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David Sirota
David Sirota
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Drug Dealers Protecting Their Turf


If you heard a drug dealer denigrate his competitor's product as unsafe, would you trust his criticism? Or would you think he's a hypocrite with ulterior motives? Last week, thanks to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper (CO), these became the central political questions in the fight over whether to continue America's destructive War on Marijuana.

The frontline in that war is Colorado, where the federal government has interfered with its system of state-regulated medical marijuana businesses, despite President Obama's promise to refrain from doing so. Countering that crackdown is a 2012 ballot initiative that would make Colorado the first state to fully legalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol.

Enter Hickenlooper. In the same month a poll showed majority support for the marijuana legalization initiative, the governor blasted the measure for allegedly "detract(ing) from efforts to make Colorado the healthiest state" and for "send(ing) the wrong message to kids."i

What makes his announcement so stunning, and what evokes the drug-dealer comparison, is the governor's career as a purveyor of the drug commonly known as alcohol. That's right, as the founder of the state's first brewpub, Hickenlooper was instrumental in flooding the state with his beery drug of choice. In fact, he is so proud of his record pushing that mind-altering substance that he recently made national headlines telling reporters that "I'm the first brewer who's ever been a governor."

So it all comes down to trust. Will voters trust that their beer-mogul-turned-governor is actually worried about health and children? Let's hope not, because when you put Hickenlooper's brewing career and beer triumphalism next to his marijuana fearmongering, he's essentially saying that while pot is unhealthy and bad for kids, alcohol is not — and that assertion is not supported by facts.

Whereas the Centers for Disease Control report that alcohol use is the third leading lifestyle-related cause of death, marijuana use has never been shown to kill a single person.

Whereas the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse reports that more than a third of violent crimes are connected to alcohol use, no research has ever shown a correlation between violence and marijuana use. And whereas alcohol is a known carcinogen, pot has never been proven to contribute to cancer. All of this explains why in a 2006 commercial trying to make teenagers dislike marijuana, the Bush administration's drug czar's office inadvertently let slip that pot is "the safest thing in the world."ii

The standard retort to these facts is to insist that two wrongs do not make a right and to then claim that marijuana prohibition at least keeps one of those wrongs off the market. But those suppositions are negated by three realities:

1) Under our existing prohibition, marijuana is already "almost universally available," according to the federal government.

2) Because it is available but not legal, marijuana is not adequately regulated for quality, and that poses safety hazards.

3) Even if you do believe all mind-altering drugs are "wrong," it makes no sense healthwise to only let users choose a dangerous substance (alcohol) rather than a safer alternative (pot).

But then, that last item spotlights a powerful economic force shaping the politics of drugs. Despite the health consequences of alcohol, the alcohol industry has an obvious business interest in maintaining the status quo — a market that legally prefers alcohol over marijuana.

This is almost certainly why the industry bankrolled the fight against more tolerant marijuana policies in California and probably why the nation's first self-described brewer-governor opposes the measure in Colorado. Alcohol peddlers and their political allies are simply trying to preserve a government-mandated monopoly — health, safety and facts be damned.iii

David Sirota is a best-selling author of the new book "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now." He co-hosts "The Rundown" on AM630 KHOW in Colorado. E-mail him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at



