Debunking The Biggest White House Lies About Marijuana

marijuanaAs progressives, we love to think of ourselves as true fighters for the people–pushing for human rights, equality and positive change in the face of lies from “the other side.” This same progressive principle needs to be applied to marijuana, which is one of the most versatile plants our planet has ever given us. Many are under the false impression that it’s no longer considered the “devil’s weed” of the 1930’s. Unfortunately, on a federal level, reefer madness is still alive and well.

The federal government classifies weed as a Schedule I drug, comparable to heroin and having less medical value than drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. Even after medically-relevant studies and case examples worldwide prove otherwise, our government has refused to budge on this stance. One look at the unsourced propaganda still being pushed by the White House proves we’ve made almost no progress in Washington on this issue. For example, the White House position that potential tax revenue would be offset by higher social costs fails to take into account the money saved on enforcement, conveniently leaving billions of dollars out of their flawed equation. Further, take note of their repeated mentions of “studies,” “independent research” and “other research” while failing to actually link to any specific independent studies backing up their claims. Almost 80 years after the release of “Reefer Madness,” our government’s position still falls back to “It’s bad for you because we say it is,” while repeatedly ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

Before I risk blowing smoke out of my posterior orifice, let me point to a couple of specific examples to back up my claims. Let’s start out with the administration’s position that “marijuana smoke contains carcinogens and can be an irritant to the lungs.” The largest case-control study ever done on the topic indicates that even heavy smoking of marijuana over a period of several years poses no increased risk of any types of cancers, and may even provide some level of protection against cancer. Other studies have shown similar results, while not one legitimate study has shown a link between smoking marijuana and increased risk of lung or other cancers. Also interesting is the administration’s claim that marijuana use is associated with “impaired cognitive functioning.” While the White House lists no sources to back up their claim, researchers at Johns Hopkins University actually studied cognition in 1,318 participants over a period of 12 years. They concluded that there were “no significant differences in cognitive decline between heavy users, light users, and nonusers of cannabis.” This is barely scratching the surface, and doesn’t even begin to account for the numerous studies conducted internationally which have showcased marijuana’s safety, directly contradicting the dubious claims our government has made.

The continued inclusion of marijuana as a Schedule I drug with no medical benefit is not only absurd, but hypocritical as well. In 1988, the DEA’s chief administrative law judge, Francis L. Young, ruled (in part):

Nearly all medicines have toxic, potentially lethal effects. But marijuana is not such a substance. There is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, documented cannabis-induced fatality.
This is a remarkable statement. First, the record on marijuana encompasses 5,000 years of human experience. Second, marijuana is now used daily by enormous numbers of people throughout the world. Estimates suggest that from twenty million to fifty million Americans routinely, albeit illegally, smoke marijuana without the benefit of direct medical supervision. Yet, despite this long history of use and the extraordinarily high numbers of social smokers, there are simply no credible medical reports to suggest that consuming marijuana has caused a single death.
In strict medical terms marijuana is far safer than many foods we commonly consume. For example, eating ten raw potatoes can result in a toxic response. By comparison, it is physically impossible to eat enough marijuana to induce death.
Marijuana, in its natural form, is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man. By any measure of rational analysis marijuana can be safely used within a supervised routine of medical care.

Since then, 18 states and Washington D.C. have passed medical marijuana laws in some form, and many more states are debating doing the same. Yet the federal government continues to crack down on even medical marijuana, devastating dispensaries in states like California and putting people out of work in the process. The administration likes to point out statistics showing a recent increase in marijuana use among 12-17 year olds, but what it fails to talk about is the evidence showing decreased use among those same 12-17 year olds in states which have legalized medical pot. A great example is in Colorado, where a CDC study shows that marijuana use among youths went down 2.8 percent from 2009 (24.8 percent) to 2011 (22 percent). The report also showed that the availability of illegal drugs on school grounds in the state is significantly less than the national average. Positive strides like these were one reason Colorado voted to legalize possession and consumption of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use last November. Other studies, including this one published through the Institute for the Study of Labor, have examined the relationship between medical marijuana laws and youth consumption of marijuana, and found no evidence to support the claim that marijuana use increases among youth in states where medical marijuana is legal. This showcases not only how states like Colorado have developed a successful and safe medical marijuana industry in recent years, but also how effective regulation can reduce marijuana use among teenagers. Applied further, it shows that it is reasonable and realistic to believe that full legalization can be implemented and regulated in a safe and effective manner at a national level.

