The lies about pot never stopped—they just got more sophisticated!
By David Malmo-Levine
“With millions of stressed-out teens smoking pot, some parents are apt to attribute their children’s problems to marijuana’s malevolent influence. The adult temptation to blame the weed is reinforced by public officials who continually inflate the dangers and deny the benefits of cannabis. But U.S. authorities have long since forfeited any claim to credibility with respect to marijuana.”
– Smoke Signals, Martin A. Lee, 2012 (1)
“In fact, substances have been used by humans throughout history for many reasons: to feel good, to feel better, to improve performance, for cultural/spiritual reasons, and to have new experiences. Substance use is more complicated than just ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ It’s helpful to think of substance use along a continuum, from beneficial use to harmful use.”
– The government of British Columbia’s Provincial Health Services Authority’s official position on “the difference between substance use and addiction” (2)
[This is a very long article and footnotes are listed at the bottom.]
A bunch of ads have appeared all over the country in the wake of pot legalization. Many are on bus shelters and billboards, but some are in newspapers, on TV, and online.
There are similar messages on the new legal pot packaging. Some exist to simply inform Canadians about the new rules surrounding pot legalization. Others appear to be public service announcements on responsible use. Still others claim to educate the public about the risks of cannabis.
Appearances can be deceiving, especially when it comes to the debate over cannabis use and cannabis policy. A closer look at these ads reveals the truth of the matter: none of the ads provide a genuine cost-benefit analysis based on facts, and all of them foist the stigma and the myths of “inherent harm”—especially in the areas of young people’s developing minds and impaired driving—that the newly formed licensed-producer pot cartel is based on.
The “captive market”—relationships of exclusivity and in some cases outright monopolistic patents and intellectual property, or “biopiracy” as some call it—are all based on “Reefer Madness 2.0”. It’s a term that has arisen among pot activists as of late as shorthand for the current batch of bunk-science myths of inherent harm from proper pot use.
Looking at all these ads in detail paints a pretty ugly picture of Reefer Madness 2.0 in the 21st century. They give activists an idea of what myths they will need to debunk to fight post-legalization persecution, over-regulation, and monopoly.
First off, let’s examine the “public service announcement” type ads created by various provincial governments. Then we can look at the ads from the LPs. There are many similarities.
Finally, we’ll check out the packaging the government has come up with.
B.C. has provided a bunch of ads that seem to be “opposing views”—with a comment at the bottom from the voice of an “impartial observer” who then goes on to foist as much stigma and inaccurate information as possible. One ad says “I can’t stand the smell of weed/Weed is great to smoke on the beach.”
Below this it says: “There are laws around here where you can light up. Get the facts.”
Another ad says: “When I road trip I always bring weed/Weed is not allowed over the border. It’s illegal to take cannabis across the Canadian border. Get the facts.”
Another ad says: “I can’t stand the smell of weed/Weed is great to smoke on a walk.”
Another says: “It’s legal so there’s no need to hide my cannabis/Cannabis should always be be kept away from kids. There are strict laws in place to protect children. Get the facts.”
Below each of these statements there’s the same link: cannabisclarity.ca.
Given how often the “protect children” myth is repeated to justify strict cannabis regulations, it seems to be the most important myth to debunk, so I focused on that one. I proceeded to search the website for evidence that children need to be—and are being—protected from cannabis.
“Cannabisclarity.ca” redirects to: https://cannabis.gov.bc.ca/
Under the heading “Safe Kids”, it states: “Early and regular non-medical cannabis use is associated with higher risks of dependency and health problems later in life”.
The evidence for this is apparently in the links on the side:
Check out these resources to help you have open conversations with your kids about cannabis:
- Health effects of cannabis (Government of Canada)
- Talking with Teenagers about Drugs (Government of Canada)
- Cannabis and Youth – Canadian Centre for Substance Use and Addiction
- Drug Free Kids Canada Talk Kit
- Canada’s lower-risk cannabis use guidelines
- Foundry BC
Following the first link—“Health effects of cannabis (Government of Canada)” brings you to a “canada.ca” website. (3)
Clicking on “Information for health care professionals” leads you to a Health Canada website on cannabis for medical practitioners. (4)
This ends up being a very interesting page, for two reasons:
- There seems to be a through and honest assessment of the benefits of cannabis, including for stress, depression, and CBD to treat psychosis.
- There is the same old reefer madness when it comes to risk: zero mention of the lack of an increase in psychosis or a decrease in IQ in the general population statistics. Zero mention of using THC as a diagnostic tool to allow for early detection of psychosis, or if early-intervention with CBD could provide better outcomes in those genetically predisposed to psychosis. (5)
This “cannabis may/may not harm developing minds of young people” debate seems to me to be the heart of the matter. It seems intuitive to me that if it’s true that cannabis use doesn’t make kids stupid or crazy, then cannabis can be regulated like coffee beans and young people can enjoy the benefits of legalization and poor people can participate in the economy.
Considering that this question is the heart of the matter, a close look at the evidence is required. (6)
1. British Medical Journal: “Cannabis Schizophrenia – does it exist?“
David H. Marjot
“The incidence and prevalence of patients showing schizophrenic syndromes are unchanged or have even fallen while the use of cannabis has increased enormously. We must conclude that either previous schizophrenic illnesses have become much less common or that cannabis schizophrenia is rare and perhaps it may not even exist.”
21 December 2002 (7)
2. Drug Alcohol Dependence: “Testing hypotheses about the relationship between cannabis use and psychosis.“
Degenhardt L, Hall W, Lynskey M.
