Last week we reported on the petition with over 200,000 signatures calling on the government of the United Kingdom to address cannabis legalization. The official response from the conservative government was that “use of cannabis is a significant public health issue”, that legalization “would not eliminate the crime committed by the illicit trade” and legalization would not fix “the harms associated with drug dependence and the misery that this can cause to families.” And like every good drug warrior, they predicted that legalization “would also send the wrong message to … young and vulnerable people”.
Though the petition surpassed the 100,000 signature threshold necessary to force a debate on legalization in the Parliament, since the committees reviewing the issue are dominated by conservatives, it is unlikely the debate before the full Parliament will ever take place. So, a reporter at the UK Independent took it upon himself to ask the Home Office (their government department that handles drug policy, among other duties) a simple question:
Given its view that cannabis causes ‘harm to individuals and society’, “do they believe then, that cannabis (class B) is a more harmful drug than alcohol (legal)?”
The response from the Home Office?
“We wouldn’t have anything to add to the government response.”
The non-response from the UK government recalls the response of our former DEA Administrator, Michele Leonhart, when she was questioned by Congress about the relative harms of drugs compared to marijuana:
“Is crack worse for a person than marijuana?” [US Rep. Jared] Polis asked Leonhart.
“I believe all illegal drugs are bad,” Leonhart answered.
Polis continued, asking whether methamphetamines and heroin were worse for a person’s health than marijuana.
“Again, all drugs, they’re illegal drugs,” Leonhart started, before being cut off by Polis.
“Yes, no, or I don’t know?” Polis said. “If you don’t know, you can look this up. You should know this as the chief administrator for the Drug Enforcement Agency. I’m asking a very straightforward question: Is heroin worse for someone’s health than marijuana?”
Leonhart ducked again, repeating, “All illegal drugs are bad.”
Leonhart was ousted in the wake of a scandal involving DEA agents’ solicitation of prostitutes, rather than her ill-informed views of drug dangers. Her successor, Chuck Rosenberg, has finally admitted that marijuana isn’t as bad as “all illegal drugs”.
“If you want me to say that marijuana’s not dangerous, I’m not going to say that because I think it is,” Rosenberg said. “Do I think it’s as dangerous as heroin? Probably not. I’m not an expert.”
He added: “Let me say it this way: I’d rather be in a car accident going 30 miles an hour than 60 miles an hour, but I’d prefer not to be in a car accident at all.”
Bad metaphors aside – a 30 mph car accident can still kill you, marijuana smoking cannot – why in the hell do we have a head of the Drug Enforcement Administration who is “not an expert” on the relative harms of drugs? Imagine asking the head of the Environmental Protection Agency if solar panels were as bad for the environment as burning coal, or asking the Secretary of State if France is as dangerous to travel to as Syria, and that person responding, “Probably not. I’m not an expert.”
Still, it’s nice to see that our DEA believes marijuana is safer than heroin and our president acknowledging that marijuana “is no worse than” alcohol. Especially that vaping now is starting to become mainstream, vaporizing weed by many is also very prone for smokers nowadays.
Maybe someday the officials in the US and the UK will recognize that marijuana’s relative harm compared to alcohol isn’t subject to opinion, it is a matter of fact that marijuana is safer than alcohol.