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Gateway Drug Bunk: No, Smoking Pot Doesn’t Lead to Harder Drugs

| April 8, 2016

gateway drugs

She should know. (Kimberley D)

I don’t know why Sheriff Jim Manfre and the Flagler County Commission are dragging their feet on Manfre’s proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Manfre floated the idea almost four months ago after seeing it done in three other counties, with Volusia, the fourth, talking about it. Volusia has since done it. The county commission has yet to talk about it. It’s giving detractors and myth-pushers–or the election’s opportunists–plenty of time to spread their falsehoods. Meanwhile, every week another batch of local residents get ensnared in more stupid pot busts.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive One of those falsehoods made its appearance before the county commission Monday. It’s the marijuana-as-gateway-drug argument. It never fails. Mention pot legalization in any context–medical, recreational, non-criminal–and a man named Pavlov will start yelling GATEWAY DRUG! It’s a haze of propaganda as old as Reefer Madness, the 1936 government movie that traces a teen’s puff of pot to a homicidal hit-and-run accident, a rape and a suicide. Reefer Madness would be a comedy as hilarious as Cheech and Chong’s best if it weren’t still a mirror of drug policy.

President Carter tried to decriminalize marijuana as far back as 1977. He sent the proposal to congress. Visionary as he was, he paired it with a request that more effort be put into studying the ill effects of prescription drugs, which no one was worried about back then. A phony scandal about drug use in the White House quickly sank the proposal and recast Carter into what every president has been on drug policy since Nixon: a propagandist cowering to the cop-and-prison lobbyists.


Twenty years after Carter even the former executive editor of the allegedly liberal New York Times, A.M. Rosenthal, was peddling the lie in his columns. He was bashing President Clinton for nominating William Weld, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, ambassador to Mexico. Weld’s crime? He supported medical marijuana legalization. Back then marijuana legalization had about as much popular support as legalized gay marriage.  “As marijuana is a gateway to the use of cocaine, heroin and other ‘hard’ narcotics,” Rosenthal wrote, “so legalization of marijuana is the most likely gateway to legalizing all narcotics.” Obviously the Times’ fact-checkers were too stoned to catch the lie.

The gateway drug argument may sound persuasive. After all, most harder-drug users were once pot users. But to then conclude that most pot users will graduate to harder drugs is just plain dumb. If anything, by the time students graduate high school, they’re likelier to do do less than more drugs. The numbers tell the story.

The University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future study has been surveying youth drug habits more thoroughly than anyone since 1975. Yes, teens do drugs, they smoke, they drink. But any look at those numbers shows to what extent the propagandists exaggerate that use and ignore the more serious issues with cigarettes, alcohol and legal prescription drugs.

The survey tracks all sorts of drug use in middle and high school based on drug use every day, in the past month, in the past year, and over a lifetime. The different categories add indispensable nuance to the hysteria over drug use. For example, while 2015 numbers show that 44 percent of all 12th graders used pot  sometime in their lifetime, and 15 percent of 8th graders did–numbers that would fit well in the panic narrative of the anti-drug brigades–the numbers quickly lose their force when broken out: 12th graders’ use of pot sometime in the past year falls to 35 percent, then to 21 percent in the past month, and to 6 percent when it comes to daily use (and 1 percent among 8th graders), same as in 1999.

Take past-month use of marijuana among all 8th, 10th and 12th graders combined. It’s actually been falling for several years, but taking the worst of the past four years, 15 percent reported using in the past month, about the same proportion as in 1995. That should mean that, proportionately, of the 250 million adult Americans, 37 million should have gated their way to using harder drugs.

In fact, according to the federal government’s own numbers, Americans who’ve used cocaine, heroin inhalants or hallucinogens in the past month combined doesn’t even crack 4 million. Add prescription drugs and marijuana, and you’re still 13 million short. That alone should dispense with the myth. But it won’t.

Look at the survey numbers again: the point to some fractional use by students of harder drugs, but in every case, usage has remained fractional–mostly well below 1 percent except for slightly more popular inhalants–over two decades and a half. There’s not been an epidemic, there’s not been a sustained increase of use in any drug, in any category, there’s not been a gateway to any drug. The problem has always been and remains cigarettes and alcohol, not narcotics. That, too, should dispense with the myth.

But it won’t. The war on drugs was never built on reason. It’s closer to a religion. Take away one of its fundamental tenets, like the gateway drug myth, and the whole thing might collapse. So it goes on, stoning our elected officials into fear or inaction.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam. A version of this piece will air on WNZF.

