420: Thoughts on pot vs. alcohol from a former police chief

by on April 20, 2009 · 3 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Health, War and Peace

by Norm Stamper / The Huffington Post / April 20, 2009

As 5:00 p.m. rolls around my interior clock starts chiming. I’ll have an ice-cold, bone-dry martini, thank you. Jalapeno olives and a twist. If the occasion calls for it (temperatures in the twenties, a hot political debate on the tube) I may substitute two fingers of Kentucky sour mash. Four-twenty? Doesn’t resonate. But with April 20 approaching and Waldos of the world gearing up to celebrate their favorite day of the year, it’s not a bad time to consider, yet again, the pluses and minuses of alcohol vs. cannabis.

First, a disclaimer: I am a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, but I don’t officially represent the organization in this forum. That said, I can’t very well check my affiliation, or beliefs, at the keyboard when I sit down to blog for HuffPost. We at LEAP are current and former cops and other criminal justice practitioners who have witnessed firsthand the futility and manifold injustices of the drug war. Our professional experiences have led us to conclude that the more dangerous an illicit substance–from crack to krank–the greater the justification for its legalization, regulation, and control. It is the prohibition of drugs that leads inexorably to high rates of death, disease, crime, and addiction.

Back to booze vs. pot. How do the effects of these two drugs stack up against specific health and public safety factors?

Alcohol-related traffic accidents claim approximately 14,000 lives each year, down significantly from 20 or 30 years ago (attributed to improved education and enforcement). Figures for THC-related traffic fatalities are elusive, especially since alcohol is almost always present in the blood as well, and since the numbers of “marijuana-only” traffic fatalities are so small. But evidence from studies, including laboratory simulations, feeds the stereotype that those under the influence of canniboids tend to (1) be more aware of their impaired psychomotor skills, and (2) drive well below the speed limit. Those under the influence of alcohol are much more likely to be clueless or defiant about their condition, and to speed up and drive recklessly.

Hundreds of alcohol overdose deaths occur annually. There has never been a single recorded marijuana OD fatality.

According to the American Public Health Association, excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of death in this country. APHA pegs the negative economic impact of extreme drinking at $150 billion a year.

There have been no documented cases of lung cancer in a marijuana-only smoker, nor has pot been scientifically linked to any type of cancer. (Don’t trust an advocate’s take on this? Try the fair and balanced coverage over at Fox.) Alcohol abuse contributes to a multitude of long-term negative health consequences, notably cirrhosis of the liver and a variety of cancers.

While a small quantity, taken daily, is being touted for its salutary health effects, alcohol is one of the worst drugs one can take for pain management, marijuana one of the best.

Alcohol contributes to acts of violence; marijuana reduces aggression. In approximately three million cases of reported violent crimes last year, the offender had been drinking. This is particularly true in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, and date rape. Marijuana use, in and of itself, is absent from both crime reports and the scientific literature. There is simply no link to be made.

Over the past four years I’ve asked police officers throughout the U.S. (and in Canada) two questions. When’s the last time you had to fight someone under the influence of marijuana? (I’m talking marijuana only, not pot plus a six-pack or a fifth of tequila.) My colleagues pause, they reflect. Their eyes widen as they realize that in their five or fifteen or thirty years on the job they have never had to fight a marijuana user. I then ask: When’s the last time you had to fight a drunk? They look at their watches.

All of which begs the question. If one of these two drugs is implicated in dire health effects, high mortality rates, and physical violence–and the other is not–what are we to make of our nation’s marijuana laws? Or alcohol laws, for that matter.

Anybody out there want to launch a campaign for the re-prohibition of alcohol? Didn’t think so. The answer, of course, is responsible drinking. Marijuana smokers, for their part, have already shown (apart from that little matter known as the law) greater responsibility in their choice of drugs than those of us who choose alcohol.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar jon April 21, 2009 at 7:53 am

“When was the last time you had to fight someone under the influence of marijuana?” I just about fell over in my chair. lol.

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avatar Will Johnson April 22, 2009 at 6:42 am

It’s ironic, that one effect of Cannabis is tranquility. Perhaps if it caused aggression & unruliness, we’d have more activists working towards decriminalization and ‘safe-access’ for medical marijuana patients.

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avatar Frank Gormlie April 22, 2009 at 9:58 pm

It’s great to see Norm Stamper take on this behemoth – the decriminalization of herb. I met him way back in the mid-1970s when I interviewed him for an article for the San Diego Door, then ran into him in City Heights when he was an assistant police chief here. Norm was into efforts to ‘humanize’ the San Diego police department, trying to get cops away from the para-military attitude. Community policing has always been his bailiwick.

He ended up moving to Seattle, when he was passed up here for chief, and became that city’s top cop. Apparently he became overwhelmed with the WTO demonstrations in 1999, which was a career-ender.

Now, he lectures and posts on Huffpost often. That’s great. And this is a great article.

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