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Marijuana: The Myths Are Killing Us

DEA Head Examines Harmful Misconceptions About Pot

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Updated September 21, 2013

Karen Tandy, the administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, examined the harm done to the youth of America by myths surrounding marijuana use in an article for the March 2005 issues of Police Chief Magazine. It is reprinted below with permission.

When 14-year-old Irma Perez of Belmont, California, took a single ecstasy pill one evening last April, she had no idea she would become one of the 26,000 people who die every year from drugs. Irma took ecstasy with two of her 14-year-old friends in her home. Soon after taking the tiny blue pill, Irma complained of feeling awful and said she felt like she was "going to die."

Instead of seeking medical care, her friends called the 17-year-old dealer who supplied the pills and asked for advice. The friends tried to get Irma to smoke marijuana, but when she couldn't because she was vomiting and lapsing into a coma, they stuffed marijuana leaves into her mouth because, according to news sources, "they knew that drug is sometimes used to treat cancer patients."

Irma Perez died from taking ecstasy, but compounding that tragedy was the deadly decision to use marijuana to "treat" her instead of making what could have been a lifesaving call to 911.

Irma was a victim of our society's stunning misinformation about marijuana -- a society that has come to believe that marijuana use is not only an individual's free choice but also is good medicine, a cure-all for a variety of ills. A recent poll showed that nearly three-fourths of Americans over the age of 45 support legalizing marijuana for medical use.

It's a belief that has filtered down to many of our teens, if what I'm hearing during my visits with middle school and high school students across the country is true. I'm amazed at how well versed in drug legalization these teens are. It is as if legalization advocates stood outside their schools handing out their leaflets of lies.

Here is what students have told me about marijuana: "It's natural because it grows in the ground, so it must be good for you." "It must be medicine, because it makes me feel better." "Since everybody says it's medicine, it is."

Myth: If It's Medicine, It's Safe

Legalization advocates themselves have alluded to the fact that so-called medical marijuana is a way of achieving wholesale drug legalization. A few years ago, the New York Times interviewed Ethan Nadelmann, director of the Lindesmith Center, a drug policy research center.

Responding to criticism that the so-called medical marijuana issue is a stalking horse for drug legalization, Mr. Nadelmann did not disagree. "Will it help lead toward marijuana legalization?" he asked. "I hope so."

The issue of marijuana as medicine has captured the nation's attention and has now made its way to the U. S. Supreme Court, with Ashcroft v. Raich still pending. The natural extension of this myth is that, if marijuana is medicine, it must also be safe for recreational use.

Truth: Antidote to Myths

This pervasive mindset has even reached our courts. In January 2005, for example, Governor Frank Murkowski of Alaska had to ask the legislature "to overrule a court ruling that adult Alaskans have the right to possess marijuana for personal use in their homes."

There was no pretense of medical use in this ruling; it gave Alaskans the legal right to smoke marijuana for any reason, lending credence to the belief that marijuana is not only safe to treat serious illness but somehow safe for general use and for all society.

What is the antidote? Spreading the truth. America is not suffering from anything that the truth can't cure. To help you set the record straight, this article seeks to rebut the rhetoric and recap the reality.

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