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29 Responses for “Gateway Drug Bunk: No, Smoking Pot Doesn’t Lead to Harder Drugs”

  1. Joe says:

    I drank alcohol before I ever smoked weed, then once I smoked weed I never drank again,to this day I haven’t had a drink or done any other drugs, I won’t even accept a prescription from the doctor for Lortab or any other pill, I’d rather jus use marijuana.

  2. Rick G says:

    I always love a good article about pragmatic solutions to this useless “War on Drugs” crap we’ve been subjected to over the past 80 years. Alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs are much worse.

  3. YankeeExPat says:

    Granny Ganja…………Good For What Ails You Sonny!

  4. Ken Dodge says:

    And while we’re there let’s not forget how cigarettes lead to the smoking of weed.

  5. RP says:

    Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the CDC said at a news conference in 2014 that every single day an average of 46 people die from overdoses of prescription painkillers. Not a single death has been attributed to Marijuana overdose in modern recorded history. Do some research, use critical thinking, be an informed voter and be a positive contributor to our society.

  6. Jimw says:

    For all the potheads. Quit smoking pot for three months. After ask your friends and family members how you have been acting the past three months. Pot is addictive. Why “pour gas on the fire”. Yes argue alcohol argue tobacco argue argue argue. Fact is we don’t need anymore legal drugs in this world. We have too many as it is. Wake up and be strong. Quit leaning on drugs in any fashion to “release” or “take the edge off” of life. You can argue medicinal purposes. There aren’t enough people in this country to have pot banks on every corner. Wake up America. Quit running our country into the ground.

  7. wow really says:

    WHY are we so messed up. Like we need drugs to make us even weirder. Humans are crazy period.

  8. wishful thinking says:

    Pierre
    You tell it like it is… Just ask the local docs in Flagler and Volusia – they mostl say ‘ enough already ‘ just make it legal.. God grows pot – God does not grow processed booze or drugs.Legalizing pot would put an end to the semi artificial pot which like it’s more deadly distant cousins, once and for all. Flagler County it’s time to wake up and smell the roses…

  9. Veteran says:

    First time I’ve agreed with you. Smoked pot like a fiend from age 18-29 and never tried any other drugs.

  10. Ghost says:

    Manfre should of had this ball rolling, like, yesterday. More actions need to take place fast, if he is even serious…

  11. Sherry says:

    Here is the TRUTH about the “War On Drugs”. . . it’s all about Nixon going after hippies and black people:

    Washington (CNN)

    One of Richard Nixon’s top advisers and a key figure in the Watergate scandal said the war on drugs was created as a political tool to fight blacks and hippies, according to a 22-year-old interview recently published in Harper’s Magazine.

    “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people,” former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman told Harper’s writer Dan Baum for the April cover story published Tuesday.

    “You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

  12. Old Sailor says:

    Why does anyone need alcohol, pills or pot? These are. crutches with temporary benefits. Grow up and accept life for what it is and do something everyday to make a difference. Self medication is not the solution to anyone’s problems.

  13. Geezer says:

    The mature lady in the picture looks like she can roll a tight fatty.

    Does anyone remember the Laredo cigarette rolling kit from the seventies?
    Man that thing could roll a joint like no one’s business.
    That and a Power Hitter–what fun!

  14. Common Sense says:

    I could have told you that pot doesn’t lead to anything else, thirty years ago,

  15. tulip says:

    On the other side, there have been millions of people who used pot, then decided to try something stronger for a better “high” and wound up serious drug addict. How many people started with beer and wound up alcoholics?

    . Pot dulls the reflexes and common sense .How about a pot head dating your daughter or son, a surgeon operating on you under the influence, a pilot flying a plane, and many many other things that require total alertness.

    I agree we should have medical marijuana because it will be “euphoria free” and only the “good things” will be used to help certain illnesses.

    Unfortunately these things will be used more and more and now the drug of choice seems to be heroin. I fear for our kids of today and what they will be facing in the future.

  16. Layla says:

    Ask those parents of dead children who went on to LSD, coke and heroin.

  17. Geezer says:

    I could have told you thirty years ago that you’d forget basic arithmetic.

  18. Mark says:

    To all the experts out there, How can you say that pot use does not lead to other drug use? Where are your studies/statistics? It may not lead to other drug use in many cases but you cannot say it never leads to other drug use and crime (stealing for money to support the habit). While I personally think it should be legal, beware of the unintended consequences. We tend to muck most things up, proven time and again. Just look at our wonderful world. What would you say to a family that looses someone to a driver high on pot? It’s not a gateway drug so it’s okay?

  19. Layla says:

    I have friends who have lost children who went from pot to cocaine and from there to heroine. That is a living hell until it kills you.

