Debunking a Former Drug Czar

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

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 thoughts

  1. 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.

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

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

  4. 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.

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

  6. 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?

  7. Susan,

    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.

  8. “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!

  9. “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.”

    This opinion shows that you are a brainwashed, freedom-hating part of the propaganda machine.

    Cannabis use IS a positive influence because it’s teaches our children to be self-sufficient and responsible. Use of cannabis also deters the use of more harmful substances.

    I wish you would just keep your mouth shut if you don’t have anything educational or helpful to say…

  10. let me expand a bit on that last one…

    Cannabis can be used to replace a lot of the IRRESPONSIBLE things our government has mandated and adopted.

    Imagine if we didn’t have to cut trees down for paper pulp anymore.

    Imagine if we had ZERO dependence on oil and it’s by-products.

    Imagine if everything we know now is replaced with cannabis based products. how much better would the environment be?

    The healthcare costs are so low, we could spend our tax dollars on other medical ailments.

    Th fact that it’s curing cancers; letting people live comfortable lives, etc.

    Who cares if they are smoking a joint, eating and edible or vaping. Its the same action as taking advil, or drinking a beer to relax, only it’s much much safer and noone dies…

    people are so damn stupid… he evidence and proof can be right in front of them and they will still believe their very own lies ’til the day they die.

  11. @ susan
    We should be able to do what we please with our own bodies. Especially with something that hurts NO ONE not the user not the non user. In addition, it shouldnt ONLY be legal because our current legal drugs kill be therefore legalize this one that doesnt kill people. It should be legal because people’s lives are being ruined by the law. If they use this once their entire record could be tarnished if caught. A college kid getting an education and in some cases doing extremely well in college, could lose funding for simply smoking a joint. While one reason for legalizing is its a substance much safer than our current legal drug substances, an equally prominent reason is a law against it is much worse than a law allowing it.

  12. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

    Either you accept and understand that these axioms are the FOUNDATION of the United States America, or you support current drug laws, and have little or no concern for their logical inconsistencies.

    End of story.

    I am entitled, by my very existence, to freely pursue my own happiness. As long as that pursuit does not directly jeopardize the self-evident unalienable rights of another person, how can any such action be outlawed?

  13. Mr. Bennett is a gambling addict. Why should anyone give him the time of day?
    Pat Robertson is right and so are all the comments above. Well said and done!

  14. Poor reasoning, Susan. Merely because this analysis compares Cannabis to substances like alcohol or tobacco doesn’t make it a recreational drug, nor does it mean this herb should be isolated to only “medical patients.” Cannabis has been used for thousands of years and presents no toxic effects through widespread use but numerous health benefits… So, in that case, why shouldn’t it be treated like a health supplement, regardless if it’s one which makes many feel good (“high”) when they take it? It seems many things we take, like chocolate or caffeine, can affect people’s moods in feel-good ways, yet we don’t demonize those substances 🙂

  15. If you ever watch a few episodes of a ‘Cops’ marathon on TV, you’ll see that invariably the people who gives cops a belligerent, bellicose hard time are always on alcohol. And I do mean invariably.

  16. “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.”

    if cannabis wasn’t a positive influence, why would we let sick people smoke it in the first place?

  17. The point is most people assume “All men are created equal ..” and this is a basic principal of the law – if so why should some one be persecuted and punished for consuming something less harmful than alcohol ? (if alcohol is legally available to them) – That is why a study saying that cannabis is less harmful than legal drugs is important

  18. All right susan, how about we outlaw refined sugar, aspirin (you can OD on this), ALL forms of cough medicine, all alcohol in ANY form, all tobacco in ANY form, cookies, cake, coffee (that means no more Starbucks), and everything else that you can OD on. Two wrongs, right?

    Why do you get to dictate what others choose to ingest? Would you be willing to have your medicine cabinets or refrigerator examined for abusive substances (not just illegals either)? The ‘First Wrong’ was making an HERB illegal in the first place. Why aren’t apples illegal, their seeds contain cyanide?

    Now to the topic, so has anyone sent this wonderful examination to his office yet? Would be nice to have that address so those of us here against this blatant hypocrisy could forward on this well worded rebuttal, to see if he is even willing to acknowledge his subterranean thought process.