“There was a steep rise in the prevalence of cannabis use in Australia over the past 30 years and a corresponding decrease in the age of initiation of cannabis use. There was no evidence of a significant increase in the incidence of schizophrenia over the past 30 years.”
2003 Jul 20;71(1):37-48. (8)
3. British Journal of Psychiatry: “Causal association between cannabis and psychosis: examination of the evidence.“
Arseneault, Cannon, Witton, Murray
“In the largest study of its kind so far, we have shown that recreational cannabis users do not release significant amounts of dopamine from an oral THC dose equivalent to a standard cannabis cigarette. This result challenges current models of striatal dopamine release as the mechanism mediating cannabis as risk factor for schizophrenia.“
2004 Feb; 184: 110-7 (9)
John Macleod, Rachel Oakes, Alex Copello, Ilana Crome, Matthias Egger, Mathew Hickman, Thomas Oppenkowski, Helen Stokes-Lampard, George Davey Smith
“Cannabis use appears to have increased substantially amongst young people over the past 30 years, from around 10% reporting ever use in 1969–70, to around 50% reporting ever using in 2001, in Britain and Sweden. If the relation between use and schizophrenia were truly causal and if the relative risk was around five-fold then the incidence of schizophrenia should have more than doubled since 1970. However population trends in schizophrenia incidence suggest that incidence has either been stable or slightly decreased over the relevant time period.”
Vol. 363 • May 15, 2004 • p. 1585 (10)
5. Schizophrenia Research: “Assessing the impact of cannabis use on trends in diagnosed schizophrenia in the United Kingdom from 1996 to 2005“
Martin Frisher, Ilana Crome, Orsolina Martino, Peter Croft
“The expected rise in diagnoses of schizophrenia and psychoses did not occur over a 10 year period. This study does not therefore support the specific causal link between cannabis use and the incidence of psychotic disordersbased on the 3 assumptions described in the Introduction. This concurs with other reports indicating that increases in population cannabis use have not been followed by increases in psychotic incidence (Macleod et al., 2006; Arsenault et al., 2004; Rey and Tennant, 2002).”
Andrea M. Auther, Danielle McLaughlin, Ricardo Carrión, Pradeep Nagachandran, Christoph Correll, Barbara A. Cornblatt
“The current data do not support low to moderate lifetime cannabis use to be a major contributor to psychosis or poor social and role functioning in high-risk youth.”
Kirkbride JB, Errazuriz A, Croudace TJ, Morgan C, Jackson D, Boydell J, Murray RM, Jones PB
“We found no evidence to support an overall change in the incidence of psychotic disorder over time, though diagnostic shifts (away from schizophrenia) were reported.”
B.C. ignores evidence
The B.C. government’s recommended source of information on cannabis and psychosis—the Canadian federal government—has a very extensive review of all the studies that claim cannabis causes psychosis, but only mentions one of the studies that claims otherwise— Arseneault et al 2004. B.C. ignores Degenhardt et al 2003, MacLeod et al 2004, Frisher et al 2009, Auther et al 2012, and Kirkbride et al 2012, as well as any discussion regarding the lack of an increase in psychosis appearing anywhere in any western nation’s general population statistics. (14)
The problem with everything—without exception—that the various levels of government and their various health departments produce on cannabis can be summed up with these seven “typical errors” of establishment cannabis research (15) :
1) There is no differentiation between use and abuse—harm reduction techniques aren’t mentioned.
2) None of the studies provides evidence for a causal relationship between cannabis and the problems mentioned.
3) None of the studies bothers explaining away the evidence found in the general population stats—no increase in psychosis rates or decrease in IQ rates can be found that tracks with the massive increase in cannabis use rates in western nations between the early 1970s and late 1990s.
4) There is no real risk-benefit analysis—risks are inflated and benefits are ignored.
5) Prohibition harms aren’t factored into the equation.
6) An understanding for, or appreciation of, medical autonomy is nonexistent.
7) These studies do not mention any of the studies that run counter to their findings.
The evidence not only proves cannabis doesn’t make kids stupid and crazy; it proves that cannabis can actually help with the things teens are dying from: suicide, car crashes, and alcohol and drug overdoses. (16)
The fact is, our teens are stressed out and depressed to the point of suicide. The shitty world that the adults have left them—with talk of nuclear war; leaky pipelines; endless Fukushima pollution; neo-Nazis marching in the streets; looming ecological, environmental, and fiscal doom—sends smart teens with intelligent preferences for herbal relaxants and antidepressants into the welcoming arms of nontoxic cannabis. An honest review of the evidence suggests that cannabis is the safest, cheapest, and most effective antidepressant and relaxant on planet Earth. (17)
People who pretend to be worried about the developing minds of young people but ignore these facts are doing their charges a disservice: they are helping the powers-that-be perpetrate a horrible injustice for the sake of monopolistic greed, and our young people are dying as a result.
Alberta has provided a bunch of ads that dare the viewer to learn more about cannabis at its website: drugsafe.ca.
One ad says: “Hey Marijuana Maestro! Why does cannabis affect people under 25 differently? Find out at: drugsafe.ca”.
Another says: “Are you a weed wizard? Prove it. Why does cannabis affect people under 25 differently? Take the quiz at: drugsafe.ca”.
Another says: “Welcome to pot college. Test your dope knowledge. Why does cannabis affect people under 25 differently? Take the quiz at drugsafe.ca”.
