The Double Standard of Smoking Marijuana

Discover the truth about smoking marijuana and why we need to reform our marijuana policies to make our nation a safer place.


| August 2013


Marijuana is Safer (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2013) by Steve Fox, Paul Armentano, and Mason Tvert poses the question: Why do we punish adults who make the rational, safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol? In this updated version, the authors revisit research that supports the position that marijuana is safer than alcohol, as well as provide persuasive arguments to advance the marijuana-policy reform. In this excerpt taken from the introduction, see how America has placed a double standard on smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol. 

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It’s June 2004 and the city of Lisbon, Portugal, is preparing for war. Not a literal war, but an epic encounter almost as frightening in its potential for violence: England is playing France in the opening round of the Euro 2004 soccer tournament. But the showdown on the field will be nothing compared to the anticipated battle in the stands and in the streets. Soon the city will be overrun with one of Earth’s most dreaded species, the English soccer fan. Branded as “hooligans,” these fans are notorious for their drunken antics and their propensity to instigate alcohol-fueled fights, assaults, and, in some extreme cases, all-out riots.

So with 50,000 rabid Frenchmen and Englishmen descending upon this normally quiet town, what were the authorities to do? Ban alcohol? Not a bad guess, but no. Instead, the police announced that French and English soccer fans would not be arrested or sanctioned in any way for smoking marijuana. A spokeswoman for the Lisbon police explained the policy to Britain’s Guardian newspaper this way: “If you are quietly smoking and a police officer is 10 meters away, what’s the big risk in your behavior? I’m not going to tap you on the shoulder and ask ‘What are you smoking?’ if you are posing no menace to others. Our priority is alcohol.”



In large part because of Lisbon’s novel approach, the highly anticipated match took place without incident. Police made no arrests during the game, and England’s infamous hooligans behaved remarkably peacefully, even in the immediate aftermath of England’s 2-1 defeat by its hated rival. Unfortunately, while this social experiment proved successful, it was short-lived. Later that evening, after English fans had drowned their sorrows at the local pubs, violence erupted among clashing fans, and several hundred people were arrested.

What’s surprising about the Lisbon experience is not the outcome, which was predictable, especially since a similar lack of violence was observed when England played a soccer match in the Netherlands (where the possession of marijuana by adults is de facto legal) during the Euro 2000 tournament. Rather, it is the lack of attention the story received in the U.S. media and among policy makers. Although the Lisbon experiment was not conducted in a scientifically controlled environment, it nevertheless prompts the question: Would the legalization of marijuana reduce alcohol-related harms in society? In a country where, according to the Department of Justice, alcohol plays a pivotal role in some two-thirds of all cases of violence suffered by an intimate (such as a spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend), and is responsible for approximately 100,000 sexual assaults among young people each year, this is a serious question deserving of serious discussion.














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