Pot Versus Alcohol: Experts Say Booze Is the Bigger Danger

Speaking privately with Richard Nixon in 1971, the late Art Linkletter offered this view on the use of marijuana versus alcohol. “When people smoke marijuana, they smoke it to get high. In every case, when most people drink, they drink to be sociable.”

“That’s right, that’s right,” Nixon agreed. “A person does not drink to get drunk A person drinks to have fun.”

The following year Linkletter announced that he had reversed his position on pot, concluding instead that the drug’s social harms were not significant enough to warrant its criminal prohibition. Nixon however stayed the course — launching the so-called “war” on drugs, a social policy that now results in the arrest of more than 800,000 Americans each year for violating marijuana laws.

Decades later, the social debate regarding the use of marijuana versus alcohol rages on. Yet among objective experts who have studied the issue there remains little debate at all. Despite pot’s long-standing criminalization, scientists agree that the drug possesses far less harm than its legal and celebrated companion, alcohol.

For example, in the mid-1990s, the World Health Organization commissioned a team of experts to compare the health and societal consequences of marijuana use compared to other drugs, including alcohol, nicotine, and opiates. After quantifying the harms associated with both drugs, the researchers concluded: “Overall, most of these risks (associated with marijuana) are small to moderate in size. In aggregate they are unlikely to produce public health problems comparable in scale to those currently produced by alcohol and tobacco On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies.”

French scientists at the state medical research institute INSERM published a similar review in 1998. Researchers categorized legal and illegal drugs into three distinct categories: Those that pose the greatest threat to public health, those that pose moderate harms to the public, and those substances that pose little-to-no danger. Alcohol, heroin, and cocaine were placed in the most dangerous category, while investigators determined that cannabis posed the least danger to public health.

In 2002, a special Canadian Senate Committee completed an exhaustive review of marijuana and health, concluding, “Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue.”

In 2007, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare hired a team of scientists to assess the impact of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs on public health. Researcher reported that the consumption of alcohol was significant contributors to death and disease. “Alcohol harm was responsible for 3.2 percent of the total burden of disease and injury in Australia,” they concluded. By comparison, cannabis use was responsible for zero deaths and only 0.2 percent of the estimated total burden of disease and injury in Australia.

Such findings are not just relegated to overseas. In 1989, a California state research advisory panel conducted its own review of the health effects of pot and alcohol. They, like their international peers, concluded, “(A)n objective consideration of marijuana shows that it is responsible for less damage to the individual and to society than are alcohol and cigarettes.”

For more than three decades, America’s marijuana policies have been based upon rhetoric. Perhaps it’s time to begin listening to what the experts have to say.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), and is the co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink (2009, Chelsea Green).

– Article from AlterNet on July 1, 2010.



  1. Anonymous on

    I could even perfectly legal fuck my cat, turtle or donky in front of my little children but keeping or smoking a plant could get me in prison?

    so it aint about moral either…..?!?

  2. Anonymous on

    Quick correction: Beginning of last paragraph above should read “So let’s replace this booze vs. pot debate with…

  3. Anonymous on

    This is a classic diversionary argument. The real question is; “Why is the government in the business of legislating and/or criminalizing my behavior in the privacy of my own home”? If I am a contributing, non-violent, tax paying and otherwise law abiding citizen with no children in my home and I decide to relax one evening to a glass of scotch and the next with a few puffs of cannabis, why is one activity considered acceptable and the other criminal. Whether one of these choices is more or less harmful is irrelevant. I’m a fully grown mature adult capable of weighing facts and making a decision. I don’t want or need any government agency using legislature to creep into my private home and dictate to me what I can and can’t as a mature adult put into my body.

    So let’s replace this booze vs. alcohol debate with a meaningful one which is simply: “Why is the government in the business of legislating and/or criminalizing my behavior in the privacy of my own home”?