7 Comments | Post Comment
David, you continue to blow me away with thought-provoking, well written articles. While other columnists are blathering on about the same old crap, you are giving us topics that are overlooked, but very relevant. Keep up the good work.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Thu Sep 20, 2012 11:37 AM
Whether marijuana is legal or not, users pose a threat to everyone, just like drinkers do. Their perceptions are altered and they can be dangerous Driving while under the influence is a major concern. Marijuana is not safer than alcohol. Even if some are not dangerous, per se, that can be un-productive, at best or detrimental to productive at worst. Money is the driving, under-lying factor. Drug dealers who can no longer sell "pot" won't suddenly become law-abiding citizens. The government has a vested interest in alcohol and wants to cash in on the pot tax, too. The alcohol industry, being a business, will adapt to selling legal pot. Bureaucrats and politicians are envious of losing out on the tax-dollars - health, safety and facts be damned.
Comment: #2
Posted by: David Henricks
Fri Sep 21, 2012 4:38 AM
David H you say pot is no safer than alcohol. You give no good reasons why. The author gave many reasons why it is. I have two friends that were hit by drunk drivers. My brother almost died in an alcohol related bar fight. I have a friend who pulled a knife on someone while drunk. I myself have come in last place playing drunken mario kart. I have never even heard a story on the news of someone being attacked, hit, or clipped by a pothead.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Fri Sep 21, 2012 6:29 AM
Re: Chris McCoy Reasons marijuana is not safer than alcohol. Rapid heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased rate of breathing, Red eyes, Dry mouth, increased appetite, or "the munchies", Slowed reaction time.
These effects are reduced after three or four hours. However, marijuana hangs around in your system for as long as a month after smoking. The lingering effects mean you're impaired for several days to weeks after the high wears off.
Other short-term psychological effects of pot include: Distorted sense of time, Paranoia, Magical or "random" thinking, Short-term memory loss, Anxiety and depression.
These psychological signs of using pot also generally ease after a few hours. But residual effects can last for days.
The risks of smoking marijuana go up with heavy use. Although the link has never been proven, many experts believe heavy pot smokers are at increased risk for lung cancer.

Many experts also believe that marijuana is physically addictive. Symptoms of withdrawal from pot might include: Aggression, Anxiety, Depressed mood, Decreased appetite
Studies of marijuana's mental effects show that the drug can impair or reduce short-term memory, alter sense of time, and reduce ability to do things which require concentration, swift reactions, and coordination, such as driving a car or operating machinery.
A common bad reaction to marijuana is the "acute panic anxiety reaction." People describe this reaction as an extreme fear of "losing control," which causes panic.
The effects of marijuana can interfere with learning by impairing thinking, reading comprehension, and verbal and mathematical skills. Research shows that students do not remember what they have learned when they are "high".
Driving experiments show that marijuana affects a wide range of skills needed for safe driving -- thinking and reflexes are slowed, making it hard for drivers to respond to sudden, unexpected events. Also, a driver's ability to "track" (stay in lane) through curves, to brake quickly, and to maintain speed and the proper distance between cars is affected. Research shows that these skills are impaired for at least 4-6 hours after smoking a single marijuana cigarette, long after the "high" is gone. If a person drinks alcohol, along with using marijuana, the risk of an accident greatly increases. Marijuana presents a definite danger on the road.
“Burnout" is a term first used by marijuana smokers themselves to describe the effect of prolonged use. Young people who smoke marijuana heavily over long periods of time can become dull, slow moving, and inattentive. These "burned-out" users are sometimes so unaware of their surroundings that they do not respond when friends speak to them, and they do not realize they have a problem.
Animal studies have found that THC can damage the cells and tissues in the body that help protect people from disease. When the immune cells are weakened, you are more likely to get sick.
Comment: #4
Posted by: David Henricks
Sat Sep 22, 2012 1:16 PM
A lot of that involved large doses. Anything in large doses can mess you up. If we're talking about large doses, a large dose of alcohol can, oh yeah, kill you. I'd like to know who conducted those studies too. That can be just as important as whats found by them.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Sat Sep 22, 2012 3:10 PM
David S begins asking whether a particular type of drug dealer can be trusted, then argues for pot to be legalized?

What a schlemiel!

Comment: #6
Posted by: oddsox
Sat Sep 22, 2012 3:58 PM
Yeah, VeryODDsox, David S IS just like a drug dealer because he stated his opinion about a drug! Isn't that what you are insinuating? WTF? Sometimes I think if David wrote an article about how nice his mom is you would scream "NO SHE'S NOT!" Maybe I should just start posting stuff like "Rush Limbaugh is a drug dealer!" It'd make just about as much sense as your drivel.
Comment: #7
Posted by: A Smith
Sun Sep 23, 2012 3:23 PM
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