Drugsafe.ca redirects to an Alberta Health Services website. (18)
All sorts of information on cannabis is available, but I decided to check out the much-touted “quiz” first. A few clicks and I got to the quiz: http://testyourhighq.drugsafe.ca/
The first question of the quiz is the same topic from all the bus ads: “If you’re younger than 25, why should you avoid using cannabis?”
The answers available were:
A: Before 25, the brain is still developing. Cannabis use may damage its growth.
B: Whoa, A) you really came out of the gate swinging.
C: Yeah, seriously A), is that even true?
D: I dunno, other letters, I think A has a point.
E: Both A and D.
I answered “C”. Of course I was told I was wrong, and that “A” was the right answer. But there was no link provided within the quiz to the evidence of this being the case. I decided to stop taking the quiz and look for a link to this being the case somewhere on the website. On its cannabis info page (19), I found a link claiming to be “for educators”. I considered myself one and clicked on it.
I eventually got to a page (20) where I found the following written:
“Trying cannabis is unlikely to cause serious problems, but even occasional use has harms. For instance, driving after using cannabis may double the risk of having a car accident. (11) Youth who use cannabis early and often for months or years, are at risk of long-term health and social problems. (1,3,4) Here are a few examples: • Increased risk of harm to the brain – such as problems with memory, concentration, thinking, learning, handling emotions and decision-making (3,4) • Increased risk of mental health problems – such as psychosis or schizophrenia and, possibly, depression, anxiety and suicide, especially if there’s a personal or family history of mental illness (1,3,4) • Difficulties with relationships – at home, school or work (3) • Physical health harms – including lung and respiratory problems from smoking cannabis (3) • Addiction – cannabis can be addictive, especially for youth (4)
The studies provided to back up these claims are the following:
1 Drug Free Kids Canada. (n.d.). Cannabis talk kit: How to talk to your kid about cannabis. (21)
2 Government of Canada. (n.d.). Health effects of cannabis. (22)
3 George,T & Vaccarino, F. (Eds). (2015). Substance abuse in Canada: The effects of cannabis use during adolescence. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. (23)
4. Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. (2015). Cannabis, driving and implications for youth. (24)
As with the sources relied upon by the government of British Columbia, these sources suffer from the same seven problems typical of cannabis research. (25)
Furthermore, a closer look at the “mind is still developing” claim is warranted, since it’s the core message in all of the Alberta cannabis bus shelter ads.
Some experts feel that the brain never stops developing, and this “25 year old cut-off year” thing is not universally accepted by all neuroscientists.
In response to this question on quora.com, University of Southern California neuroscientist Claudia Aguirre wrote: “Yes and no. Is the brain ever fully developed? The process of generating new neurons and supporting cells and structures can be a lifelong event. From this change in structure, you can find a change in function—meaning that the brain is always constantly ‘developing’, learning and changing.
“Now I do get what you mean about the teenage brain. The brain has big milestones when it comes to development (talking, walking, etc) and the last to form is the most complex—which involves thinking, planning, imagining and problem-solving. This is attributed to the frontal cortex, which is the last structure to fundamentally change well into your 20s, with variability across individuals.
“During childhood, think of the brain as building and building, like a growth spurt. Then during teenage years, the brain prunes some of the information to try to streamline in a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ manner. The other aspect of teenage brain development lies in the insulating rubber material (myelin) that makes information process faster-making it more efficient. In adolescents, this process is not finished until early-mid adulthood (again with variability).
“These changes result in behavioral changes such as developing abstract thoughts, reasoning ability, goal prioritizing, etc etc. The last areas to develop are the prefrontal lobes (reasoning, prioritizing, multi-tasking, controlling impulses, cause/effect, right/wrong, emotional control)—All of the ‘adult’ human traits. Results vary. The science is not clear-cut on this one, and so many factors affect brain development (including the surge of hormones at this time). The short answer is that chemical/mechanical changes never ‘stabilize’ because brain activity is always in flux.” (26)
Added to that “no cutoff year for brain development” argument, there’s the additional argument that cannabis could be involved in “neurogenesis”—the creation of new brain cells. Given how much space in the mass media is devoted to scary sounding “brain alterations” brought about by pot smoking and so little space devoted to cannabis as a “regulator of neurogenesis”, a closer look is warranted.
British Journal of Pharmacology: “The role of cannabinoids in adult neurogenesis“
Jack A Prenderville, Áine M Kelly, Eric J Downer
“While much progress has been made in recent decades in understanding the process of adult neurogenesis, the underlying mechanisms have yet to be fully elucidated. As highlighted in this review, the microenvironment clearly determines the rate of proliferation of NSCs and NPCs, their survival and their differentiation into mature neurons that are integrated into functional networks.
“Endocannabinoids may play pivotal roles in at least some of these phases of neurogenesis. Of particular interest are the varying temporal effects of synthetic, endogenous and plant-derived cannabinoids on the proliferation and survival phases of neurogenesis, indicating complex physiological regulation of this process that may be modulated by drugs that target the endocannabinoid system. The functional importance of neurogenesis has yet to be clarified; however, the weight of evidence indicates that impaired neurogenesis is associated with depression and cognitive impairment.
“Pharmacological targeting of the cannabinoid system as a regulator of neurogenesis may prove a fruitful strategy in the prevention or treatment of mood or memory disorders.”
2015 Aug; 172 (16): 3950-3963 (27)
Miami’s Community Newspapers: “Cannabis: Neurogenesis and Neuroprotectant“
Michelle Weiner, DO, MPH
“Cannabis is a safe therapy for patients with neurodegenerative diseases, for those who want to enhance their endocannabinoid system (ECS) and promote wellness and anti-aging. This evolutionarily conserved signaling pathway called the ECS has neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory abilities. Given cannabis’ favorable safety profile, with increased research, it has the potential to lead to novel therapies to prevent disease or progression of symptoms by modulating the ECS.”