A Pew Research poll released yesterday shows that for the first time in 40 years of polling, a majority of Americans want marijuana legalized. This is extremely significant, but at the same time we have to continue to stress why it should be done. I’ve heard criticism from some that the pro-legalization movement too often points out that “marijuana isn’t as bad as tobacco and alcohol, so it should be legal as well.” While that may be true, it’s a flawed argument that we should discontinue using. Just because something “isn’t as bad as” something that’s legal, doesn’t mean it should be legal as well. Instead of saying marijuana is “not as bad as” something else, we need to classify it as a legitimate therapeutic product which can be effective in treating chronic illnesses and can be enjoyed in moderation recreationally. As I’ve shown, long-term effects of regular marijuana use have shown it to be relatively harmless and in some cases even beneficial, whereas long-term effects of regular tobacco use or heavy alcohol consumption have been proven to be potentially harmful. Building on that, the issue of whether to legalize recreational use has it’s roots in personal liberties–something progressives should join hands with libertarians in championing for this cause.

I’m not trying to suggest full legalization at the federal level would be easy and problem-free–we are talking about our government, after all. We need to start with reclassifying marijuana at the federal level and removing it from the list of Schedule I controlled substances. After years of documented and effective medical use, as well as numerous scientific studies showing its safety and efficacy, it is absolutely ludicrous to think that we’ve yet to accomplish even this much. Reclassifying will allow for easier access to medical and recreational use research, which will in turn speed up the process of legalization. Our government’s reasoning for not reclassifying boils down to this: We’ve been lying to them for decades, what will they think if we have to backtrack on everything we’ve said? Now that we’re collectively catching on to the charade, that reasoning fails to cut it.

Thomas Barr

Thomas Barr

Thomas Barr is a writer, editor and activist who's passionate about progressive ideals, with extra attention given to the fight for universal health care, medical marijuana, and saving our nation from decades of devastating trickle-down policies. Thomas is also a dedicated advocate for Type 1 diabetes research and education.
Be sure to check out his archives on Forward Progressives for more of his viewpoints.
Thomas Barr


Facebook comments

  • Ishmael

    I think we should REQUIRE every Republican knee-jerk, Neo-Con TV commentator and Tea Party Moron to toke up several times a week for about a year or so. Then perhaps they would begin to MELLOW THE FUCK OUT. Whatever drugs Rush are on are CLEARLY NOT WORKING.

    • Sharida Cox

      i’m a republican, but have always approved of legalizing marijuana. would love to see this happen in my lifetime, if we truly want to espouse ourselves as a free country.

      • christianh

        I wouldn’t say that… Perhaps FREE COLLEGE for two years…

    • Elizabeth Graham

      I am with you on all fronts Ishmael. I lol when I read your first comment. I spent 14 weeks on the Hill 40 hours a week as an intern in the fall of 2007. I worked for a Member from Northern California and even the staff in his office had issues with any conversation about marijuana, medicinal or otherwise. The folks on the Hill definitely need some weed to chill out. Who knows? Maybe more consensus would arise as a result. At least the majority of them wouldn’t be as stressed out all the time.
      I was a grad student before the economy dropped out and I was writing my Master’s Thesis on the conflict between state and federal governments in marijuana issues (I was known as the resident scholar on marijuana issues at the university in which I attended). Throughout my extensive research I never found any link to any type of conspiracy and I almost stopped reading these comments because of how ridiculous I found the comments referring to conspiracies of big pharma and our legislators on the Hill. I kept reading and appreciate your comments immensely and found them to be engaging and from an empirical stand point. Thanks for helping to curb the conspirarists.

