Legal cannabis opponents rely on fear-mongering to argue against legalisation
As New Zealand approaches the cannabis referendum on 17 October, the benefits and drawbacks of the plant are once again in the spotlight. Cannabis has received some positive press in recent years, but opponents still view it as a more of a dangerous drug.
A Harvard Medical School professor and addiction psychiatrist, Kevin P. Hill, falls into the latter category with his essay blasting cannabis as a drug wrought with negative effects, especially for teenagers and pregnant women. He takes the position that the public has been led to believe marijuana use comes without harm, whereas it has become even more dangerous over decades as it becomes more potent.
But Professor Hill’s position leans more towards fear mongering than pure facts. While his qualifications are undeniable and some of his points credible, they are simply blown out of proportion. But legal cannabis opponents in New Zealand take a similar approach to Hill, and their tactics seem to be working, as reflected in recent polls indicating a significant swing in the favor of the “No” vote among Kiwis come 17 October.
In this post, we’ll take a deeper look into Professor Hill’s claims and why they are erroneous. We’ll also look into how the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill safeguards against many of the fears Hill proposes.
Kevin P. Hill’s exaggerates about cannabis negatives
Professor Hill isn’t alone. Both the United States Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, and Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, consider cannabis to be a dangerous drug, and point out that it is unhealthy for youth and pregnant women.
Their place the blame for the dangers of cannabis on the increased potency of the drug in recent years. They also believe that people think the drug isn’t harmful.
But the premise of these claims fail. Nobody claims cannabis is entirely safe, much like nobody makes that claim about alcohol and yet it has been legal for decades. Cannabis legalisation authorises its use by adults, whom opponents seem to give too little credit in determining how to use substances safely, if they use it at all.
The Surgeon General also claimed that cannabis legalisation has led to increased consumption amongst youth. But none of them cite studies backing up their claims. Meanwhile, many studies show that cannabis use amongst teens has either declined or remained the same in US states that have legalised the drug.
- In Colorado, where recreational cannabis use has been legal since 2012, National Survey on Drug Use and Health data shows a decline in cannabis use amongst adolescents between age 12 and 17, from 20.8 percent in 2013-2014 to 18.4 percent in 2014-2015.
- Washington state saw similar declines amongst the same age group, from 17.5 percent to 15.6 percent during the same period.
Professor Hill’s arguments against cannabis seems to be more that the public is misinformed about cannabis dangers. He believes the “historical narrative” is that “weed is safe and good for you.”
But in reality, nobody has made that argument – in fact, legal cannabis supporters seek balanced reform that includes education on the positives and negatives of cannabis, as well as treatment for those who are drug dependent. And one can conclude that since cannabis legalisation only authorises adult use, such adults are quite capable of responsible consumption.
How New Zealand’s Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill alleviates Hill’s fears
The upcoming cannabis referendum is focused on the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill. A majority Yes vote (51 percent) is needed to push the bill to parliament, where it will undergo readings and votes like any other bill. A majority No vote will kill the bill and likely put the cannabis discussion in the back-burner for years and years to come.
The bill only legalises cannabis possession of 14 grams or less for adults aged 20 years and up. These adults are also allowed to grow up to four plants per household and share cannabis amongst other adults. Selling cannabis to those under 20 years of age will land you up to 4 years in jail, and selling to anyone without a license could land you up to 2 years in jail. And those under age 20 who are caught with cannabis will face a fine or health-based response or education.
The aforementioned restrictions serve as a safeguard against Professor Hill’s and others’ fears. New Zealand’s cannabis approach is an adult only endeavor that punishes any attempt to encourage cannabis use amongst youths.
The Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill goes even further with a number of restrictions on companies to ensure quality control, avoid commercialization, and ensure clear labeling and packaging. Here’s a look at some of those restrictions:
- Cannabis products can’t contain more than 15% of THC (the higher the potency, the higher the tax).
- Advertising cannabis products is prohibited.
- Companies will have to choose between selling or growing cannabis – not both.
- Companies will be limited on how much cannabis they can get from the national stock.
- Imports and exports of cannabis will be prohibited.
There is no argument that cannabis is an entirely safe drug. Cannabis use has drawbacks, just like legal inhibriants such as alcohol. Legalising the drug serves to bring consumers out of the shadows to where they can be educated on how to use the drug responsibly and safely. Leaving cannabis illegal could leave users in the shadows, where those dangers that Professor Hill laments about are more likely to occur.
But despite the existence of negatives, cannabis use is nowhere close to the doomsday, dangerous drug that opponents claim it to be. Yes, cannabis use amongst youth and pregnant women could be unsafe, but legalising the drug is only for adults. Several data and studies also show that, in places where cannabis is legal, adolescent use has not increased – it has, on the contrary, declined in many cases.
New Zealand’s approach to legalisation has covered enough bases. None of Hill’s concerns apply here. In fact, the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill has gone above and beyond what is reasonable to ensure safe cannabis use, focusing on health and education as opposed to a blatant commercialized cannabis market where private companies can run wild.