Pot debates will draw comparisons to alcohol
Media is awash with stories about pot, with Colorado and Washington in the vanguard of what promises to become coast-to-coast legalization of recreational marijuana before you can say, “Wow, man, that’s good stuff!” Oregon and Alaska are expected to join the cannabis founder’s club after statewide votes in November.
Reports from Colorado suggest that the sky didn’t fall, non-users didn’t rush to toke up, traffic accidents didn’t spike and law enforcement costs dropped. In Washington, pot shops opened only briefly when officials vastly underestimated the demand, but already people are touting the economic benefits of new state taxes and a steady in-stream of Oregon consumers.
We will be swamped with more marijuana stories for months to come, including comparisons to another legal drug with its own long history of cultural conflict: alcohol. We will hear about some “binge drinking” facts put out by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Binge drinking, says the CDC, defined as pushing blood alcohol level to 0.08 or above, is “the most common pattern of excessive alcohol use in the United States.” Reaching that level usually requires five drinks for men or four drinks for women in about two hours.
More from the CDC: One in six adults binge drinks about four times a month, averaging about eight drinks per binge. The practice is more common in the 18-34 age group, but binge drinkers 65 and over average five to six times a month. Binge drinking is twice as prevalent among men as woman, and more than half of alcohol consumed by adults occurs in binge drinking sessions — that number is 90 percent for drinkers under age 21.
While reading about the pros and cons of marijuana legalization, we can consider problems the CDC associates with binge drinking: unintentional and intentional injuries, alcohol poisoning, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, children born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, high blood pressure, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases, liver disease, neurological damage, sexual dysfunction and poor control of diabetes.
In 2006, the CDC analyzed alcohol-related losses in productivity, health care, crime and other problems, estimating costs of $223.5 billion. For government at all levels, that came to 62 cents per drink, while state and federal taxes on alcohol totaled 12 cents per drink.
We don’t need to condemn alcohol or glorify marijuana; we do need to face the inevitable human use of mind-and-body-altering substances with more resolve to reduce the abuse.
Jeb Bladine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-687-1223.