  19. Man, if Susan was reading all this she’d be blushing by now lol… maybe feeling embarrassed at presenting an argument with too many holes for logic to poke through… GO EDUCATE YOSELF SISTA, you got the whole fucking world on your laptop…

  20. It all boils down to the fact thats theres no
    money in making cannabis legal. For the vermin in Congress the money is in keeping it

  21. Yeah! And that bitch also said something along the lines of Why would you want to allow the use of another mood-altering substance?

    Hello! As if! As if cannabis wasn’t already ubiquitous, you dolt! When it’s already available everywhere and without an ID check, how the hell do you make it more available? It’s a l r e a d y fuckin’ everywhere!

    Is there any way you can refute that out there in the mainstream media. Trish Regan was some eye candy to look at on the reportage. Get her in some new shows!

  22. @phrtao Mariuana is the most investigated plant.Plus over 4000 year experiance.What a man need more?We know how dangerus it is.But are we not alowed to have a vote in this?Its oure body and mind.

  23. Comparing the dangers of alcohol/tobacco to marijuana is not a justification for allowing something else that is dangerous. Three wrongs don’t make a right.

    The point though seems to be that in light of the actual risk to personal and public safety that marijuana poses, there is no possible rationalization or justification for the extravagance of our government’s efforts in waging war on marijuana and its citizens.

    In California, minor possession results in a infraction citation–a ticket, no arrest and a $100 fine. That is not how we treat something that is truly dangerous.

    Yet our government is willing to arrest and kill people over marijuana. They are willing to spend billions of dollars over marijuana. The government is willing to abrogate the rights of its citizens over marijuana–the possession of which is so dangerous you can be given a ticket in some states. The government would rather have a policy that enriches brutal drug cartels over legalizing and taxing a huge industry and enriching its citizens. The government would have us worry more about marijuana crimes than solving murders and housing truly violent offenders.

    That’s the issue. Not that marijuana is far safer than alcohol–which it is. That just makes it even more ludicrous. It’s that the cost of prohibition is so great compared to the actual threat.

  24. I wouldn’t mind paying my share of taxes for legal quality weed, but not that $50 per ounce tax that has been proposed. but hey if that’s what it would take to make it legal…..

  25. It does’nt matter if W.B. is a Ex-Drug Czar. The only thing that matters is that he has that FEDERALISTIC MENTALITY for life. Stepping over the boundaries of first amendment rights in the Constitution all in the name of MARIJUANA PROHIBITION. The INQUISITION was started because of fear and ignorance and the wrath of god would be upon them. Now the INQUISITION changed hands to FEDERALISM and the POLICE STATE we live under with the ORWELLIAN MENTALITY. Just another SMOKE AND MIRRORS puppet who wants to crucify marijuana users and still can’t get it that he is an EX. HAIL TO THE MONARCHY and another 420 around the corner.

  26. Is that the 10gram ounce, or the 11.5 gams or 100grams ounce? 50$ tax for 10 or 11.5gr looks a bit expencive to me.But hell, look what they charge for petrol in europ in tax.When we do that with weed, we have greece in 1 year out of bankrupcy in europp.

  27. Susan said “Two wrongs hardly make a right.”

    Cannabis is a SUBSTITUTE for alcohol. Millions of people could switch, and there would be a net decrease in social harm.

    If Bayer developed an aspirin substitute with half the harmful side effects, would you oppose it’s sale because it had SOME harmful side effects? Of course not. You would switch to the safer drug!

  28. By the way, the social side effects of Prohibition are far worse than the physical side effects of Cannabis.

    Hundreds of thousands dead, millions imprisoned, Trillions of Dollars spent, many Billions of Dollars in potential taxes lost, hundreds of new drugs not developed, thousands of other products not developed.

    Yeah, it’s been a great century! Let’s repeat it! Let’s double down and forbid alcohol, too! That’d be super!

  29. @Li . Lets start that atomic war.Humanity gone. No need for drugs.The 1% hiding 50 years in bunkers.And when they come out the whole world is just for them.To bad they dont have slaves anymore so they must work for there own food.Wonder what they do first?Making beer or start smoking weed?

  30. Mr. Bennett is not smart enough to understand what is incredibly obvious to most of us: Prohibition does MUCH more HARM than the marijuana itself ever could!!! Him, and others like him, make American’s look like a bunch of morons to people in other countries when we call ourselves a democracy and declare that we are the land of the free.