      • Ishmael

        Thank you so much Elizabeth. Your cogent comments mean a great deal to me. Particularly as they come from someone of your extensive knowledge of the subject and your legislative experience. I too have worked with many national, state and local politicians over the past 35 years. One would hope we would find more people to carry on intelligent discussion with than we often find on these blog sites — however, it is refreshing to find a mind like yours. Keep up the good work. There ARE others like me out here who truly appreciate your contributions.

    • Howard Matthews

      Hey now! The only thing Rush ever takes are his B-shitty pills 😉

      • tim

        Rush has a history of abusing LEGAL drugs

      • Robyn Kern

        But they were not legal for him he bought on the black market and dr shopped.

    • Felstein✡T

      put it through the vents during session man the wars would end, they’d legalise everything and love each other …. we might have to do it several times lol but wouldn’t it be too awesome

  • Mark Lenfest

    We could save family farms during the war hemp was raised every where it could be again

  • Mark Lenfest

    We could save family farms raise hemp it has a multitude of uses

    • Ishmael

      Actually the hemp they used to grow for rope and clothing is a far cry from what they use for smoking these days. But farmers in Mendicino County, California and on Maui have found it profitable. However, if they legalized it and anyone could grow it for their personal use, I imagine the prices would come down pretty dramatically. In Europe in many countries I have visited, it’s legal to grow your own for your own personal use — its just not legal to sell it, which to me sounds like a fair compromise.

  • Joseph Scott

    This is the biggest government waste, or better, pissing tax-payers money out-a-window Government program, they (Congress/Persons) won’t vote for legalization, because, the corporate penal system depend on pot to ensure their max profits from housing pot dealers, and locally police arresting Teenagers for possessing, smoking Pot, But Wall Street steal an misuse, launder-drug cartel money, and don’t even get a Hand Slap! , It’s criminally Hyocritical.

  • D. Hamara

    Part of the problem at the federal level is that we have signed treaties wherein we promise to keep drug profits flowing to the producing countries while also sending them “aid” in their fight against said drugs. Additionally, there is HUGE money in keeping marijuana illegal – everyone from the the drug lords to the international banks to foreign governments to your local police department is cashing in on the “war on drugs”, and none of them want that ride to end.
    There is a LOT of work to be done before we see the end of prohibition.

  • Ishmael

    Hamara? You know? We have enough real problems in this country without compounding them by STUPID CONSPIRACY THEORIES. While it is certainly true that many of the people you mention profit — to state that the reason we cannot address the problem is because everyone is in bed with one another is simply ridiculous. Many of us may be liberals who have experimented with recreational drugs, but the America that makes and enforces the laws of this country are older and much more conservative — many of our lawmakers, the medical establishment, enforcement agencies and organized religion come from a different generation and have a MUCH MORE Conservative set of values — war, alcohol, extramarital sex, televangelist lies and corporate greed are fine — but to most of them marijuana use is “REEFER MADNESS”. Republicans have wrapped themselves in the cloak of “Family Values” and used that con as a vote getter and an endless and overflowing collection plate for 50 years — they are not about to back away from another hot-button issue that involves drugs — even if it is something as benign as cannabis.

    • D. Hamara

      Ishmael, these are not wild conspiracy theories, these are old news.
      – The Controlled Substances Act of 1961, which classes marijuana as “Schedule 1” (no medical value), it the US implementation of the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, to which the US is a signatory. ANd the federal government is already getting pressure from the UN to crack down on states that have legalized it. See
      – HSBC bank just paid $1.9B in fines for laundering as much as $200T for everyone from drug lords to terrorist organizations to prohibited foreign governments. See
      – Not only are the feds sending over $50B / year in drug war funding to state and local law enforcement agencies, the local cops also receive 80% of any “civil asset forfeiture” money – which amounted to another $4.2B in FY12
      – As of 2003, the US had sent $35B in drug eradication foreign aid to South American drug producing countries (CATO institute: Government corruption is rampant in these countries (see for a trove of references), so I am more than justified in my claim that these governments are taking anti-drug money from the US with one hand, while taking drug profits from the US with the other.
      I stand by my statements.

