False Premises about Marijuana is Misleading Americans
Sven-Olov Carlsson opened the 5th Annual World Federation of Drugs Conference with an address challenging current popular premises in drug policy at this time. When discussing marijuana, Carlsson said the false premises for legalization is misleading Americans.
The United States has replaced drug prevention strategy with a “Harm Reduction” strategy. We need to look at the current heroin epidemic and acknowledge that the United States loses 129 people each day to drug overdose deaths, up from 78 a day a few years ago. We have less than 5% of the world’s population and nearly 60% of the world’s drug users. Let’s prevent initiation into drug use and bring down the desire to do drugs.
Speaking in Vienna last week, Carlsson said, “A successful drug policy makes clear that drug use is unacceptable. ” Carlsson described the false premises surrounding marijuana in his presentation. Here are excepts from his speech with very minor edits:
- The first false premise is that The Criminalization of Drugs Fuels the HIV/AIDS Epidemic. It does not.
The prohibition of illegal drug use does not encourage the spread of HIV/AIDS. Rather it reduces illegal drug use among HIV/AIDS patients, as well as the non-infected population thereby reducing the population vulnerable to HIV/AIDS infection by contaminated needles.
Illegal drug use exacerbates weaknesses of the immune system, making individuals with AIDS more susceptible to infection and death. Marijuana use causes impaired immunity and opens the door for the virus that causes Kaposi’s Sarcoma, life-threatening for individuals with HIV/AIDS. Marijuana also contains bacteria and fungi that put users at risk for infection.
Illegal drug use among AIDS patients is life threatening because these drugs lessen the effectiveness of anti-retroviral (ARV) medications.
Non-medical drug use is associated with increased risky sexual behaviors, which promote transmission of HIV/AIDS in a way that needle exchange cannot prevent.
- The second false premise is that the Criminal Justice System and the Public Health System are Conflicting Approaches to Drug Policy. They are not.
The Criminal Justice System and the Public Health System Are Complementary and Not Conflicting Approaches to Drug Policy.
Prevention and treatment are programs that promote public safety and public health. “Harm reduction” tolerates, and thus perpetuates, non-medical drug use.
“Harm reduction” seeks to reduce the “harm” caused by non-medical drug use without stopping the use itself. Substance abuse prevention and treatment work to stop non-medical drug use. Making non-medical drug use as a crime is an important public health strategy that reduces many of the “harms” produced by illegal drug use.
The challenge of future drug policy is to find ways to encourage the legal and justice systems to work better together with prevention and treatment to achieve goals that neither can do alone.
Treatment systems can work together with the criminal justice system by incorporating new, effective and evidence-based strategies to reduce illegal drug use among criminal offenders. These approaches also reduce the commission of new crimes and associated incarceration.
- The third false premise is that Major Costs of illegal Drug Use are generated by the criminal justice system itself. It is not.
The greatest costs of illegal drug use are not generated by criminal justice system but by the non-medical drug use itself.
The costs include not only sickness and death but also reduced productivity and the high healthcare costs generated by illegal drug use.
The future of an improved drug policy is not to legalize intoxicating drugs of abuse, including marijuana.
It is the development of a balanced, restrictive drug policy that prevents drug use and intervenes with drug users to provide them with a path to life-long recovery.
Instead of legalizing drugs, an enlightened drug policy can harness the criminal justice system to thwart drug markets, facilitate entry into treatment and restrict incarceration to egregious offenders.