Governor Ricketts isn’t Alone in Spreading Marijuana Myths

Gov. Ricketts isn’t Alone in Spreading Marijuana Myths – Here are Some Facts

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts surely stepped in it this week when he told reporters, “If you legalize marijuana, you’re gonna kill your kids.” Sadly, the Republican isn’t alone in his obvious ignorance surrounding marijuana. Even now-President Joe Biden helped spread myths around the popular plant while on the campaign trail.

Here’s a quick list of common marijuana myths coupled with contemporary research. Cannabis conspiracies have abounded since the ‘war on drugs’ was officially launched in the 1970s and became  a government sponsored smoke screen for racial prejudice.

Death by a Thousand Cannabinoids?

Maybe Gov. Ricketts should stick to getting his Chicago Cubs (I mean, my Cubs…) back in the pennant race. It would be better for the physical and mental health of his constituents than hearing him spout mythical lies from his podium.

Voters know their two-term governor — who also recently chaired the Republican Governors Association — has never used marijuana, but they didn’t know he’d refuse to use new cannabis research — as opposed to debunked, tired and old talking points — in his all-out assault on proponents of medicinal marijuana in Nebraska.

“This is a dangerous drug that will impact our kids,” the governor told reporters this week.

“If you legalize marijuana, you’re gonna kill your kids. That’s what the data shows from around the country”

Gov. Pete Ricketts

While Rickett’s comments are making him the butt of jokes on social media, the sad fact is he’s one of many elected leaders nationwide who regularly spread myths, distortions and all-out lies when it comes to marijuana — a substance now legal in the majority of America either recreationally or medicinally.

Just last month, as the effort to legalize recreational marijuana wound through Virginia’s legislature (before landing on Democratic. Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk, where it still sits), Republican state Delegate John McGuire told his colleagues about “seven to eight people” who cried in his arms because their children overdosed on marijuana.

Back in 2019 Ohio Republican state Rep. Candice Keller blamed marijuana (along with video games and homosexuality) for deadly shootings in Ohio and Texas. The head of the state’s GOP called on her to resign. Instead, she ran for the state Senate and lost.

Similar tropes have popped up elsewhere, including in Wisconsin.  

False statements aren’t confined to elected officials. 

The Drug Enforcement Administration (or DEA) — supposedly the nation’s premier drug agency — claimed as much a mere three years ago. The administrator was asked under oath about the most recent federal data on drug overdoses, which at the time was 64,000 deaths. He was specifically pressed as to how many of them came from marijuana.

“I don’t recall even seeing that on the charts,” Robert Patterson, then the DEA’s acting-administrator, testified to lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee. “I am aware of a few deaths from marijuana.”

Oddly enough, the DEA itself had debunked the myth about marijuana ‘overdose’ deaths the previous year.

“The deadliest thing about marijuana is the fact the police or illegal cartels will kill you over it,” Justin Strekal, the political director for advocacy group NORML, told The News Station. “There is no second deadliest thing about marijuana because the substance by itself is not deadly.”

Marijuana is NOT a Cure-All

We’ve also seen the claims on the other side. To be clear: Cannabis products do not heal you, me or anyone from coronavirus. Sadly, we need to even type those words. Only because bad actors are playing with fire in this new and growing, if misunderstood and oft misrepresented, industry.

As the coronavirus pandemic took root, some people on social media fanned a myth: Cannabis as a Covid cure. It’s not. The World Health Organization reports smoking cannabis could actually be harmful to those with coronavirus.

CBD companies even claimed their products could heal people from coronavirus. They were sent stern warning letters from the Food and Drug Administration, because CBD does not cure COVID-19. New York’s attorney general also had to get involved with an abusive and lying company in the Empire State.

Gateway to Hell or Heavenly Highway?

Marijuana isn’t a gateway drug. The Centers for Disease Control (or CDC) dismisses such claims, even as it says more research is needed. Still, the myth persists, especially in Washington.

But you wouldn’t know cannabis use isn’t your ticket to heroin or meth from listening to many prominent members of the nation’s political class, including presidential candidate Joe Biden. 