  4. MOTFA on

    Thank you captain obvious for telling us all what we could have told you about 30 years ago. Even that lame sarcasm is younger than this pathetic debate! Now go tell the president this, like he even gives a damn.

  5. one12alpha on

    Wow, 600,000,000 years old…Is there any chance some one can find a reference for this? I would love to read the article. Reason? Because that would put Marijuana on the planet a few hundred million years BEFORE people. Not to say that it sounds unlikely, just goes to farther prove how insanely ridiculous this prohibition is.

    Hasn’t anyone stopped to think, that the prohibition/eradication of Cannabis is known as genocide? Sure, its a plant, but still… I don’t know where I read it on here, but it’s worth repeating. If only they could put so much effort into something slightly more useful, like dandelion prohibition. (I think it was an article about the police in Texas? who dug up “marijuana” in a city park…only to find it was a wild mint)

  6. Lygeia on

    I am personally somewhat conservative and like anything I use to be time tested and true. The earliest fossil of the cannabis plant is 600 million years old. This is much preferred to something poisonous drawn up in some mad scientist’s chemistry lab for the pharmaceutical industry.

  7. moldy on

    “Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue.”

    Screw that! Why do we even need to treat cannabis as a health issue? Sure, there are a few folks that abuse pot but most of the time these people aren’t in any kind of major danger. This is the kind of thinking we need to reject. Cannabis is not only a health aid but a much safer choice than any legal toxic drug available today. It may be the only non toxic drug out there.

  8. joe on

    Do not worry my fellow pot smokers for the greatest financial meltdown is beginning and the USA is bankrupt the police will be selling pot to cover the salaries. Just look at LA. 200,000 government workers who are making $30.00 dollars per hour are getting a pay cut and wages going down to minimum wage. Soon the police are next. They will get there just reward a job without pay!

  9. Anonymous on

    I just read they sent home several RCMP home during the Olympics in Vancouver because they were DRUNK on DUTY. Who else gets to keep their job after showing up drunk (and carrying a gun ready to shoot or taser us) ?

    But they save us all from marijuana …

    Its insane.

    IN BC we had a cop busted at 3X over the limit drunk driving after drinking at the Police Station and get this … celebrating a pot bust … what can you say ?

    Its more than insane .. its the twilight zone … and they kill marijuana people too.

  10. Anonymous on

    Its even advertised on the youth music stations … of course our local newscasters always giggles about their booze and their wine …

  11. one12alpha on

    I couldn’t agree more about the deal with prescription drugs. How the hell can you try and sell me a medication for DEPRESSION with a side effect being SUICIDE? Every time I see one of those commercials, I wounder how it fits in the “Controlled Substances Act” (CSA)…If its so damn new, how can they claim an accepted medical use? Cannabis was, and still is, medically accepted LOOOOONG before the CSA came along. Oh, and the best part about it? There is no side effect of SUICIDE!…….Its time to, at the very least, change its classification to reflect reality. (and that’s the real reality, not the one on TV)

  12. Anonymous on

    Alcohol is the source of many problems, it is still advertised heavily in every area of the media. Making it look spectacular. Who the F gives the TV stations the authority to advertise this crap almost every commercial break? So Bad of these channels, and the alcohol co’s are the ones who can afford the time slot along with herpes medication & maxi-pads or depends diapers commercials….. Looks like they are trying to cover their ass by advertising the side effects and thats crapping and getting herpes from screwing whores while drunk. AND HOW THE F DOES ANYTHING MAKE, SELL, ADVERTISE OR USE ANY OF THE INSANE DRUGS ADVERTISED AS WELL, describing 50 different very serious and brutal side effects, including DEATH???? THEY ARE ALLOWED TO SELL & ADVERTISE MEDICATION THAT HAVE DEATH AS A SIDE EFFECT…….. WHAT THE F IS UP WITH THIS SOCIETY AND THE OBSESSION WITH THIS EVIL FORBIDDEN FRUIT CALLED CANNABIS!!!!!??????