabis to adults. In public testimony, Leonhart refused to acknowledge whether she believed that crack cocaine, methamphetamine, or heroin posed greater risks to health than marijuana — instead opining, “All illegal drugs are bad.”
Ms. Leonhart also actively opposed hemp law reform during her time as DEA director. She criticized a decision to fly a hempen flag over the Capitol, saying it was “her lowest point in 33 years in the DEA.” Last year, her agency unlawfully seized 250 pounds of legal hemp seeds destined for Kentucky’s state Agricultural Department.
Always a true believer in the drug war no matter what the costs, in 2009 she described increased southern border violence as a sign of the “success” of her agency’s anti-drug strategies.
Michele Leonhart is expected to leave the agency in mid-May.
The majority of Americans say that marijuana is safer than alcohol and believe that its use should be legal, according to nationwide polling data compiled by CBS News.
Fifty-three percent of respondents answered ‘yes’ to the question, “Should marijuana use be legal?” That is the highest level of support ever recorded by CBS pollsters since they began posing the question in 1979. Forty-three percent of respondents opposed legalization.
Males, younger voters, and Democrats were most likely to support marijuana’s legalization. Seventy-four percent of those who acknowledged having tried marijuana said that the plant ought to be legalized, compared to just 35 percent who have never used it.
The majority of respondents (51 percent) agreed that cannabis is less harmful than alcohol. Only 12 percent of respondents said they believed that marijuana was more harmful than booze, while 28 percent said that both substances were equally harmful.
Forty-three percent of respondents acknowledged having consumed marijuana, an increase of nine percent since 1997. Seventy-five percent of respondents said that it would not matter to them if a Presidential candidate admitted having tried it.
On the question of legalizing marijuana for medical purposes, 84 percent of respondents supported allowing physicians to authorize cannabis therapy to their patients.
The CBS News poll is the latest in a series of national surveys showing majority support for legalizing and regulating marijuana.