    • D. Hamara

      It appears that my detailed response with links to backing materials was moderated out of existence, so I will summarize: While you are correct that there is not likely some grand conspiracy between foreign governments, US law enforcement, Big Pharma, international banks, and the drug lords to keep marijuana illegal, when there are that many very wealthy and powerful groups with that much money at stake you can bet your bottom dollar that they are at a minimum all conspiring independently to keep their cash cow alive. The foreign governments, through the UN, are already applying pressure over the legalization moves in the states. And every one of those other groups has lobbyists in DC with plenty of money to spend, and super-PACs with hoards of “dark money” ready to support the “law and order” candidates who pledge to keep the Drug War money flowing. THIS is what we are up against. Calling it a “stupid conspiracy theory” doesn’t make it any less of an obstacle to legalization. I would rather know what we are up against so we can plan accordingly, rather than getting blindsided by a wall of cash.

    • Rene’ Williams

      Wake the heck up…..Ishmael. Start thinking for yourself on this. This Big pharm paranoia is not a conspiracy theory. This has been around for a very long time. RJ Reynolds has already bought up over 620,000 acres of prime growing land in California and hired several laboratories to test the Medical marijuana they want to grow. Growing and testing is already being done by major cigarette companies. They plan on taking every $ available to this new market. They are already trying to stop home growers with almost impossible to follow criteria to be a home personal grower. It’s all big business in the end.

      • Ishmael

        You might as well start wearing a TIN FOIL HAT lol. Repulicans — via their unholy alliance with Fundamentalist Christians grasp at ANY kneejerk social issue that will motivate and energize their base. They have wrapped themselves in the flag of “Family Values” for the better part of the past 50 year with considerable success. Right to Life, Right to Bear Arms, Gay Marriage, Gays in the Military, Bussing, School Vouchers, The Morning After Pill, Illegal Immigration …. you name it … if it’s guaranteeed to PISS OFF a white person, a person of wealth, a religious conservative, a Catholic, or someone who grew up in the genreration prior to the “Baby Boomers” – a generation with historically much more conservative values — you can rest assure The Republican National Party will jump on it with both feet. Legalization of drugs is high up in the “guaranteed to PISS FOLKS OFF Category”. My entire point is — ultimately the legalization of marijuana is political issue. Failure to recognize what energizes and motivates the opposition, does not allow you to mount an effective political campaign. If you go out there maintaining that there is some Grand Conspiracy by “Big Pharma” that has kept marijuana illegal all these years then you are not only woefully underinformed, you are clueless about the mindset and the fears of a very large segment of the American electorate.

  • Sharon Demedeiros

    Anyone who doesnt believe there is a conspiracy to keep cannabis illegal is either deluded or uninformed. The fact is that it has amazing medical benefits that Big Pharma and the hugely profitable “cancer industry” does not want people to know about. There are vast fortunes being made and those who are profiting from our illnesses have no intention of letting go of their power and profits. For this government to declare there is no medical benefits to cannabis while holding the patent for medicinal marijuana is the pinnacle of hypocracy!

    • drew bright

      Patent #6,630,507 cannabinoids as neuroprotectants. Owned by US Dept. Of Health &Human Svcs. Feds’ patent for Medical use vs. DEA schedules. Big hypocrisy!