June 28, 2018 (28)
The fact is, we could actually be punishing teens for building up their brains using cannabis neurogenesis using the excuse that they are hurting their brains to justify the punishment. Given my own personal experiences with both being a teen who used cannabis and an adult who received punishments for breaking cannabis laws, I can tell you that one afternoon in police custody is much more traumatic, stressful, and damaging than any cannabis overdose or cannabis problem I’ve ever experienced.
All my best ideas came to me while high—ideas such as arrest-resistance techniques or concepts that later became court challenges or books or works of art. Cannabis use never got in the way of writing 500 pages of comic book or representing myself at the Supreme Court of Canada or researching how truthful today’s government’s pot propaganda is. It seems to me to be more probable that the government continues to lie about cannabis for the same reason it has always lied about cannabis—to scapegoat deviants and autonomous people, and to monopolize and control the health-care economy.
Edmonton also has a bus shelter ad promoting a “rules for where you can smoke” website. (29)
Of course the fact is that in spite of what the website implies, cannabis smoke is different than tobacco smoke—much closer to incense smoke (which is unregulated) (30) than to cigarette smoke in terms of risk to others. That’s mainly because all corporate cigarettes are grown in radioactive chemical fertilizers, which is the primary—maybe the only—source of cancer from cigarettes. (31)
Health Canada could have organic standards for both tobacco and cannabis—thus removing the radioactivity from both the cigarette smoke and the pot smoke—but instead has neither. (32)
The truth is, pot smoke can actually help prevent lung cancer (33)—from the second-hand tobacco smoke the government refuses to provide organic standards for, or for the car exhaust that actually does cause the lung problems (34) that cannabis is blamed for.
The “free all plants and prohibit radioactive fertilizers instead” campaign has an uphill battle, but a necessary one. Herbal harm reduction is a process of sorting out the inherently harmful elements from the not-inherently harmful elements. Implementing effective organic standards—agricultural protocols which protect microbes, earthworms, farmers and consumers—is the obvious solution.
From the great province of Manitoba emerges the “STREET CANNABIS ISN’T WORTH THE RISK” ad campaign. Below this bold assertion (and a skull and bones with two joints as the bones):
“Street cannabis isn’t worth the risk. If you buy cannabis, make sure to get it from a licensed retail store that offers a wide selection of legal products. Buying cannabis from a street dealer puts you at risk of arrest and fines. When you support the black market, you have no idea whether or not your money will go to fund other illegal activities. Worst of all, street cannabis offers you no quality control in terms of strength or purity. It may contain traces of pesticides and even other drugs that could put your life at risk. Street cannabis isn’t worth it. KNOW THE RISKS.”
Then the obligatory website, rife with materials echoing all the myths found in on the B.C. and Alberta websites discussed above, and a link to all the other provincial pot websites: Manitoba.ca/cannabis.
The problem with this “STREET CANNABIS ISN’T WORTH THE RISK” assertion is that whether it’s the first (and possibly only) head-to-head comparative study of LP cannabis vs. dispensary cannabis back in 2005, or similar tests from impartial observers today, dispensary cannabis comes out safer than LP cannabis in every category: metals, microbes, contaminants, and lost terpene efficacy from unnecessary irradiation. (37)
Just recently the Globe and Mail did a series of articles on quality control. The “street cannabis” turned out to be safer than the LP cannabis. The Globe and Mail found two examples of licensed producers using “Eagle 20” pesticide on their cannabis—it cleaves into hydrogen cyanide when smoked, which can be lethal. The Globe and Mail failed to find any dispensaries with this or any other potentially lethal pesticide on the cannabis it tested at around the same time. (38)
A modern-day analysis of the corporate model, where profit must dominate every consideration and health and environmental costs are passed onto the consumer—found in such documentaries as The Corporation (39)—predicts that corporate cannabis will be of lower quality than boutique cannabis from small business retailers. The latter often values a good reputation over maximum profit.
This could account for the evidence of the public preference black-market dispensaries have over other sources of cannabis in Canada:
This could account for the evidence of the public preferring black market dispensaries over licensed producers:
International Journal of Drug Policy: “Are dispensaries indispensable? Patient experiences of access to cannabis from medical cannabis dispensaries in Canada“
Capler R, Walsh Z, Crosby K, Belle-Isle L, Holtzman S, Lucas P, Callaway R.
“Dispensaries were rated equally to or more favourably than other sources of CTP (cannabis for therapeutic purposes) for quality, safety, availability, efficiency and feeling respected, and less favourably than self-production and other producer for cost.”
May 2017 (40)
But this reality runs contrary to the myth being created by the government of Manitoba.
Furthermore, the province is not just lying about LP pot being safer. it’s also lying about LP pot being less connected to organized crime. (41) In fact, the government could have made the LP system less vulnerable to organized crime, but chose not to:
“In a Senate appearance last April, [tax expert Marwah] Rizqy suggested refusing to grant production licenses to companies financed through trusts. ‘Maybe it would be wise to deny the license outright because you are not able to unequivocally establish that the security clearance is really valid,’ said Rizqy. The recommendation was not accepted.”
