The Predicament Between Alcohol and Marijuana

By Matt Augustine

DISCLAIMER: Opinions represent the personal ideas of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of SUNY New Paltz, The Little Rebellion or its staff.

There is something ironic about the glorification of alcohol consumption and the taboo of smoking marijuana. The legality of both substances has little to do with how harmful each is.

The mortality rate for alcohol-induced deaths in 2005 was approximately 21,000, while the 2002 figure for marijuana-induced deaths was projected around 581.  The National Center for Health Statistics found that alcohol killed 21,634 people. The Drug Abuse Warning Network investigated 31 metropolitan areas to find two marijuana-only overdoses. They used that figure to predict a 581 national average, though they suspect underreporting may have skewed the number. Despite any instances of underreporting, alcohol killed over 37 times more people than marijuana.

These statistics raise one particular question: if alcohol is more destructive than marijuana, why is marijuana illegal?

Alcohol and marijuana have short and long-term effects, which are determined by usage and dose. Both substances are considered to be psychoactive. Alcohol is a depressant, which dehydrates the body and impairs the user’s judgment and reaction time. Long-term effects range from ulcers to organ failure to death in some cases. Marijuana can be classified as both a depressant and a stimulant. It can also impair users’ judgment, as well as dramatically increase their heart-rate. Long-term use could cause respiratory problems due to the inhalation of the smoke and worsen short-term memory.

“The long-term effects of alcohol abuse can be debilitating and even deadly. The same cannot be said for marijuana,” says Geoffrey Armstrong, part of the Watershed Addiction Treatment Program Web Help. Armstrong previously worked as the Public Information Chair for the South Florida Region of Narcotics Anonymous. He has been sober for 14 years.

“Marijuana is illegal because Anheuser-Busch and Jack Daniels [have] better lobbyists than the marijuana growers and buyers,” Armstrong said.

In the U.S., it is illegal for people under 21 to purchase or possess alcohol.  New York State law states that it is illegal for anyone under 21 to drink or have alcohol in his or her system.  In some states, however, alcohol consumption is legal, regardless of age.

There are no exceptions, however, to the illegality of possessing or using marijuana.

The Controlled Substances Act, passed in 1970, declared substances illegal that “have a substantial and detrimental effect on the health and general welfare of the American people.” Under this act, five schedules were created to classify drugs as per their potential harmfulness.

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, which means it has a high potential for abuse, has no acceptable medical use and is not safe for use under medical supervision. Marijuana is ranked equal to far more dangerous drugs such as heroin and ecstasy. Alternatively, alcohol, which fits the standards of a Schedule I drug, is absent from the list.

The DEA could not be reached for comment.

In 1920, the United States Congress prohibited the manufacture or consumption of alcohol. People continued to make and drink it until the ban was lifted 13 years later. In 1970, the U.S. made a similar move by making marijuana illegal, yet that, too, has not stopped people from growing and smoking it.

The government realized the ineffectiveness of banning alcohol in the 1920s, but for whatever reason, has not admitted to making the same mistake twice.

Matt Augustine

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