Jeff Sessions: Marijuana Can’t Be Safer Than Alcohol Because ‘Lady Gaga Says She’s Addicted to It’

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
looks back proudly at his efforts, alongside Nancy Reagan, to
“create a hostility to drug use” in the 1980s. Not surprisingly,
Sessions was not pleased by President Obama’s
recent comments
about the relative hazards of marijuana and
alcohol, as he explained to Attorney General Eric Holder during a
Senate Judiciary Committee

I have to tell you, I’m heartbroken to see what the president
said just a few days ago. It’s stunning to me. I find it beyond
comprehension….This is just difficult for me to conceive how the
president of the United States could make such a statement as
that….Did the president conduct any medical or scientific survey
before he waltzed into The New Yorker and opined contrary
to the positions of attorneys general and presidents universally
prior to that? 

Sessions, by contrast, clearly did his homework. He rebutted
Obama’s observation that marijuana is safer than alcohol by citing
a renowned expert on substance abuse:

Lady Gaga says she’s addicted to it and it is not

I have been covering drug policy for about 25 years, and I am
still sometimes startled by
what passes for an argument
among prohibitionists. What should
we conclude from this sample of one about the hazards posed by
marijuana? That it can be taken to excess, like every other fun
thing on the face of the planet? That some people say they have
trouble consuming it in moderation? Didn’t we know both of those
things before Dr. Gaga’s earthshaking

More to the point, what does the possibility of addiction tell
us about the truth of the statement Obama made—i.e., that marijuana
is less dangerous than alcohol? After all, “less dangerous” does
not mean “harmless.” As Holder observed, “any drug used in an
inappropriate way can be harmful,” and “alcohol is among those
drugs.” To evaluate relative hazards, we have to dig a little

According to one widely cited
, based on data from the National Comorbidity Survey,
“dependence” is nearly 70 percent more common among drinkers than
it is among pot smokers. So even by this measure, marijuana looks
less dangerous. That’s without considering differences in acute
toxicity, driving impairment, and the long-term effects of heavy
consumption, all of which
weigh strongly
in marijuana’s favor.

Gaga was not the only authority cited by Sessions. He also
mentioned former Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy, chairman
of the anti-pot group Project SAM, who according to the senator
“says the president is wrong on this subject.” Yet here is what
during a recent debate on CNN with my colleague Nick

I agree with the president. Alcohol is more dangerous.

Sessions was on firmer ground when he pressed Holder to admit
that “if marijuana is legalized for adults, it makes it more
available for young people.” As I’ve
before, it is likely that legalization in Colorado and
Washington will be accompanied by an increase in underage
consumption. While the newly legal marijuana stores are not allowed
to serve anyone younger than 21, there will be a certain amount of
leakage from adults to “minors” (who in this case include a bunch
of people who in most other respects are considered adults), as
there is with alcohol. Buying marijuana may
become more difficult for people younger than 21 (assuming the
black market eventually withers away), but that does not mean
obtaining marijuana will be more difficult. Some
teenagers and young adults will get pot by swiping it from parents
or older siblings, and some legal buyers will have no qualms about
sharing with older teenagers or 20-year-olds (although that will
remain illegal). Given this reality, Holder’s response to Sessions’
concern about underage access is a bit troubling:

One of our eight priorities is the prevention of distribution of
marijuana to minors. If there’s an indication that marijuana is
being distributed to minors, that would require federal

Young people find ways to get alcohol because adults can have
access to it. I’m not sure that we’ll see the same thing here given
what we have said with regard to our enforcement priorities.

Holder is referring to the eight issues the Justice Department

Colorado and Washington to address as the price of
federal forbearance, one of which is “preventing the distribution
of marijuana to minors.” If that means stopping state-licensed
stores from selling marijuana to people younger than 21, it can be
accomplished through strict enforcement of the states’ age limits.
But if it means preventing 21-year-olds from sharing marijuana with
their 19-year-old friends or brothers, it is not a realistic
expecation. It is more like an excuse to crack down whenever
the president gets tired of sniping by diehard drug warriors like

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]

from Hit & Run

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.