An open letter to marijuana prohibitionists and so-called third-way-ers

May 20, 2013

By Pete Guither

Dear sons of SAM and daughters of the American prohibition; to all the treatment industry, drug testing, private prison, and sheriff union lobbyists; and, of course, to our friends who are required by law to lie:

I keep hearing from your side that you have noble motives for your opposition to marijuana legalization. I hear that all you care about is using scientific inquiry to determine what is best for the people.

However, I’m not sure if you’re aware of it, but you keep talking about things in ways that aren’t scientific, or that are meaningless without the proper context.

That kind of thing may have worked once, but in general, people are a little more sophisticated about scientific knowledge — they no longer uncritically accept “Here be dragons” for cartography or “If she floats, she’s a witch” as a judicial system.

Here are just a few of the danger signs that you may be mis-using or underutilizing scientific rigor in your discussions about marijuana legalization.

1. The invisible “user.”

You can’t discuss policy that affects all marijuana users by leaving out the actual category of marijuana users. When you discuss marijuana policy by saying we should treat instead of jail, then you’re completely ignoring the largest population — those who need neither. It’s like discussing whether to jail or require sexual assault treatment for all those who have sex — simply absurd.

2. The marijuana “addict.”

When you toss out the word “addictive” (and you do so very often), realize that the word is meaningless by itself. People talk about being addicted to Facebook, chocolate, and “Doctor Who” (what do you mean I have to wait until November 23?). Not even the top professionals in the mental health field can agree on its definition.

So if you’re going to use it, you need to put it in context, and the best way to do that is to compare with familiar things to the public, such as legal drugs like alcohol, tobacco, and caffeine. How do they compare in terms of likelihood of dependence, severity of dependence and severity of withdrawal effects? Without putting that in perspective, your use of “addictive” has absolutely no science in it at all.

Oh, and if you’re going to claim (or infer) that legalization will result in a percentage increase of “addicts” equal to the percentage increase of use, then you’d better be prepared to show some hard proof, since it’s clear that marijuana prohibition is more likely to deter casual users.

3. Scary “Carcinogens”

Don’t even think about using the word “carcinogens,” unless you’re ready to discuss the science of carcinogens and how much of our ordinary life contains carcinogens, including the air we breathe. Additionally, if you’re going to even inferentially talk about cancer and marijuana, you’d better not leave out the reams of scientific evidence that proves anti-cancer properties of marijuana.

You completely betray your claimed interest in science and the well-being of people when you cherry-pick really bad studies (like that New Zealand one) to try to declare that the outcome is still uncertain about whether marijuana causes cancer. Real scientists have done systematic reviews that include even those flawed studies and still concluded that marijuana doesn’t cause cancer.

The tragedy is that we’re spending time debunking false claims of marijuana causing cancer which distracts us from the important scientific work of learning more about how marijuana could be used to prevent or heal cancer.

4. Health concern du jour

Over the course of my life drinking coffee was good for me, then bad for me, then merely OK, then bad for me, then good for me, and never once during that time was it made illegal.

When you hear about some little health thing about marijuana, you might want to get confirmation. After all, researchers are paid to try to find things wrong with marijuana, and sometimes do, even though the results are not reproducible. This should raise red flags in particular with a substance that has been in popular use for many decades. The key phrase to ask yourself is: “Where are the bodies?”

5. Cannabis behind the wheel

Are there additional dangers due to driving under the influence of marijuana? Sure, probably. But once again here, everything is relative. There are real additional dangers of driving after your girlfriend breaks up with you, or after you get chewed out by your boss at work. You can be less than 100% on the road for a thousand different reasons. So policy should be about real comparable dangers.

Compare the actual risks of driving under the influence of marijuana with the actual risks of driving under the influence of alcohol or fatigue. As part of this, look at a comparison of the actual ways in which driving is affected by marijuana, alcohol, or fatigue.

We never see anything regarding such comparisons from you. In fact, you never even mention fatigue as a significant factor in traffic accidents (even though it’s huge), nor is there any major national effort to arrest tired drivers.

This makes all you say about marijuana and driving very suspect.

6. Correlation and Causation are two different words.

Get this one right. There are millions of people who use and have used marijuana, so there’s bound to be some strong correlations out there. Correlations are interesting, and may be a reason to do further study, but generally, they are not, of themselves, a reason to act.

For example, marijuana use has been linked to Nobel Prizes, the U.S. Presidency, and Olympic Gold Medals. That doesn’t mean that marijuana use is going to cause you to get any of those things.


