Why do we have to prove that marijuana is safe?

News broke this week that Safe Streets, a Washington, D.C.-based anti-crime group, has filed two lawsuits in federal court regarding marijuana law. In one suit, the group plans to target government officials in the state of Colorado over their alleged violation of the Supremacy Clause of the U.S Constitution. The group contends that by “promoting the commercialization of marijuana,” Colorado has acted in direct violation of federal narcotic laws. The other suit names several prominent Colorado-based business owners who work in the cannabis industry.

Regardless of the group’s knowledge of how to spell marijuana, this incident is another in a long line of attempts by politicians, government officials, law enforcement, special interest groups, religious leaders, and newspaper columnists to halt the decriminalization of marijuana possession and dissuade the public from voting to legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational use.

Arguments and rebuttals against this diverse onslaught of pundits have originated from a variety of mediums. From rallies and demonstrations on Capitol Hill to Congressional lobbying to lengthy op-eds and dedicated blogs, the fervor for legalized marijuana is as strong as ever. One of the most popular strategies employed in this battle has been to evoke the supposed health benefits of marijuana use.

While the science is burgeoning, it is also deeply flawed, filled with holes and questions, and is too poor to extract any conclusions from one way or another. Relying on this research to frame and support an argument favoring marijuana legalization is dicey at best; one can’t get far with shoddy incomplete data and assumptions. Regardless of this reality, the pro-marijuana crowd has soldiered on undeterred, boasting study after study purporting to demonstrate the efficacy of cannabis and it’s ingredients in treating any number of health conditions.

This appears to be the best method for bringing about legislative change to decriminalize marijuana. But, in addition to the uncertainty surrounding the whole of the marijuana scientific literature, there are other untoward possibilities that could result from this tactic.

To the fearless recreational users crying for reform, the ambitious grassroots organizations lobbying their representatives, the bloggers unearthing obscure studies, and the cancer patients asserting it’s palliative effects, I have one word for you:


Stop trying to educate the public about the potentially health-promoting effects of marijuana. Stop trying to convince our policy makers that cannabis is not a danger. Stop invoking tales of chronic pain alleviated, of headaches relieved, of vision loss arrested, of anxiety calmed. Stop playing this game.

This situation is reminiscent of a child begging her mother to buy a particular snack food at the grocery store. “But mom,” she whines, “it’s healthy!”

Its the mother’s choice as to whether or not she’ll buy the junk food. The little girl believes that her pleading and bargaining is helping her cause, giving her some influence over the decision. But ultimately it may be for naught. It may just be serving to further define their two roles. Mom is in charge and she knows best. The little girl is at the whim of the mother’s judgement and there’s realistically not much she can do about it.

Now replace the mother in this situation with the federal government. The fussing child is the public, the tax-paying citizenry, clamoring for cannabis to made lawfully available to them.

Is this the precedent we want to set? Is this how we want our government to treat us going forward? Do we want to succumb to the nanny state by acting like little children who do indeed need a nanny?

We as citizens should not bear the burden of demonstrating the safety of everything we want to consume. We aren’t particularly adept at it, especially considering the questionable quality of data and flimsy biology with which we’re equipping ourselves in this battle. The results of a few studies and copious anecdotal evidence might have aided in getting the ball rolling in Colorado and Washington State, among other states, but in order to finish this fight against an overbearing, overreaching mommy-knows-best government and thus be free to smoke marijuana in the comfort of our homes, we don’t need to assume the position of a submissive, compromising, and desperate populace.

We shouldn’t be throwing statistics and purported benefits at the wall in the hope that something sticks. Hold strong to your convictions and forget the burden of proof; it shouldn’t be on us. And if it is, no data, no matter how compelling and noteworthy, is going to reverse our role as the angry child in the grocery store begging for cookies from an overprotective mother.

The nanny state won’t be swayed by numbers. Unless, of course, those numbers are dollar figures.