Okay, I’m suddenly convinced the skeptics’ movement should get involved on recreational drugs

Greta and Natalie have written arguing that the skeptics’ movement should get involved on the issue of recreational drugs. I’ve been sort of ambivalent about that, but no longer:

During a House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, Drug Enforcement Administrator Michele Leonhart repeatedly refused to admit that anything was more addictive or harmful than marijuana.

Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado pressed Leonhart on whether illegal drugs like methamphetamine and crack, as well as legal prescription drugs, caused greater harm to public health compared to marijuana. But within a three minute time-span, Leonhart dodged his questions eleven times.

“Is crack worse for a person than marijuana?” Polis, who has called for an end the prohibition on marijuana, asked.

“I believe all illegal drugs are bad,” Leonhart responded.

“Is methamphetamine worse for somebody’s health than marijuana?” Polis continued. “Is heroin worse for somebody’s health than marijuana?”

“Again, all drugs,” Leonhart began to say, only to be cut off by Polis.

“Yes, no, or I don’t know?” Polis said. “If you don’t know this, you can look this up. As the chief administrator for the Drug Enforcement Agency, I’m asking a very straightforward question.”

Leonhart said that heroin was highly addictive, but accused Polis of asking a “subjective” question. After being pressed further, she conceded that heroin was more addictive than marijuana, but added “some people become addicted marijuana and some people become addicted to methamphetamine.”

There’s more at the video, which the article doesn’t quote. I couldn’t watch anymore after Leonhart twice dodged the question, “is methamphetamine more addictive than marijuana?”

So I’m in favor of marijuana legalization. I’ve been cautious about saying skeptics groups should get behind that position, because policy questions are hard to settle scientifically. There are tricky questions of values involved, and even given a particular values framework, a government policy can have many different effects, all of which need to be taken into account to judge it.

But a top government official refusing to answer a straightforward question? A question where science knows the answer (that no, marijuana is not as addictive as methamphetamine)? Yeah, the skeptics’ movement should be all over that kind of nonsense.

By the way, notice how I’ve been careful to say, “recreational drugs”? That’s because my biochemist mother, while fairly straight-laced, hammered into my head as a kid that phrases like “drug free” are silly because medicines are drugs. Thanks, mom!

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