The Herald of Everett, Washington
HeraldNet on Facebook HeraldNet on Twitter HeraldNet RSS feeds HeraldNet Pinterest HeraldNet Google Plus HeraldNet Youtube
HeraldNet Newsletters  Newsletters: Sign up | Manage  Green editions icon Green editions

Calendar


HeraldNet Headlines
HeraldNet Newsletter Delivered to your inbox each week.
Published: Sunday, February 9, 2014, 1:00 a.m.

Heroin and marijuana not equally dangerous

The apparent heroin overdose death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman already has become a hockey puck in the war over the war on drugs. During a House subcommittee hearing on federal marijuana policy Tuesday, critics of the war on drugs hammered a White House drug official for putting too much emphasis on marijuana when Washington instead should focus on dangerous drugs that actually kill users.
“What is more dangerous and addictive,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., asked the White House’s deputy director of drug control policy, Michael Botticelli, methamphetamine and cocaine or marijuana?
“I think that conversation minimizes the harm,” Botticelli sort of answered.
“How many people die from marijuana overdoses every year?” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., inquired.
Botticelli said he didn’t know, that fatal marijuana overdoses are “very rare.”
Botticelli answered that people have to look at “the totality of harm that’s associated with a substance.” Even if “marijuana doesn’t have the lethality and the overdose potential that heroin or alcohol does,” there are “significant health consequences that are associated with the drug.”
Blumenauer put together a paper that examined deaths caused by alcohol abuse (80,000 a year) and tobacco use (400,000 annually). He observed that Washington has been able to wage successful campaigns to decrease smoking “without locking people up.”
Anti-smoking campaigns have worked because they are fact-based — unlike the Controlled Substances Act, which places marijuana in the same Schedule I category as heroin, a drug that can kill.
So why not change the law?
Botticelli argued that he has met with families devastated by addiction and parents whose children died from drug overdoses. They cannot understand why states have legalized medical and recreational marijuana. They believe, said Botticelli, that “legalizing marijuana sends the absolute worst message to our youth.”
Their children didn’t overdose on marijuana, countered Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. “It is ludicrous, absurd, crazy to have marijuana in the same level as heroin,” quoth Cohen. “Ask the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, if you could. Nobody dies from marijuana. People die from heroin. And every second we spend in this country trying to enforce marijuana laws is a second that we’re not enforcing heroin laws.”
I should note that committee Republicans hit President Barack Obama for not being tough enough on marijuana. The panel’s chairman, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., groused about Obama’s “schizophrenic” approach.
On one hand, the president told The New Yorker he considers marijuana to be no more dangerous than alcohol and wants Washington and Colorado ballot measures that legalized recreational marijuana to proceed. On the other, the administration has continued to prosecute marijuana dispensers in the 21 states that have legalized medical marijuana.
The answer to the “schizophrenic” charge would be for Obama to direct Attorney General Eric Holder to remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I drugs. Congress also could change the law, but Blumenauer spokesman Patrick Malone noted that with the GOP in control of the House, that’s unlikely: “So that leaves us with the administrative route. The president has said that he’s going to use his executive powers to do what he can to effect change. Well, here is an opportunity.”
dsaunders@sfchronicle.com

Share your comments: Log in using your HeraldNet account or your Facebook, Twitter or Disqus profile. Comments that violate the rules are subject to removal. Please see our terms of use. Please note that you must verify your email address for your comments to appear.

You are logged in using your HeraldNet ID. Click here to update your profile. | Log out.

Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.

comments powered by Disqus
digital subscription promo

Subscribe now

Unlimited digital access starting at 99 cents, or included with any print subscription.

loading...

Herald Editorial Board

Jon Bauer, Opinion Editor: jbauer@heraldnet.com

Carol MacPherson, Editorial Writer: cmacpherson@heraldnet.com

Neal Pattison, Executive Editor: npattison@heraldnet.com

Josh O'Connor, Publisher: joconnor@heraldnet.com

Have your say

Feel strongly about something? Share it with the community by writing a letter to the editor. Send letters by e-mail to letters@heraldnet.com, by fax to 425-339-3458 or mail to The Herald - Letters, P.O. Box 930, Everett, WA 98206. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We'll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 250 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it. If your letter is published, please wait 30 days before submitting another. Have a question about letters? Contact Carol MacPherson at cmacpherson@heraldnet.com or 425-339-3472.