Nov 01, 2018 (42)
Seems to me that various levels of government insist their plutocratic pot cartel has nothing to do with the mob, while at the same time making sure it’s difficult for the poor and easy for the mob to participate. The licensed producers were at one time required to come up with a minimum of $200,000 worth of accounting and security in order to get a license. (43)
You almost have to be a mobster to be able to afford to participate.
The central message coming out of Ontario seems to be about driving, and how cannabis inherently impairs driving, rather than the truth: that cannabis-related impairment has more to do with familiarity of dose and familiarity of task rather than being able to identify tiny amounts—billionths of a gram—in the bloodstream hours, days or even weeks after smoking.
One Ontario bus shelter ad says “Cannabis” and the letters “Can” and “I” are highlighted in the same font color as the “lose my license if I drive high?” that follows. The answer, of course, is a big fat “YES”.
It continues: “If you’re impaired by any drug and driving you could face serious penalties, like license suspension, fines, and jail time.” Below that it says,“Have questions about cannabis? Visit ontario.ca/Cannabis”.
Typing that address in takes you to: https://www.ontario.ca/page/cannabis-legalization
It stresses the harm to the “developing minds” of the young above all other myths, but we covered the debunking of that already back in B.C. and Alberta.
We haven’t done driving yet, so let’s use the Ontario template for that. When we click on “driving” we come to this statement:
“Driving impaired by cannabis is illegal and dangerous. Cannabis, like many other drugs, slows your reaction time and increases your chances of being in a collision.” (44)
Let’s unpack this loaded statement in two parts:
Part 1: “Driving impaired by cannabis is illegal and dangerous.”
Driving impaired on caffeine is also illegal and dangerous but that doesn’t stop Starbucks from offering drive-through windows on some of their stores and it doesn’t stop car companies from putting coffee cup holders right next to the driver so they can take their psychoactive stimulant drugs while they’re driving.
Obviously, there’s a difference between driving under the influence of a substance and driving impaired by that substance. Cannabis may impair more often in novice users than caffeine, but both drugs can impair. Due to the lack of any dialogue surrounding caffeine harm reduction in society, caffeine impairment may be overlooked in crash investigations.
Just in case there’s any doubt that caffeine can impair as much as cannabis can, a quick search on “healthline.com” reveals the truth.
“What are the symptoms of caffeine overdose? Several types of symptoms occur with this condition. Some symptoms may not immediately alert you that you’ve had too much caffeine because they may not seem serious. For example, you may experience:
Other symptoms are more severe and call for immediate medical treatment. These more serious symptoms of caffeine overdose include:
- trouble breathing
- chest pain
- irregular or fast heartbeat
- uncontrollable muscle movements
- convulsions” (45)
Furthermore, the amount that is supposedly too dangerous to drive on—two “nanograms” of THC in the blood—is the legal limit:
There are two prohibited levels for THC, the primary psychoactive component of cannabis: it is a less serious offence to have between 2 nanograms (ng) and 5 ng of THC per ml of blood. It is a more serious offence to have 5 ng of THC or more per ml of blood. (46)
A nanogram is a billionth of a gram.
To put it in perspective, Ross Rebagliati, the Canadian who won the first downhill speed snowboarding Olympic Gold medal, had 17.8 nanograms in his system during his championship race. He argued it was from second-hand smoke, which he still maintains to be the case to this day. (47)
Is it possible that 2 nanograms may impair some novice users but have no impairment-related effect on a regular user?
Prohibitionists and over-regulators like to argue that cannabis legalization has resulted in an increase in traffic accidents. The statistics note increases in “cannabis-related” accidents post-legalization, but this is a result of a change to the testing protocol. Amanda Reiman, the marijuana law and policy manager at the Drug Policy Alliance in Oakland offers this explanation:
“Prior to legalization, alcohol was tested for first at the scene of an accident. If alcohol was shown to be a factor, many times the person was not tested for anything else. After legalization, states started testing for marijuana along with alcohol in every crash situation. This gives the appearance of an increase in drivers testing positive for marijuana after a crash, when in reality it reflects a change in testing protocol.”
(Amanda Reiman, email to David Malmo-Levine, 2016) (48)
The police argue—without further questions by the media—that increases in cannabis-related impaired driving charges are due to “more police training”. (49)
But it could simply be the police’s insistence that “2 nanograms equals impairment” is a real thing instead of factoring in familiarity and dose.
Part 2: “Cannabis, like many other drugs, slows your reaction time and increases your chances of being in a collision.”
What we do know about cannabis-related impairment is that it’s not usually too severe. According to one researcher, cannabis-related impairment increased the likelihood of a crash by five percent. For comparison, opioid painkillers increased the likelihood of a crash by 14 percent, and penicillin increased the likelihood of a crash by 25 percent. A completely legal blood-alcohol level of 0.08 increased the likelihood of a crash by 293 percent, and talking on your cellphone increased the likelihood of a crash by 310 percent. (50)
What might be happening as a result of legalization is that encouraging cannabis use may reduce the amount of alcohol that people drink, and by doing so, reducing the number of drunk-driving accidents. Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found an 11 percent reduction in traffic fatalities on average when examining the 24 U.S. states which have enacted medical marijuana laws. (51)
The fact is, none of the government’s “don’t drive high” propaganda takes into account that cannabis impairment isn’t inherent—it’s more like caffeine impairment or pharmaceutical impairment. There’s no “amount in the blood” that can accurately indicate impairment, and there’s a very good chance of punishing people who are not impaired but have a little THC in their bloodstream.
