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August 2009
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Harmless?

Recently I was reading an opinion piece by an academic who, after demolishing the government’s position on marijuana, felt the need to admonish drug policy reformers for not fulfilling our obligation to inform people that marijuana is not harmless.
First, that’s not our job. And to a large extent, it’s irrelevant. Marijuana could be deadly dangerous and legalization would still be the answer, if prohibition, like now, didn’t actually exert a positive effect on any drug dangers and additionally had massively destructive side-effects.
The old drug czar used to love to throw that “harmless” word around, as if, assuming he could find some evidence that it was not completely harmless, that destroyed the arguments of legalizers.
But let’s assume it matters. What does the word mean?

  1. free from harm, liability, or loss
  2. lacking capacity or intent to injure

Clearly, the word has no meaning when applied to … anything, unless referring to it in a particular context.
For example, you may think that water is harmless, and it is, if you’re drinking a glass. However, it is clearly possible to fatally overdose on water, and floods kill people all the time.
Marijuana, if used responsibly, is harmless. If you take a ton of it and drop it from a helicopter on someone’s head, it’s not.
So, if you’re going to talk about whether a substance as a whole is “harmless” (since none can be), you really can only logically be talking “harmless” as a relative term compared to other acceptable risk substances (hence the “marijuana is safer” campaigns).
So let’s take a look at some regularly accepted things in society (legal things) where marijuana is “more harmless” in comparison…
Easy ones…

  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol

…but there’s lots more:

Contractor: So, Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, I see here that you’re asking us to put stairs in between the first and second floor in your new house. Well, we can do that, of course, but I do feel obligated to warn you that stairs aren’t harmless.

Well, you get the idea.
When prohibitionists play the “harmless” game, they’re trying to distract people from the real argument — the harmfulness of prohibition.

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