    • chad

      Well said that’s because our government is the biggest drug and synthetic chemicles dealer their is they don’t want us to be cured of anything especially by natural substances if you google you will see in Canada they have found the cure for 80% of the diff forms of cancer in one simple plant extract but it will most likely not obtain the necessary funding for the FDA to pass and can not be patented so big

  • Ishmaiel

    And calling something a conspiracy simply because you do not understand the political, ethical, and judicial system and set of laws and values we operate under here in America doesn’t make it an intelligent argument. It IS STUPID to see “boogie men” under your bed. Colorado and Washington have already begun to change the game by working “within” the system. The age and race dynamics of the country are shifting in favor of a more rather that less tolerant society. That said, there are still a LOT of political and religious conservatives in this country that will FIGHT marijuana legalization as stringently as they have fought gun control, gay marriage, integration, civil rights, abortion and a host of neo-conservative “hot-button” issues. When you make your unsubstantiated conspiracy charges, you fail to credit the over-riding motivation for EVERY POLITICIAN in America. And that is, to get RE-ELECTED. Republicans discovered 50 years ago with Nixon, that if you PISS PEOPLE OFF and you FRIGHTEN THEM — they will go to the polls and vote for your candidate. Actually, politicians have known this as long as there has been a Democracy. Hitler and Goebbels were particularly adept at this tactic. But it was Nixon and his “dirty-tricks” committee that set the tone of American election politics over the course of the last five decades. Every Republican for state, local and national office has his or her list of talking points, geared to address those sure-fire vote getters rather than the serious problems that face this nation. To be fair, Democrat candidates have theirs too; theirs just don’t seem to be as closely aligned with HATE ISSUES. Until you realize you/we are not going to solve ANY problem in this country until we understand what causes a politician to act the way he/she does, we will continue to live in a country with a broken government.

    • D. Hamara

      “Colorado and Washington have already begun to change the game by working “within” the system.” – And the big money is already pushing back, in the form of a strongly worded warning from the UN that Colorado and Washington’s actions place the US in violation of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs Treaty of 1961. Until we opt out of that treaty, Washington and Colorado are in violation of INTERNATIONAL law.
      “Until you realize you/we are not going to solve ANY problem in this country until we understand what causes a politician to act the way he/she does, we will continue to live in a country with a broken government.” I have been active in politics since Nixon was president, and I believe that has given me just a wee bit of insight into why politicians do what they do. You are welcome to believe that there are still those “ethics” and “values” thingies in DC, but my experience is that money drives all decisions, because money is what gets them reelected. And how well they perform for their moneyed constituents determines whether they get that 7 figure lobbying job or board of directors position when they eventually don’t get reelected.
      “When you make your unsubstantiated conspiracy charges” – they are only “unsubstantiated” on this forum because my post with substantiating references was “moderated” out of existence. I admire your wide-eyed innocence. Hang on to it as long as you can. Just don’t be blindsided when our legalization efforts go “splat” on a solid wall of cash.

  • Thanks for the article. For info on people using voluntary Libertarian tools on similar and other issues worldwide, please see the non-partisan Libertarian International Organization @ ….

  • In “the land of the free and home of the brave,” there is no greater insult to our freedom and intelligence than governing on the sole basis of “because we said so.”

  • Juliet Neary


  • Cliff Douglas

    I agree with much of what you’ve said, but you weaken your argument by overstating things in the “pro ” direction. While it wasn’t your central point, as soon as I saw you call the long-term effects of regular tobacco use “potentially” harmful, I knew your scientific knowledge was somewhat limited. Tobacco kills 1 of every 2 long-term users and sickens almost all users. That’s not potential, that’s quite certain and uniquely legal. It made me wonder where you’ve fallen down in your recitation of the facts concerning weed. One obvious place was extrapolating some state-level experience to what you expect to happen if pot legalization goes national/federal. You may be right, but it’s not likely to be as sure and simple as you portray it.

  • Eddie

    The research has already been done by the millions upon millions of people who have been smoking for thousands of years. It’s harmless and it’s fun. Case Closed!!

  • Victor Espinosa

    When can we start having cannabis marches and smoke outs in front of Capitol Hill?!

