Debunking a Former Drug Czar

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 3, 2012

    Ex-Drug Czar and lifelong (selective) prohibitionist William Bennett recently took to the mainstream blogosphere to criticize Pat Robertson’s ‘born again’ public support for marijuana legalization.

    Bennett’s specific criticisms of legalization — that it would simultaneously allow for “open and unrestricted drug use” by all, and that the plant’s perceived social costs would outweigh any economic benefits reaped by regulation — are predictably well worn, but they are nonetheless worth addressing.

    An excerpt of reply to Bennett is included below. You can read the full commentary here.

    Health and Societal Costs of Marijuana vs. Alcohol and Tobacco: Prohibitionists’ Concerns Answered and Refuted
    via Alternet.org

    Bennett’s latter charge — that regulating cannabis would dramatically increase societal costs — deserves more critical analysis. Bennett bases this allegation largely upon the premise that present taxes on alcohol and cigarettes fail to adequately pay for the social costs associated with these drugs’ use and abuse. True enough and perhaps a persuasive argument if, in fact, one was debating whether to criminally prohibit the use of booze and cigarettes (a public policy option that Bennett, a one-time heavy consumer of both substances, would no doubt oppose, despite the drugs’ heavy social toll). Nevertheless, Bennett’s premise is all but irrelevant to the marijuana legalization debate. Here’s why:

    Cannabis is safer than alcohol.

    Alcohol is toxic to healthy cells and organs, a side effect that results directly in about 35,000 deaths in the United States annually from illnesses such as cirrhosis of the liver, ulcers, cancer and heart disease. Heavy alcohol consumption can depress the central nervous system — inducing unconsciousness, coma and death — and is strongly associated with increased risks of injury. According to US Centers for Disease Control, alcohol plays a role in about 41,000 fatal accidents a year and in the commission of about one million violent crimes annually. Worldwide, the statistics are even grimmer. Stated a February 2011 World Health Organization report, alcohol consumption causes a staggering four percent of all deaths worldwide, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence.

    By contrast, the active compounds in marijuana, known as cannabinoids, are relatively nontoxic to humans. Unlike alcohol, marijuana is incapable of causing a fatal overdose, and its use is inversely associated with aggression and injury. According to a just-published review in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, “A direct comparison of alcohol and cannabis showed that alcohol was considered to be more than twice as harmful as cannabis to users, and five times more harmful as cannabis to others (society). … As there are few areas of harm that each drug can produce where cannabis scores are more [dangerous to health] than alcohol, we suggest that even if there were no legal impediment to cannabis use, it would be unlikely to be more harmful than alcohol.”

    Cannabis is far safer than tobacco.

    According to a 2009 white paper by the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse, health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers than they are for those who use cannabis, and are more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers. It states: “In terms of (health-related) costs per user: tobacco-related health costs are over $800 per user, alcohol-related health costs are much lower at $165 per user, and cannabis-related health costs are the lowest at $20 per user.”
    A previous analysis commissioned by the World Health Organization agreed, stating, “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.” So then why is the federal government so worried about adults consuming it in the privacy of their own homes?

    Some tax revenue is better than no tax revenue.

    According to a 2007 George Mason University study, U.S. citizens each year spend about $113 billion on marijuana. Under prohibition, all of this spending is directed toward an underground economy and goes untaxed. That means state and local governments are presently collecting zero dollars to offset any existing societal and health costs related to recreational marijuana use. Therefore, the imposition of any retail tax or excise fee would be an improvement over the current situation.

    51 responses to “Debunking a Former Drug Czar”

    1. Susan says:

      Two wrongs hardly make a right.

    2. Susan says:

      The fact that cannabis is less dangerous or harmful than tobacco or alcohol hardly makes it a positive influence. Leave its use to those who really need it; those with debilitating illness.

    3. richardb says:

      With all of his experience, does Bennet really believe this or is big corrections using him as a spokesman

    4. Ozzie B. Irons says:

      The argument is this simple – “Liberty or Death”. Does this ring any bells?

    5. Owen says:

      Bill Bennett is a degenerate gambler. Why is anyone listening to him?

    6. Dolemite says:

      They are simply protecting their lobby money from big pharma. The U.S. has a patent on cannabis that acknowledges it’s medical benefits, US Patent 6630507. Google it, and todays atrocities are exposed. Educate yourself america, they don’t want you to.

    7. Cameron says:

      I don’t want them taxing marijuana. ALL taxes should be abolished. Taxes are what fund their corruption and makes them tyrants.

    8. hanspy says:

      Why are there still ppl on this world that think when drugs are legal everybody starts to use it unlimited?Dont they have the guts to look outside there windows?Holland=almost legal and decrease of use.Portigal=all drugs out of prohibition and use is down.Every place where drugs are not longer a crime the use and abuse is down. EXEPT in the States according your smart ppl.What drugs do they use?

    9. Adam says:


      Nobody cares about what you do and do not think is right. You don’t matter. Stop standing in the way of freedom and rational policy.

    10. Don says:

      “U.S. citizens each year spend about $113 billion on marijuana”

      Using this number, 113,000,000,000, and estimating that the average user roughly spends about $1000 (this amount is probably high…) and dividing the amount spent per user into the estimated total amount spent here in the USA, we get 113,000,000. That number, 113 million, is approximately how many people here in the USA are using marijuana in an average year. That is almost a third of the entire population!

      I figure that at least another third of the population that doesn’t use it would at least agree that it should be legal for adults. Adding together the number of users (assuming that all users would be for legalization) plus non-users who would have it legalized, we get appx 2/3 of our population who are for ending prohibition. That fraction, 2/3s, is probably low… It is only the few ignorant and/or greedy govt officials who continue to force the rest of the population to endure prohibition.

      It’s pretty pathetic! This is not my idea of a democracy. Truly, it is more like fascism!