January 20, 2010
Vol: 17 No: 4

Arts & Entertainment

The 411 on the 420

By Olivia Conner / Contributing Writer

Think you learned all about dope in junior high? Read this

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BOOK REVIEW: Marijuana is safer: So why are we driving people to drink?
By Steve Fox, Paul Armentano and Mason Tvert, Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009, Softcover, $14.95

In September 2003 Seattleites passed an initiative, I-75, to relax marijuana laws that were focused on the persecution of small-time pot users, with the hope that the police department would then concentrate on, and have more funding for more serious criminal offenses. According to “Marijuana is Safer,” penned by group a of experienced marijuana advocates, this is the best thing that a city can do to enforce safety.

Their thesis relies on the theory that many people are resistant to accept marijuana as a legal substance, so the best way to change this belief is to advocate for a new paradigm: “Our goal is to demonstrate to you, the reader, that marijuana is not only less harmful than alcohol, but that the difference is really quite significant.” With this in mind, they hope to open people’s eyes and minds to the possibility of legalizing reefer in the near future because: it would reduce alcohol abuse, lessen the amount of alcohol-related crime and give people a safer alternative for recreational marijuana use.

The three authors are not your typical cannabis advocates; they are professional entrepreneurs who have spent years researching and lobbying for the legalization of pot. Steve Fox works for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which is an organization out of D.C. with a $5 million budget. He co-founded SAFER (Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation) with co-author Mason Tvert, who also participates in Denver’s Marijuana Policy Review Panel. Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML, The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and a well-known journalist.

Aside from a shared propensity toward acronyms, these men want to convince the public, with jaw-dropping data, that marijuana legalization is a worthy cause: “Today marijuana is the largest retail cash crop in the U.S., far outpacing the value of corn, soybeans and hay.” If the massive quantity of ganja being sold does not impress you, then the information about the antagonist in this story, alcohol, is meant to. 

Their thesis —that alcohol is much more harmful than marijuana—is supported by facts. “The U.S. government estimates that alcohol contributes to 25 to 30 percent of all violent crime in America” and “virtually every sexual assault is associated with alcohol abuse. Almost every assault of any kind is related to drinking.” But, because the latter quote is attributed to the president of the University of Montana, it’s the kind of stat that can stop you in your tracks: Is that statistic referring to U. Montana alone, or to the nation as a whole? In a way, this is an issue that echoes throughout the book: Sometimes the examples and info the authors give out feel biased and mostly in favor of marijuana. Granted, the title indicates it will be, but what about the other side? That is the only problem that is somewhat dubious within the book; it seems very biased and the statistics are mostly in favor of ganja And while the authors do warn that pot is bad for your lungs and that you cannot smoke and drive a vehicle, they also write that “chronic use of marijuana may actually improve learning.” Instead of presenting the big picture, they spend most of their time focusing on the history of reefer’s specious reputation, promoted by the U.S. government through reefer-madness schemes.

Fortunately, the information in “Safer” is worthy of praise, and is the most convincing and well-researched book about marijuana that you can find, because the authors place it within the context of modern society. For instance, to counter the argument that Mary Jane is a gateway drug, the authors contend that’s because people are forced to buy it from dealers who have more drugs to offer; they also note that if it were controlled and taxed by the government, while sold to the adult public through small shops (currently California is considering this to offset its budget deficit), the gateway drug argument would be moot. They also espouse the notion that if there were safe places for people to go where bud could be smoked freely, people would be less inclined to drink alcohol.  “In other words, by artificially reducing the use of marijuana in this country, we are artificially increasing the level of alcohol use—and all the problems that go along with that use” drunk driving, sexual assault and domestic violence, to name a few. And the book provides fine rebuttals for countless other anti-weed arguments.

So, if you’d like to get a more informed pot education beyond attending Hempfest, give “Safer” a read. . As for those who still believe that, “everything I learned about marijuana I learned in junior high” maybe it is time you learned a little more.





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