    I am with the Sheriff on this one. Please don’t delete my comment, I am telling you the truth. While some can stick with pot, many cannot. Anybody who has seen the streets of any big city knows that.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      the evidence tells us it’s more accurate to say that while some people can’t stick to pot, most either do or quit.

  20. You don't know what you are talking about. says:

    I too think you should enact social policy based off of ancedoctal experience and feelings instead of actual evidence.

    On the other hand, if you use actual research and evidence, cannabis has been demonstrated time and time again to not be a gateway to harder drugs. True, many people that use harder drugs have used cannabis, but the reverse isn’t true. If you want to come down on drugs that can easily lead to other, life-destroying ones I’d look very closely at prescription opioids like oxycontin. There’s an excellent frontline episode on America’s heroin problem and guess what? The cornerstone isn’t pot but oxy.

  21. Sandra says:

    Common Sense, I could have told you fifty years ago that pot doesn’t lead to anything else. There is a big misconception among many, some on here, about pot usage. Most users don’t get stoned and jump in their cars and drive haphazardly down the parkway. They prefer to stay home and just chill. For those who criticize users they should walk a mile in their shoes. I’ll take the side effects of a marijuana high over muscle relaxers and pain meds any day of the week.

  22. Sneech & Snong says:

    I’m going to start a business selling Sea Shell pipes…..After you toke a few hits thru it, you can put it up to your ear and hear the ocean…..

  23. Termite says:

    People are easily brainwashed. Repeat something ad nauseum long enough and it will become mantra and regarded as fact. Pot is not a gateway drug. I smoked pot for 8 years and never desired to try anything else. When I did use, I didn’t have social or general anxiety. No cramps. No headaches. No body aches. I was on the dean’s list and graduated with honors and all the accompanying accolades. Pot receives a stereotypical bad stigma because pharmaceutical companies, lobbyists and the politicians in bed with them do not want legal marijuana, medical or otherwise, unless they can get in on the action. Since they have not yet figured out how to do that it will continue to be a dog fight to legalize at the health expense of others. Sure, fill your body with man-made chemicals to help your issues. Why use something natural from this Earth put here to help us with our ailments that has zero harmful side-effects? Why? Seems silly right, when I can take a pill that literally has a side-effect of death or I can take medical marijuana and actual feel better. Shocking.

    The pharmaceutical industry does not make money if people are better. They are in the business of keeping people dependent on medication and if anyone thinks otherwise, reality check…they don’t make money if you don’t need their medication. I’ve known people that have used medical marijuana for a variety of issues and once better were able to stop. The medical marijuana industry, if allowed to be legalized nationwide, would never run out of customers as every person with every ailment would be a customer. There wouldn’t be a need for a candy store of pills in your cabinets or fights with insurance companies. Once said ailment was cured, handled and so on, taking medical marijuana could cease until there was another issue that required its usage. Are there many pharmaceutical drugs that people can say that about?

    It just seems like such common sense to me but again, that’s where the brainwashing comes into play. So many individuals cannot think on their own without being told what, when, where, how or why, so how could they form an independent opinion on medical or non-medical marijuana. They can’t and that is why true legalization will never happen.

    People convicted of carrying or distributing marijuana oftentimes are behind bars longer than rapists. Think about that.

  24. wishful thinking says:

    Dr. Carl Sagan , who was the Director for Planetary Studies at Cornell University and a world famous Pulitzer Prize winning astronomer of all time whose ashes were sent into space as he wished was a pothead – So are many of the great musicians and entertainers we still listen to from the 60’s 70’s, 80’s and 90’s ( when music was still music) . Shhh don’t tell anyone especially the big fat drug companies who manufacurer addictive and often deadly medications… they might lose some of their greedy stash…

  25. Dave says:

    Pierre, I’m glad your still enjoying that joint every now and then,. The only reason they don’t pass this stuff, is because the county can’t figure out a way to make a profit or any money at all from joint loving people having a small amount of grass.

  26. Kenny G says:

    So that’s what they do all day at the Palm Coast Senior Center. Now I know why my aunt goes there all the time. That lady looks very well and happy for her years. You go girl !!!!!!!!!

  27. mark wardrip says:

    Hi, I’m a 50 year veteran pot head smoker. That’s right, stoned for 50 years and I like it. The doctors can’t find anything wrong with me. I think the government should wise up, tax and regulate the legal sale of recreational and medicinal marijuana products. The taxes earned can be used to help all people in many ways. More money equals a better world. If people could grow and smoke at home, it would be beneficial as a cottage industry. Take the crime out of it and watch it be more of a money maker than the casinos and lotteries.

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