To make sure impaired people get taken off the road and unimpaired people are not punished unfairly, cannabis impairment should be treated like caffeine impairment or pharmaceutical impairment or old age impairment or fatigue impairment or emotional-disturbance impairment or illness impairment. The police should just require a roadside performance test—recorded on video to be contested later on in court if necessary.
With possibly the most blatantly anti-pot website in Canada, Nova Scotia, shows the rest of the country it’s world-class stigmatization materials. Appropriately titled “Weed Myths”, it provides the latest myths in a confusing format, with four random studies provided as evidence, but nothing tying them to which assertion the province is making, leaving its audience to try and figure it out for themselves.
The “developing minds” and “inherent impairment” myths are featured prominently, of course, but since they’ve been dealt with above, I thought Nova Scotia’s website provided an excellent example of myths around cannabis use and I.Q. The website first states the apparent “myth”, then the supposed “facts”:
For example, “I Can Smoke Pot and Still Get Straight A’s”.
“Hey, anything is possible—but there has been a lot of research done that states the opposite,” the website states. “Researchers have found that heavy marijuana use may be especially problematic during teens’ peak learning years, when the brain is still developing, since smoking pot can impair your ability to concentrate and retain information. This can cause poor academic performance. You might think you’re doing well in school—but you’ll never know if smoking pot is inhibiting your true academic potential.”
Arguably teens who never try pot will “never know” if their cannabis deprivation is inhibiting their true academic performance. What we do know is that from the 1970s to the 1990s, when cannabis use rates increased by a factor of five, I.Q. rates did not dip. In fact, they did the opposite. I.Q. rates have increased nearly everywhere they have been studied. This phenomenon—known as the “Flynn effect” (named after the researcher who first noticed it)—could not possibly have occurred if cannabis use had a negative effect on I.Q.
Wikipedia: The Flynn Effect (52)
“The Flynn effect is the substantial and long-sustained increase in both fluid and crystallized intelligence test scores measured in many parts of the world from roughly 1930 to the present day. When intelligence quotient (IQ) tests are initially standardized using a sample of test-takers, by convention the average of the test results is set to 100 and their standard deviation is set to 15 or 16 IQ points. When IQ tests are revised, they are again standardized using a new sample of test-takers, usually born more recently than the first. Again, the average result is set to 100. However, when the new test subjects take the older tests, in almost every case their average scores are significantly above 100. Test score increases have been continuous and approximately linear from the earliest years of testing to the present. For the Raven’s Progressive Matrices test, subjects born over a 100-year period were compared in Des Moines, United States, and separately in Dumfries, Scotland. Improvements were remarkably consistent across the whole period, in both countries. This effect of an apparent increase in IQ has also been observed in various other parts of the world, though the rates of increase vary.“
While it is true that using cannabis can distract young people away from doing what they don’t want to do and make them instead focus on doing what they do want to do, the simple solution (that I myself figured out in high school) is to save it for the classes that you enjoy.
If you’re high, the last thing you want to do is activities that you have difficulty doing or that are unpleasant. For me, this was my morning classes: math, science and similar stuff. Other students were good at these classes and could attend while high with no problem. My afternoon classes—history, English, drama—these were easy for me, and enjoyable when the happy, hungry, relaxed effects of cannabis took hold. So it really depends on the smoker and the activity.
Maybe the solution to cannabis use by students is not to punish them for trying to be relaxed, hungry, and happy, but rather to stop requiring them to do so much uninspiring, irrelevant busy work and obedience training, allowing them to gravitate to the work that inspires them, letting them be high when they want to be high. I predict a decrease in suicide and hard drug use, and an increase in happy, autonomous human beings who aren’t disgusted by their school experience.
Needless to say, the “research” backing up any claim to cannabis making kids stupid has nothing to say about the Flynn effect or the lack of evidence of any type of pathology in the general population stats that track with the massive increase in use beginning in the 1970s. This research also suffers from the seven typical mistakes in cannabis research mentioned above.
Then add to this the fact that—according to one doctor—research that doesn’t match the official story doesn’t get published. (53)
At this point, the history of how positive information is ignored and negative information is highlighted deserves a review. Popular Science reported it this way:
” ‘Marijuana is a linchpin in the War on Drugs,’ explains Brad Burge, the director of communications for the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Research (MAPS), an organization currently embroiled in a lawsuit with the DEA over the right to establish a medical marijuana farm. ‘There’s a lot of investment in marijuana remaining illegal.’ … If you’re going to run a trial to show that marijuana has positive effects, the NIDA essentially is not going to allow it.” (54)
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies—or “MAPS”—explained it this way:
“Our efforts to initiate medical marijuana research have been hindered by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) since our founding in 1986. NIDA’s previous monopoly on the supply of marijuana for research and the DEA’s prior refusal to allow researchers to grow their own has restricted medical marijuana research for decades.
“Since 1999, MAPS was involved in legal struggles against the DEA to end this situation. On August 11, 2016, the DEA announced their intention to grant licenses to additional marijuana growers for research, thereby ending the DEA-imposed 48-year monopoly on federally legal marijuana.” (55)
And the scam is not just limited to preventing positive research from being published. Big pharma will pay money for research that finds fault in cannabis, as was revealed in the recent “payola scandal”.
Three of the researchers caught in the payola scandal have also echoed the “pot harms the developing mind of the youth” bullshit. (56)
Apparently, licensed producer powerhouse Canopy Growth financed a UBC “pot professor”—Dr. M-J Milloy (57)—in exchange for a cool $2.5-million donation to the university, in order “to research the role of cannabis in addressing the opioid overdose crisis”. (58)
I’m going to come out now and predict that that Milloy, the corporate-funded pot prof, won’t say anything that will threaten Canopy’s bottom line.