So, that’s just six items. There are more, I’m sure, but if you’ll work on getting these correct, we’ll have a lot less disagreement.

Pete Guither is the editor of

7 Responses to An open letter to marijuana prohibitionists and so-called third-way-ers

  • Very well written. I am a nurse. There are a few nurses I know that we this for what it is and not what they say it is. When I worked in the nursing home we would stand back and say ” how many patients are here because cannabis has deteriorated their liver or lungs?” No these items that harm the liver, lungs, and brain are sold at gas stations and McDonalds! And they say nursing is based on EVIDENCE BASED PRACTICE! Like you say…” where are the bodies?”


  • ** There are a few nurses I know that SEE this for what it is…..

  • One thing to add to this amazing letter is for those worried about the children its easier to buy a joint at high school then a pack of cigarettes or a case of beer right now. The drug test they do for schools is usually on the schools or pta’s request and usually only on students that they think are using drugs so I would say school drug testing is like the lottery for the drug testing company’s they win just enough that parents and teachers keep paying them to test. I would like to see the test of the same number of randomly selected kids tested at one school in every state and see the average amount of high school students out of 100 that tested positive for weed and then compare those numbers to what’s already out there. My bet is that compared to previous tests far less then what are expected are smoking weed. Those who say legalizing weed will increase teen use are so dumb they should have to give up their kids I mean really that is like those stupid parents that think if you don’t tell kids about sex they won’t think of it with kids honesty about sex and drugs is the best.

  • Great article Pete. Thanks. Way to tell all the two-face, lying SOBs. My fiance has aids, hep c and TB. He was arrested for possesion/intent to sell, which he doesn’t. The law rules these towns and then they are doing worse things than a sick, old man sitting at home smoking weed. Pretty dam sad and he could be facing time. You see them on tv beating the crap out of people, kicking and even killing people for no reason and they get away with it. My fiance was never even read his rights because you have none around here. Keep on writing, enjoyed the way you got them told! Lol

  • I live in Bluff City, Tennessee and I would like to address an issue I have and that is Medical Marijuana being legalized in the state of Tennessee.I am 22 years old and I have Cerebral Palsy on my right side as well as Seizures Artistes MS in my back. I have been in and out of the hospital since I was born. The Doctors that I have talked to, told me they would get me the best health care available. Unfortunately, they have not.They will not even give me pain medication under the new health laws.I went to a Pain Management Facility in my local city and they said they would give me steroid shots in my back. I did research and my findings that 6 people have died receiving the steroid shots.I do not want to take the shots due to the high risks involved. My family doctor told me to smoke marijuana even though it is illegal. Marijuana actually helps my Cerebral Palsy and my pain issues.The pain I experience is leading to more frequent seizures, so many in fact, I’m not sure how much more pain I can endure. I hate breaking the law but I no longer want to live in pain.I would like to reduce the pain the best way possible and without the use of artificial drugs that actually only cover up the disease and get me addicted. Medicinal Marijuana does not do either of these things. It is a cure and not a cover up.When the doctors refuse to give me medication, I have to find something and Marijuana is helping.It shows in studies that Marijuana helps in Arthritis as well as my seizures.I have contacted The White House and my local District Representative via both email and phone. I have not gotten a response from The White House but of the Representatives, 1 out of 5 agreed.I have tried emailing journalist, Marijuana news sites, local news stations to get my word out but they also will not put it on the air.I have contacted CNN to no avail.I live in a very difficult life with this Cerebral Palsy, the pain worsens by the day and it also gets worse as I get older.With the side-affects that come along with the Cerebral Palsy, I have seizures from the pain, anxiety attacks which can last up to 10 minutes with loss of breathing and blueness of my body.I cannot even get my GED to live a productive life like I need to, no can I enter the work force which makes me feel extremely bad.I am a burden to my Mother, who has to stay with me 24/7 taking care of me. I feel I have aided in the destruction of marriages due to my disease.I have been to Shriner’s Hospital in Greenville, South Carolina. They will not help either.With doctors not knowing all there is to know about Cerebral Palsy, I have been given the wrong drugs. That is very scary.Marijuana relieves the muscle tightness in my throat and chest so I can actually breath normally and reduces the anxiety attacks and seizures.With no help in sight, I have taken matters into my own hands even if it means breaking the law.I do not have the financial means to move from the state of Tennessee…I don’t know where else to turn. Have you ever felt so helpless in your life? It’s no life at all, I can attest to that.Thank you for taking the time to read, for the interest and hopefully a suggestion for me at or

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