April Fool’s Day: How Fake News Clouds the Cannabis Conversation

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BREAKING NEWS: Cannabis has been legalized globally and everyone incarcerated or carrying a nonviolent charge on their record for marijuana possession has been cleared of their “crimes.”

Just kidding, happy April Fool’s Day. Unfortunately, the above statement is #fakenews at its finest. While it would be amazing if it truly happened, our federal government and all the others that follow its lead are nowhere near making that a reality.

The hindrance of progress in the cannabis legalization movement is usually due to a lack of education for voters combined with a plethora of lobbyists representing the anti-weed agendas of conglomerates in alcohol, tobacco, pharma, and other institutes threatened by its market potential.

Until far more research is commissioned and a greater arsenal of scientific facts is at the ready to influence legislature, misinformation will continue to slow things down.

On this high holiday of blatantly false claims, we celebrate with five of the greatest lies ever told to the American public about marijuana.

Minorities Use More Marijuana Than White People

If there is one person who holds the majority of the blame for modern marijuana prohibition, it’s Henry Anslinger — he had an agenda and he executed it effectively to the detriment of personal freedoms everywhere. Before retiring in 1962, the former chief of our nation’s drug enforcement efforts had served five presidential administrations, becoming America’s first “drug czar” in 1930. Anslinger spread racist rhetoric that served as the backbone for many drug laws that have been tremendously difficult to reverse.

It wouldn’t be all that difficult to complete this list entirely with vile Anslinger quotes, if that gives you any indication of how bad a dude he really was.

The powerful bigot was known for using racial stereotypes to reinforce falsehoods about marijuana that would instill fear in Americans about the plant. He infamously said, “Marihuana influences Negroes to look at white people in the eyes, step on white men’s shadows and look at white women twice.”

Adding insult to injury, Anslinger expanded on thoughts like those, also claiming, “reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men … the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races.”

The tone-deaf DEA shockingly praised Anslinger on their social media in March. Perhaps they forgot he adamantly insisted  the average users of cannabis “are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use.”

We, of course, now know that white people smoke just as much, if not more, than Black people — or any other race for that matter — and dangerous stereotypes like this are perpetuated in the racial disparity of lopsided marijuana arrest rates in cities across the country.

The Great ‘Gateway’ Conspiracy

Marijuana has been called a “gateway drug” for decades as a way for prohibitionists to convince those not in the know that even casual cannabis use could lead to exploration of other far more harmful, and possibly fatal, drugs like cocaine and heroin.

The problem is, there’s no facts to back it up. If you consider cannabis a gateway to more dangerous substances simply because people tend to use marijuana earlier in their life than the other drugs they may try, then sure, it may have been a gateway for that person. But by that token, alcohol and tobacco are more often tried by an individual long before they smoke their first joint of reefer. By that logic, booze or cigarettes would be the biggest gateway drugs of them all.

It’s tough to pinpoint the origins of this claim, though pretty much every anti-cannabis figure in the history of the legalization movement has attempted to use this false narrative to further their agenda.

But scientists haven’t been buying it for a long time.

In 1999, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences said, “There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs.”

Additionally, a 2012 study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence found more than 83 percent of hard drug users in Japan had never used marijuana in their life.

Marijuana Offers No Medical Benefits

Despite marijuana being legal in well over half the United States for a long list of qualifying conditions, prohibitionist politicians have been staunch in their laughable stance that this plant offers no therapeutic value to patients in need. Time and time again they are proven wrong, yet they continue to spread inaccurate propaganda.

Just last month, United States Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar claimed, “There really is no such thing as medical marijuana.”

This statement is especially troubling considering our government is spending a massive amount of resources to find a safer and less addictive alternative to opioid painkillers in the treatment of pain when the answer is right under their nose.

“We are devoting hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars of research at our National Institutes of Health as part of the historic $13 billion opioid and serious mental illness program that the President and Congress are funding,” Azar explained in the same speech. “Over $750 million just in 2019 alone is going to be dedicated towards the National Institutes of Health working in public-private partnership to try and develop the next generation of pain therapies that are not opioids.”

While it wouldn’t necessarily matter if the federal government was on board with the notion that marijuana can drastically improve the quality of life for patients suffering from a number of illnesses as long as it was legal in that person’s home state, the archaic federal designation of cannabis prevents meaningful research from being conducted, which could greatly advance our understanding of the plant’s healing capabilities.

For example, cannabis is still listed as a Schedule I drug according to the Controlled Substances Act. Drugs classified in this category have no known medical uses, which we know is false of cannabis. Drugs like fentanyl that are claiming lives across the country at an alarming rate are scheduled lower than marijuana and therefore considered “safer” by the federal government.

“Good People Don’t Use Marijuana”

People who use cannabis have been dogged by a bad reputation ever since Anslinger and his “Reefer Madness”-era propaganda aimed to paint users in a demonic light. For decades, “stoners” have been categorized as lazy and apathetic by people who have clearly never enjoyed the uplifting joys and serene relaxation of the cannabis plant.

The stoner stigma isn’t something that has been erased easily, and there is much work to do still. Immensely influential voices in the national spotlight continue to trash an entire community of people based completely on lies. Our Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose character has been called into question at numerous points in his career for racial discrimination, went as far as saying “good people don’t smoke marijuana” during a Senate drug hearing in 1956 2016.

While a crotchety grandpa spouting off about his old school Alabama ideals typically wouldn’t affect the entire cannabis destigmatization movement negatively, this particular old croney happens to dictate the law enforcement focus of our entire Department of Justice.

Sessions has claimed in the past that marijuana use is heavily tied to violence, but that just simply isn’t the case.

Marijuana is Addictive

It’s important to understand the difference between dependency and physical addiction. For example, I have personally become so accustomed to winding down every day after work by breaking down some weed, rolling it up in a joint, and smoking it, that one could say I’m dependent on it. When I have a bad day, I absolutely look forward to my smoking ritual, as the process of rolling it and smoking allows me to tune out the rest of the world and decompress.

That dependency is different from someone whose body composition has become so addicted to a drug that it changes them physiologically, forcing them to do things out of their character to obtain the drugs and experience the high again — even causing them to feel extremely ill until the body receives the substance.

Our resident cannabis doctor Dr. Bonni Goldstein wrote about this topic for Marijuana.com last year:

According to a 2011 study of recreational users of drugs, the probability of becoming dependent on cannabis is 8.9%. Other substances are reported to have much higher risks of dependency: 67.5% for nicotine users, 22.7% for alcohol users, 20.9% for cocaine users. Recent media reports have stated that the numbers of those seeking drug treatment for cannabis dependence are rising. But according to a recent study, 70% of Americans in drug treatment for cannabis were court-ordered to do so as part of a plea agreement, not because they are dependent on the drug. Due to continued prosecution of cannabis users, the numbers of those considered “cannabis dependent” are falsely elevated — most will choose rehab over jail time. However, it’s clear that the majority of cannabis users, both medical and recreational, do not develop addiction issues.

Not only is marijuana not addictive but according to a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology found that components of the plant could actually help curb addictions to other substances like alcohol and cocaine.

Cover image courtesy of Allena Braithwaite

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Used to write about music for XXL, Elevator, Complex, Genius, and a few other outlets. Follow @LongLiveTheDuke on Twitter if you'd like to read way fewer words by me.

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