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Is Marijuana A 'Safe' Drug?

Moorestown Patch columnist Marsia Mason opines that America's attitude toward Mary Jane might be a little backwards.

Is Marijuana A 'Safe' Drug?

Embarrassing as it is to admit, the rest of the world has moved on but my Internet server is still AOL. When practically everyone else has gone the Gmail route, the Comcast carrier, or some other server, I soldier on with AOL for one or two reasons that seem rather ludicrous but keep me there nonetheless. 

First and foremost: my silly screen name, “Gungamom.” When my youngest son was toddling around, he had an imaginary friend named Gunga who was responsible for nothing but mischief 24/7. Once, when I brought home a brand-new car, “Gunga” scraped it with his bicycle handlebars, leaving a gash on the driver’s side that just about brought me to tears. Gunga was in time-out, along with my son, for the next 10 years.

Despite the many curveballs Gunga threw at me over the years, Gungamom became my cherished screen name because it reminded me of a time when sweet, sticky hugs from little boys were commonplace and when one silly little boy thought he could fool me into believing he hadn’t done anything wrong by blaming misdeeds on his silent partner. When I tried to use the same screen name on other servers, it had already been taken. One server asked me if I wanted to be “MuthaGunga,” which sounded like my gangsta handle. Another one thought I might like "gungamama123," my prison alias. No thanks, guys.

I have stuck with AOL for another reason. I like the kooky stories that pop up, the little quizzes that have one guessing which recreational drug is being abused by how many people, or the one a few weeks ago that asked how many deaths can be attributed to marijuana vs. alcohol. It was one of those trick questions, but the statistics are hard to ignore.

According to the Huffington Post, in an article from late 2013, at least 2,331 deaths EACH DAY are attributed to alcohol abuse:

“Counting only deaths due to the direct effects of alcohol consumption and dependence, around 1,760,000 people are killed by those causes around the world each year. While the alcohol counter is something of a rough estimate, the marijuana data is more precise. Nobody has ever been killed directly by marijuana use. According to one study, a marijuana smoker would have to consume thousands of joints worth of THC—the compound that gets users high—in order to be at risk of dying.”

And while it’s true one can find biased information on the Internet, slanted to support their viewpoint, it's pretty obvious that the times they are a changin’, especially when it comes to marijuana.  

Just last week, President Obama made a statement that seemed to lean toward lenience—although his spinmeisters immediately jumped on the airwaves to clarify that the prez was not saying "go out and get high, people.” He was just admitting to having smoked marijuana as a kid. In an interview with The New Yorker magazine, Obama went on to say, “I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes I smoked for a big chunk of my life. I don’t think it’s more dangerous than alcohol.”

We all have vices, some more dangerous than others. But with prescription drugs being used and abused by practically everyone, it’s hard to say which substance is worse than the next. Pills are way easier to pilfer from someone’s medicine cabinet, yet we turn a blind eye to that particular abuse while we reach for the anti-depressants, the ADD meds and all the other legal drugs. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than 12 million people use prescription painkillers for non-medical reasons in the U.S. Why aren’t we more concerned about that?

And what about cigarettes? Worldwide, they kill millions each year. In the U.S. alone, about 443,000 people die from illnesses related to smoking cigarettes each year.

Then there’s the obesity epidemic, fueled by an addiction to overeating. Globally, there are more than 1 billion overweight adults, at least 300 million of them clinically obese. The press bombards us with these numbers, but has anyone come forward to opine that food addiction is more dangerous than marijuana addiction? Not that I’m aware of. Governor Christie has been adamant in his vow NOT to support relaxing marijuana laws (“You’re not going to get legalization from this governor”)—I am wondering about his take on food addiction issues. It wasn’t too long ago that he had lap band surgery because he couldn’t control his overeating. Isn’t that just as costly and prevalent an addiction? 

In a recent edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, a New Jersey lawmaker said he plans to introduce a bill to legalize recreational marijuana for residents 21 and older. Hot on the heels of Colorado’s decision to allow the sale of marijuana for recreational use, Sen. Nicholas P Scutari (D-Linden) noted that legalization was expected to fatten Colorado’s economy by $208 million dollars this year. If the state of New Jersey legalized recreational marijuana use by adults, our taxes—the highest in the nation—might actually go down. One could argue by legalizing wacky weed, it will be more easily accessed by youth. I have news for you: They’re buying it anyway, along with pilfered pills and booze.

Before you start screaming at me, “Go live in Colorado, you pothead,” I am not advocating a pot palace on Main Street. I don’t spend my weekends in a blue smoky haze. But my opinion has been and always will be that alcohol and cigarettes (which frequently go together) are just as bad, if not worse, than marijuana. People abuse all sorts of things, while somehow rationalizing their own particular addiction: “I only drink on weekends,” or “They’re going to drink anyway (young people), so I’d rather they do it at home.” 

The sad truth is we tolerate our own excesses but not those of others. Isn’t that sort of like throwing stones at a glass house? I’m just saying ...

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