  31. Bennet should spend more time advocating prohibition of gambling than marijuana considering that’s his vice of choice.

  32. It is possible cannabinoids can have a beneficial effect on cigarette smokers, but this study didn’t come up with that conclusion. It only says casual pot smoking doesn’t damage your lung function, whereas tobacco definitely does.

  33. Professional ‘rasslin’ has injured/killed more folks than herb.
    It’s all rigged, and will not be legal while people are making money in corrections, drug tests, DARE(!!!!), etc,…

  34. Susan,
    The argument of two wrongs don’t make a right is tired, and is actually a third wrong. The fact that marijuana is less addictive, and harmful than cigarettes and alcohol exposes how it is actually a right. People are going to get high , PERIOD!!!! They always have, and always will. Therefore, the least damaging to society as a whole is definitely of more value. You are the product of 70 years of a misinformed public. Luckily the majority of Americans can think for themselves, and sooner or later it will be legalized.

  35. I am a Medicinal Marijuana Patient. I was able to keep a Cadaver Kidney Transplant alive for 14 years with no Immunosuppressives, solely using Marijuana. I don’t drink our use any other narcotics they attack my Kidney and make me physically sick. I have had severe reactions to just about every narcotic. I’ve had my legs pinned between two cars twice, and have been in and out of hospitals since 8 years old. I’m a walking miracle and part of a published study at Emory Hospital in Atlanta, GA. All thea negative comments are just ignorant. I am living proof it IS Medicine!!!! Alcohol and Narcs should never be in the same catagory as Marijuana…Marijuana and ONLY Marijuana NEVER killed anyone.!!!!!…..

  36. Susan! Leave its use to who decides to use it. Who are you to decide for anyone. Just let the plant grow free for everyone.

  37. Pot, marijuana, cannabis, weed, whatever you want to call it, is non-toxic. Again. NONTOXIC. You CANNOT harm yourself, overdose, or kill yourself by smoking cannabis. You just can’t. It’s a fact. Not opinion. You just fall asleep like if you had a super hard day’s work and you wake up just like after a normal nights sleep. Not hungover. It doesn’t make me want to look for other ways to get “high”, it doesn’t make me angry, it doesn’t give me a false sense of self, my judgement is not impaired and it clears away the cloud of depression and panic that comes with having PTSD. Wouldn’t it be wrong if you or a loved one, were to have their freedoms taken away, thrown in jail/prison, criminal record tacked on, kids possibly taken away, possibly lose your house, and let’s not forget rape happens in lock up, all because they ingested something nontoxic, that actually makes you more empathetic and nonviolent towards others; All this happening because the government, who have politicians that get incentives and money for pushing the interests of the big drug companies (conflict of interest) and the drug companies want it illegal. They’ll lose a lot of money if pot were to become legal. On top of it, police departments from everywhere get a lot of bonuses and funding as long as they are doing a good job fighting crime. So as long as weed is illegal, the cops can continue to “look good” and have money for all their fancy equipment/specialty departments. They should be going after drug users that are violent like meth and crack users. People who drink are way more violent too. Im more likely to punch you sober than stoned. There are many factors going into why marijuana became and is still illegal. They range from greed, political corruption, racism. But it is not because it is bad for you. We actually have a endocannabinoid system built into each and every one of us. Pot is healthful. Not harmful. Please remember what this drug war is actually about. The government isn’t concerned about our health in this issues. They are worried about protecting their wallets at the cost of our, our friends, and our families freedoms and lives. It’s not supposed to be this way.

  38. Lets hope they dont bend for the presure from the USA, but z America is having plans to open the laws on drugs.But USA is pushing hard to stop that.
    VOTE FOR THE RIGHT GUY PPL. Dont vote for money.Vote for brains.

  39. Bill Bennett is one of the worst criminals in our country.
    His arguments are old and proven false.
    Why is it so surprising that he would advocate giving law enforcement billions each year for apprehending “Dangerous Criminals” who are smoking marijuana?
    What a scam, milking billions in taxpayer money for a nonexistent threat.

  40. Susan you can say leave it to sick people all you want and yes those people should have access but non sick people are going to continue to smoke every day and continue to but put in jail and prison. If you think those people deserve to be where they are you are no better than the prohibitionists picking on sick people for using marijuana.

  41. Bin smoking for 40 years..good job nice home. 34′ sailboat and drive a very nice mercedes… Really messed me up…

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