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|April 23-29, 2009
• See Letters page
• Jim Hightower
The 4/20 experiment — and a proposed control
by Paul Danish
At precisely 4:20 p.m. on Monday, about 10,000 people gathered on the Norlin Quad on the CU campus, smoked marijuana, and, mirabile dictu, the sky didn’t fall.
The occasion was the annual 4/20 celebration and protest, AKA International Cannabis Day.
(Why 4/20? Well, about 20 years ago a group of California teenagers used to get together at 4:20 p.m. and have a few tokes. Word of this reached High Times Magazine, which suggested that the 4:20 p.m. ritual should become the pot smokers’ equivalent of the after-work drink. Marijuana activists picked up on the idea and added the twist of making April 20 (4/20) a day to celebrate marijuana and protest its prohibition with civil disobedience. But we digress.)
Anyway, back to CU. There were no drug-related arrests. If there were any arrests for anything else, they weren’t reported. A similar event took place in Denver’s Civic Center and drew about 3,000 participants. There were no arrests there, either.
At both rallies, most everyone seems to have inhaled. This can be surmised by the fact that the press reported at 4:20 p.m., when everyone was invited to light up, a hazy cloud of smoke formed over each crowd and lingered for several minutes.
Other than that, nothing much seems to have happened. People started gathering early in the afternoon, threw Frisbees, played hackie sack and probably snuck in a few practice tokes. In other words, the only thing that happened is that people got high and had a good time. And, oh yes, broke several federal, state and local laws.
You might say the participants in these rallies were “experimenting” with marijuana. And, since there were no reported incidents of violence or larceny and everyone seems to have enjoyed themselves, you might say the “experiment” was a success.
Which raises an obvious question, which the press seems to have been too dazed and confused to have asked: What would have happened if 10,000 people had spent the afternoon on the Norlin Quad knocking back beers, wine or shooters?
I’m posing this as a thought experiment, but the truth is we have years’ worth of empirical data gathered from real-life “experiments” involving alcohol consumption in Boulder. They take place every Friday and Saturday night on The Hill in Boulder. And at CU football games. And in dozens of Boulder bars.
Hint: Common consequences involve the three Vs — violence, vandalism and vomit — and lots of visits by the police.
Nationally, we also have lots of empirical data on the consequences of alcohol use.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, there are about 20,000 “alcohol-induced deaths” a year in the United States, and that doesn’t include accidents or homicides. Excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, three out of four incidents of spousal violence involved an offender who had been drinking. More generally, about 3 million violent crimes a year involve offenders who had been drinking at the time of the offense.
A Harvard School of Public Health study found that 72 percent of college rapes occurred when the woman was too drunk to resist or consent.
And on, and on, and on.
In contrast, there has never been a death attributed to a marijuana overdose, and marijuana users become less aggressive, not more aggressive, when high.
By almost any index one chooses to use, marijuana is the safer recreational drug, both for the individual and for society at large, and both in terms of short-term and long-term use.
Therefore it would be interesting if the results of this year’s 4/20 marijuana “experiment” were paired with information from a second “experiment,” which could be viewed as a control. Next Monday, the local reporters should ask the Boulder Police Department to report how many alcohol-related crimes, accidents, emergency calls and DWIs occurred in the city over the weekend.
The results, I’ll bet, would provide a moment of clarity.
There’s a second matter involving marijuana that our intrepid local scribes might want to look into, as well.
In 2007, for which full statistics were available, there were 872,720 marijuana arrests in the United States — 775,138 of them for possession. (In a recent column, I vastly understated the annual number of pot arrests at about half a million; in fact it has been going up dramatically in recent years, and last year probably topped 900,000.) In contrast, the total number of arrests for all violent crimes combined in 2007 came to 597,447.
The question local reporters should ask is how do the comparable local statistics stack up against the national ones? How many people were arrested for pot in Boulder in 2007 and how many of those were for simple possession? And how do those numbers compare with the number of arrests for violent crime? According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, since 1965 more than 20 million Americans have been busted for pot, 90 percent for simple possession. How many marijuana arrests have there been in Boulder over that period?
And when those numbers are in hand, there is one last question that needs to be addressed to Boulder’s elected officials:
For more than a generation, whenever the subject of marijuana prohibition comes up, you have either run like frightened rabbits, or committed the crime of silence, or enabled the continued criminalization and persecution of tens of thousands of your constituents.
How can you look at yourselves in the mirror?
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