  • Anthony

    Lets not forget the countless people out there that can’t find work due to drug testing for marijuana. The argument about alcohol vs. marijuana I think works here. I don’t think it’s fair that an alcoholic is able to get a job without question, but a causal marijuana smoker would be denied that same job just because they like to go home and relax at the end of the day with a nice joint.

  • christianh

    Exactly, I can prove that marijuana actually LOWERS the effects of alcohol… It should NOT be on Schedule 1… PERIOD.. Legal or not…

    I’m leery about federal legalization but it’s not like anyone can kill themselves OR OTHERS…

  • chad

    One question and I am being serious if this is a study with a legal illegal choice how do the numbers not add to totall 100? The numbers for 1969 add up to 96% the number is obviously based on polls cause the sensus is not that accurate for them to know only 96% of Americans answered the poll. I guess my question is was their a third option on the poll and if so why is it not on the graph or did only 96% of the ppl they polled answer and return a response

  • Matthew Reece

    All drug laws violate the logical right of bodily ownership.

  • Paul Peterson

    I think Thomas Jefferson would be horrified that the government dictates
    to the people, against their wishes, what they can and cannot ingest
    into their own bodies.

  • Howard Matthews

    First of all, the graph looks like a huge dooby….2nd, I’m actually one of the amazingly few people on Earth that has a sensitivity to THC, so I can’t safely smoke it. I’ve met one (1) other person in my 56 years on this planet that has the same sensitivity….soooo i’m thinkin even though I can’t partake myself, it’s got to be pretty harmless…AND why doesn’t the Tobacco industry get on board with growing hemp? It’s cheaper and easier to grow than tobacco unless you’re trying to get high yields of THC and you can makes so many things with it…it’s a higher profit margin for them….why do they insist on killing people?

  • K_ANN

    First, Mr. Barr, a very well written article and it is time to re-evaluate marijuana’s status. Since the most abused drug in the US (alcohol) is legal it doesn’t make sense. However, there seems to be confusion as to who opposes the change – most libertarians are all for legalization.

  • Rhonda Cates

    I think we should make all of them take random drug test to keep there job just like the rest of us. I just amazed how corrupt our government is!

  • AlfredLehmberg

    We need Democrats to start acting like Democrats! Progressive!

    • Ishmael

      Actually, Democrats acting Progressive is almost as much a part of the problem as Republicans being themselves. America is NOT LIBERAL. The Teddy Kennedy wing of the Democratic Party has pretended for years — the rest of America who did not see the country through rose-colored glasses was just crazy. It prompted a conservative backlash from a majority of Americans, who feared a liberal agenda more than it did the Party of hate and the status quo. In fact, the ONLY times the Democrats have won the White House in the past 50 years Carter, Clinton and Obama was when we moderated our message.

      • AlfredLehmberg

        That conservative back-lash is a fire inordinately, inappropriately, disingenuously fanned by erstwhile conservatives who want to legislate your morality while they prosecute a lack of same… You know the bunch, the ones who made it legal to lie outright in the media. Expanding populations on land well passed a normal carrying capacity not only demands a new Liberalism (respect for women, a living wage, affordable health and education), it requires it.

  • Inattentive Vigilant

    “marijuana smoke contains carcinogens and can be an irritant to the lungs.”

    Even if that were true, which it isn’t, it’s still unimportant. Many of us ingest it through vaporizers. So, no smoke at all. You can also ingest it in many other ways. So the entire point is stupid.

  • vern tanny

    go back and take a look at “Reefer Madness”. That was a time when the Herst family owned the news papers. They bought sq. miles of pulpwood forests for news print. Then someone came up with hemp to make newspaper. That would have really hurt the news paper monopoly. So they had enough money to influence the government to out law hemp and produce “REEFER MADDNESS”‘ … just saying..

  • Charles Vincent

    People Watched Reefer Madness to many times. It isn’t about stopping harm its about protecting corporate interests and control. Much the same as the other things the government foists on the public at large.