For instance: anything about how cannabis is a soft drug or the “reefer madness” that justifies the cartel is totally bogus. Or how cannabis is not harming the developing minds of teens, or about its proper use benefiting teens. Or how smoking pot aids in focus and reduces road rage safely in drivers who are familiar with the activity and the dose. Or the importance of human medical autonomy, and how positive health outcomes are based on it. And there likely won’t be any comparative studies on black market cannabis versus Canopy cannabis.
The university is invested in the outcome—millions in future grants—so it can be considered part of the cartel from now on.
Will Milloy will state the obvious regarding the opioid crisis—his area of study—namely, that prescription heroin would eliminate the opioid crisis overnight?
Opioid overdoses are mainly a result of the black market (or, more accurately, the choice of maintaining the black market)—and not as much because of the nature of the drug itself. According to the latest data, decriminalizing all drugs leads to a dramatic decrease in opioid deaths.
For example, Portugal (population about 10 million) once had an opioid crisis similar to that in British Columbia. Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001 (59) and saw massive reductions in opioid deaths. It now has about 30 opioid overdose deaths per year.
B.C. (population five million), like the rest of Canada, has maintained the criminal prohibition of hard drugs and has 922 overdose deaths per year. (60)
I am certain that legalizing prescription heroin would reduce Portugal’s 30 opioid overdose deaths per year to an even smaller number. With heroin distributed with quality controls, several problems could be eliminated instantly:
1) No more black market variability in potency.
2) No more sketchy black-market purity.
3) No more jacked up exorbitant black-market pricing.
4) No more police problems of any kind.
5) No more black market dealers calling at 3 o’clock in the morning wondering why you haven’t been coming by lately and if you would like a free one—on the house—just to try this really good stuff that just came in.
6) One could access health services easily and without the shame or stigma that comes with being a part of the criminal class.\
This should all be obvious to any student of drug policy—let alone a professor—but saying it out loud might rock a few more boats than the establishment typically rocks. Time will tell.
What seems likely is that that kind of information—that the policy, not the drug, is to blame—may be too upsetting for some to hear. And it might cause the public to rethink all policy, including the continued punishment of harmless cannabis growers, dealers, and users post-legalization.
If our policymakers are wrong about most of their drug policies, perhaps they’re wrong about all their drug policies.
Having cornered the market on cannabis research and education (activist sources of such things have been severely curtailed as a result of the shutting down of activist-related pot businesses through a series of raids (61) and court rulings, (62) all in the name of “legalization”) the licensed producers are now creating “cute pot pun ads”, taking advantage of the novelty of legal pot advertising to be effective without being informative, or even imaginative.
Tweed (a “child” of “parent company” Canopy Growth), for example, has decided to take advantage of the cannabis-related word “high” and the homonym “hi”—a form of salutation. Do you see what it did there?
The Tweed billboards said “Hi,” the marketing slogan adopted by the Smiths Falls-based company. The ads ask cheeky questions (“Is Tweed a code name?”) and reference the Tweed website, which provides answers to the questions, information about products for sale, a list of winners of various contests run by the company, and a rundown of the rules governing recreational marijuana in each province. (63)
The rest of the website is devoid of any harm reduction information. Or destigmatization information. It’s mainly to promote products and inform customers of the new laws. There’s even a page about keeping your cannabis locked away—safe from your children—a tacit endorsement of the belief that cannabis harms kids. (66)
Tweed’s main competitor in the battle of the branding is Aurora. It has a website that’s a simple guide to products and locations, and a pretty tame FAQ page. (67) I tried my luck with the “where to buy” page (68) and clicked on B.C.
This led me to a website that listed all the legal retail outlets in B.C. (69) I then clicked on a link to an educational blog. (70) I then clicked on the link to the part where risks are discussed. (71)
Among the risks was, of course, the risk to developing minds: “If you are over 19 and under age 25”.
“Your brain continues to develop until around age 25,” B.C. Cannabis Stores states in this section. “Emerging evidence suggests that THC in cannabis may affect your brain development.
“Early cannabis use increases the risk of affecting the developing brain and so initiating cannabis use later in life may help to lower these risks. More frequent and heavy consumption can increase the risk of negative effects on your physical and mental well-being, even beyond the age of 25.”
Just to drive the point home, Aurora Cannabis’s website, like most of the websites about recreational cannabis, has an “age gate” that ask readers to check a box confirming they are 19 before reading the contents. (72) Because we all know how well that works with pornography—no teens ever manage to access any.
I suspect the reason for the age gate is to maintain the stigma around teen use rather than to actually prevent teens from accessing the site.
As with all the government advertising, restrictions on advertising remove the ability to advertise in such a way that the pleasurable or performance-enhancing elements of cannabis can be mentioned. There is to be no “glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring”, according to the 2018 Cannabis Act. Licensed producers are allowed to provide factual information about cannabis that doesn’t involve those elements, and are allowed to brand their product as long as it doesn’t involve those elements. (73)
Sponsoring events and other “promotional activities” are “contrary to the government’s goal to protect public health and public safety, including the goal of protecting young persons and others from inducements to use cannabis,” says a statement from Health Canada. (74)
Recently, Aurora Cannabis argued that because it didn’t mention the word “cannabis”, it was free to promote it’s brand by sponsoring free concerts. It simply mentioned “legalization” instead, and dropped the word “Cannabis” from its name:
“A representative for Aurora said officials were too busy preparing for legalization to make an official available to answer queries from this newspaper on marketing and whether the company had received a warning from Health Canada. Aurora’s billboards say: ‘How will cannabis legalization change your life? There’s more to the conversation,’ and direct viewers to the AuroraCan.com website, which offers the opportunity to sign up for more information.