The former Delaware senator and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee — the one charged with overseeing the scourge of mass incarceration plaguing America — didn’t just think it. He said it in a live nationally televised debate during the Democratic primary. 

Even though Biden’s an old dog, he learned a new trick quickly and ran the comment back.

But the thinking persists. Just this week freshman US Rep. Bob Good, a Republican from Virginia, espoused the same myth in an official letter to his governor.   

“Marijuana is often the ‘gateway’ drug,” Good wrote, “and its legalization will increase experimentation with it and other drugs. Surely, we can all agree that facilitating more Virginians trying and using addictive, behavior-altering, recreational drugs is not good for individuals or the Commonwealth as a whole.”

If only lawmakers knew where to turn for scientific research. Poor, neglected and downtrodden CDC

Not Your Parent’s Marijuana?

A stealthy campaign by the anti-cannabis group SAM — technically, Smart Approaches to Marijuana — to cap the level of THC (the stuff that makes us high) in marijuana products nationwide is picking up steam.

“A lot of the arguments I’ve made over the past few years is that,” Rep. Andy Harris, a Republican from Maryland, told The News Station earlier this week, “the marijuana that we’re seeing grown now is very different from the one that was grown 30-40 years ago — much higher in THC content.” 

Even as those talking points are garnering support from both sides of the political divide, they’re not grounded in reality. They were debunked long ago. 

“There is nothing new about high-potency pot,” a report from advocacy group NORML conducted by Dr. John Morgan concludes. “During the sixties, it was available in premium varieties such as Acapulco Gold, Panama Red, etc., as well as in the form of hashish and hash oil, which were every bit as strong as today’s sinsemilla, but were ignored in government potency statistics.” 

Secret: Everything’s Addictive. Or Can Be.

Yes marijuana is addictive, but so is Diet Coke. So, yeah, it’s more complicated than a soundbite. But still not too complicated.

The vast majority of cannabis users don’t exhibit any signs of addiction, even as commonly used substances like alcohol or cocaine are highly addictive.

“The National Institute on Drug Abuse previously reported that about one in seven marijuana users would develop problematic use with the drug. Now the agency is reporting that 30% of marijuana users will develop problems with its use, known as marijuana use disorder,” according to research compiled by consumer-focused media outlet Verywell Mind.

Policy makers of all stripes readily agree more research is needed on all things marijuana. Many advocates hear stats like the preliminary one above and point to alcohol. 

“…during 2011–2015, excessive alcohol use was responsible for an annual average of 95,000 deaths and 2.8 million years of potential life lost,” the CDC reports. “Almost half of these deaths and three-quarters of the years of potential life lost were due to binge drinking.” 

Please know, even if you haven’t met yet, there are kind and caring people in your community or even here online who would love to help you if you’re struggling with addiction or depression. Please reach out. You’re not alone. We got you. We are you. 

Sure, marijuana kills careers. It’s killed the promise of hundreds of thousands of promising careers. Many of those people remain incarcerated for what’s now legal in the majority of states.

But many politicians of all stripes, along with too many news organizations, continue to get it wrong. Marijuana isn’t something politicians should be afraid of. We know they, like most all of us, were groomed to fear it. But fear isn’t always logical. Sometimes it’s the opposite. 

In Marijuana’s case — actually, in the case of all drugs — we can safely say, according to the last election, it’s more popular than both Trump and Biden. Where on the ballot, drugs outperformed both men.

Data consistently shows the same. Currently, a steady and sustained 70% of Americans support marijuana normalization in polls.

It’s definitively true: Cannabis is more popular — with voters from both parties, in red, blue, pink and purple states alike — than politicians.

Still, what is reality anymore? Hence, this myth — along with all the others — persists, as myths are wont to do. But these distortions don’t need to keep spreading. New data and promising research is coming out weekly on these topics. 

If only the nation’s elected leaders took the time to read more than their own tweets.

Matt Laslo is Managing Editor of The News Station. To learn more about the veteran political reporter and professor -- or to read more of his work -- his bio page is here.

Matt Laslo is Managing Editor of The News Station. To learn more about the veteran political reporter and professor -- or to read more of his work -- his bio page is here.

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