Pot tale of the week

The Las Vegas Review-Journal recently editorialized, “And no matter how much pot enthusiasts argue otherwise, marijuana is both addictive—one in 10 people who try pot will become hooked on it—and a gateway to more deadly drugs that kill more than 45,000 Americans a year.” We dealt with the gateway theory in our July 21 edition, noting that marijuana functions as a barrier to more deadly drugs. We turn now to addiction.

The RJ does not cite any evidence for addiction—nor does it emphasize that only one in 10 people—fewer, actually—are addicted to marijuana, nor does it mention that it is a mild addiction, akin to coffee. Nor does it explain why a major public policy choice should be keyed to a tiny slice of the population. Perhaps “And no matter how much pot enthusiasts argue otherwise” means that the newspaper believes that whoever repeats its viewpoint loudest and longest wins and avoids the necessity of supplying evidence. Here, however, we believe in science.

In 1994, leading pharmacologists Dr. Jack Henningfield of the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Dr. Neal Benowitz of the University of California at San Francisco made separate assessments of the addictive qualities of various substances. Their independent findings were similar. Among six substances—alcohol, caffeine, cocaine, heroin, marijuana and nicotine, the level of dependence of marijuana was ranked sixth and last by both. Alcohol and caffeine were both listed ahead of marijuana for dependence. There was less agreement on reinforcement and withdrawal, but both listed marijuana and caffeine either fifth or sixth in both categories. We await the RJ’s call for prohibition of tea, cola, chocolate and coffee.

That same year, there was another study that has relevance here. According to Scientific American, “in a large-scale survey published in 1994 epidemiologist James Anthony, then at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and his colleagues asked more than 8,000 people between the ages of 15 and 64 about their use of marijuana and other drugs. The researchers found that of those who had tried marijuana at least once, about 9 percent eventually fit a diagnosis of cannabis dependence. The corresponding figure for alcohol was 15 percent; for cocaine, 17 percent; for heroin, 23 percent; and for nicotine, 32 percent. So although marijuana may be addictive for some, 91 percent of those who try it do not get hooked. Further, marijuana is less addictive than many other legal and illegal drugs.”

The first Bush administration, which in 1989 set off a national anti-drug hysteria, reported to Congress in 1991, “Given the large population of marijuana users and the infrequent reports of medical problems from stopping use, tolerance and dependence are not major issues at present.”

Finally, has government prohibition been a success at discouraging use? What is more effective at dealing with addiction of any kind: health care or prohibition which creates the allure of the forbidden and incentivizes black markets?

Incidentally, underneath the Review-Journal editorial on its website we spotted an advertisement for “The most addictive game of the year! … Forge of Empires.” Let’s outlaw it.