“Aurora also sponsored free concerts across the country this summer by popular acts such as the Kings of Leon and The Sheepdogs. In an earlier interview, Aurora spokesman Cam Battley said officials believed the concerts complied with the law because they were advertised under the name ‘Aurora,’ not ‘Aurora Cannabis Inc.,’ the company’s official name. Aurora advertised the concerts as a celebration of arts, legalization and culture.”
October 11, 2018. (75)
Something tells me that licensed producers will continue to get slaps on the wrist while black market cannabis activists will continue to get threatened with raids and the full penalty of the law, which includes massive fines (seven digits) and jail time for contravening the advertising rules.
On every package of legal cannabis sold there is a warning label. Health Canada has a website where all two dozen or so warnings are located. (76)
They tend to centre on a few themes.
Cannabis smoke is harmful. Cannabis should not be used while breastfeeding. Cannabis impairs driving. Cannabis is addictive. Cannabis makes people crazy. Cannabis harms young people.
None of these things are true. Cannabis smoke isn’t harmful—there’s zero evidence of harm to the lungs from potent, organic, water-filtered cannabis or hashish smoked in moderation. Cannabis is a wonderful medicine for pregnant mothers (to increase appetite and improve mood and fight nausea and stress and depression) and is okay for babies—cannabinoids are found in mother’s milk.
Cannabis is not a major cause of car crashes. Using cannabis impairs driving over 50 times less than legal alcohol levels and five times less than penicillin.
Cannabis isn’t addictive—the withdrawal is less intense than caffeine according to most health experts.
Massive increases in rates of cannabis use did not lead to any increase in psychosis rates. Young people benefit from using cannabis, which is the reason why they use cannabis.
Along with every mailout about marijuana comes an insert from Health Canada. (77) On it are the standard myths addressed above (keep away from young people, long-term use can hurt your lungs and your mental health and can make you addicted), along with two new ones: “avoid smoking cannabis” and “buy from a legal source”.
The former backs up the type of smoke-a-phobia that makes cannabis seem as dangerous as tobacco while ignoring the benefits of smoked medicines (self-titration, rapid onset of effects and the most affordable of all forms of administration). The latter is, arguably, the whole purpose of the regulations—to establish a “captive market”—the very captive market the government’s lawyers argued in court was more important than med pot users’ home-growing rights. (78)
The common theme of all the ads is to reinforce these cartel-justifying myths:
1) Cannabis is a hard drug.
2) Cannabis is unsafe for young people.
3) Cannabis inherently impairs driving even at low doses and among familiar users.
These are the myths activists must now focus on debunking—in every type of media, at every opportunity.
A lot of people are afraid to do this. A massive amount of hype around the supposed “inherent harm” from teen cannabis use and the supposed injury to “developing minds” has led to a situation where anyone who dares question the government’s narrative risks incurring the wrath of amplified, near-universal parental hysteria.
A few people—myself, Jodie Emery, and Jack Welch—have managed to question the official narrative in the mass media, but it’s rare. And we’re a drop in the bucket compared to the daily drumbeat of “developing minds” this and “psychosis” that that goes with cannabis reporting in the major media.
I still remain hopeful. There are enough good people left in the mass media and in the alternative media to repeatedly debunk Reefer Madness 2.0 until the cartel can no longer be justified.
If humanity is to ever remove the red tape around industrial hemp—in order to allow hemp ethanol to fairly compete with and eventually replace gasoline—then this debunking will have to happen. And if we are ever to end scapegoating and maximize the benefits of cannabis, this debunking is key.
Cannabis is our co-evolutionary plant partner—whether we use it to adapt and evolve or whether we allow the myths and lies surrounding it to justify the enslavement and control of humanity will be determined by what we all decide to do with the “Reefer Madness debunking information”, such as that found in this article.
1) Smoke Signals, Martin A. Lee, 2012, p. 392, Scribner
22) https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/ hc-sc/documents/services/campaigns/27-16-1808-Factsheet-Health-Effects-eng-web.pdf
23) http://www.ccsa.ca/ Resource%20Library/CCSA-Effects-of-Cannabis-Use-during-Adolescence-Report-2015-en.pdf
49) “We are certainly seeing more and more people driving under the influence of drugs and more people being charged,” Schmidt said, noting that part of reason for that increase may be because officers are receiving more training on detecting drug impairment.
53) “Oh, did I forget to mention that negative results don’t get published? So, if I found no decline in IQ or a non-significant one, we would never even know it!”
57) “New UBC pot professor to research potential of cannabis in treating opioid addiction The $3 million professorship is funded, in large part, by cannabis producer Canopy Growth” Rafferty Baker · CBC News · Posted: Nov 23, 2018 https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/ubc-cannabis-professor-t…
“The evidence favoring a beneficial effect of CBD therefore merits further investigation in studies in which the amounts and ratios of CBD and THC correspond to the daily practices of recreational cannabis use.”
Front Psychiatry. 2013, Does Cannabidiol Protect Against Adverse Psychological Effects of THC?
Raymond J. M. Niesink -Margriet W. van Laar
78) http://potfacts.ca/pot-monopolists-lobbied-the-liberals-for-a-captive-ma…David Malmo-Levine is an author, Supreme Court of Canada appellant, and organizer based in Vancouver.