David Frum

David Frum

As someone who believes that marijuana prohibition has done significantly more harm than good, I would love to have a serious data-driven national debate about legalization.  But unfortunately that is not possible when prohibitionists think it is acceptable to simply make up facts.

This anti-legalization article in The Daily Beast by David Frum is an egregious recent example of that phenomenon.

Lets go point by point. From David Frum:

Although data are difficult to come by, it’s generally scientifically accepted that Americans smoke more marijuana per person than any other people on earth.

While marijuana use is very common in the United States, this claim is not borne out by facts.  According to the UN 2012 World Drug Report’s best estimates, several countries including Italy and New Zealand have slightly higher prevalence of use. Since the United States is near the top, I would let this slide if it weren’t being used to justify a broader point he tries to make with no factual basis.

Frum goes on to say:

And really, why should that be surprising? Americans drink more than other people, eat more, crash their cars more, and shoot themselves (and each other) more. Name a risky behavior, and the United States is, if not No. 1, then usually in the top two. Marijuana use is just one more example of a consistent national pattern.

This is simply not true. Americans actually drink relatively little compared to most first world countries.  According to the World Health Organization, America isn’t even among the top 50 countries for alcohol consumption per capita. Almost every single European country drinks more. Similarly, I have no idea how Frum justifies his claim about car crashes. Again, according to the World Health Organization, the United States has relatively few car related deaths per capita compared to the rest of the world.

Finally, while Frum didn’t specifically mention tobacco use, it is generally considered one of the most risky behaviors among public health experts. America has a relatively low rate of cigarette smoking by international standards. Effectively, the premise of Frum’s “American excess” argument is nonsense unsupported by data.

I would welcome a real debate about the policy benefits of legalization because I think that most people if they take an honest look at the data would conclude that with tight regulation it is the best public policy option.  But that is not going to happen when one side is simply making up their own reality.

I guess it says something about how weak the argument against marijuana legalization is if its opponents feel the need to make up facts to justify opposing it.

Photo by Howard County Library System under Creative Commons license