Any smoking is bad for one’s health. Tobacco is addictive and second-hand smoke is a proven cancer-causing agent, justifying bans in public places.
But on almost every measure, marijuana is a more dangerous substance than tobacco, comparable with alcohol in its ability to impair judgment and to more-potent narcotics in its lasting effects on the brain. The typical cannabis cigarette “increases the smoker’s risk of developing lung cancer by 20 times the amount of one tobacco cigarette,” says the British Lung Foundation, which published a review of medical research in 2012.
Marijuana ingestion harms short-term memory and makes it difficult to learn and retain information or perform complex tasks. It slows reaction time and reduces motor coordination. Prolonged use is “associated with lower test scores and lower educational attainment because during periods of intoxication the drug affects the ability to learn and process information, thus influencing attention, concentration and short-term memory,” said researchers M. T. Lynskey and W. D. Hall.
One reason commonly given for decriminalizing marijuana is to free law enforcement to focus on serious crime and to reduce the number of minor possession cases clogging the court system. Pot smokers are not criminals, the thinking goes.
The argument is naive. The National Research Council has found long-term marijuana use can alter the nervous system in ways that promote violence. Further, legalizing drugs doesn’t end illegal activity connected with drug trade. Consider Amsterdam, where coffee houses selling marijuana are commonplace. The city has been plagued by drug trafficking, drug tourism and street crime.
Support for legalizing marijuana has risen 11 points since 2010, a stunning increase that can only be attributed to propaganda. This is why policymakers must resist the urge to do the popular thing. Society can’t in good conscience deem cigarette smoking a top public health hazard and simultaneously embrace marijuana smoking.
— Andrea Neal is an adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation