By: Louis Lebovits – Hofstra Law School – Student Contributor
With marijuana becoming increasingly available and legal in some parts of the country, it has been widely debated that Marijuana is no worse a “drug” than alcohol and the inherent risks from drinking alcohol are far greater than those associated with the use or abuse of pot. To simplify the debate, if one is going to experiment, is pot safer than booze?
Our government constantly reiterates that public concern and public safety is their primary goal in the battle of legalizing medical marijuana. Based upon this “public safety concern”, and upon research conducted, most of the criminal activity tied to marijuana has to do with illegal distribution, not violence committed by people who smoke it. However, the number of crimes that are committed that have some sort of alcohol component related to them are massive and research shows rates of interpersonal or domestic violence are actually “lower in those using marijuana than people that don’t.” Excessive alcohol can increase risk for chronic diseases and other serious physical and mental health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, as well as cancer, dementia, depression and anxiety, plus a slew of social problems. The CDC reported excessive drinkers are less productive; experience more family problems; and unemployment. In contrast, studies show that marijuana is relatively a safe drug and has few side effects associated with its use. The following four studies reiterate the effects of marijuana in comparison to alcohol.
- In 2007, a team of experts were formed to conduct an analysis on the relative harms of marijuana, alcohol, and other drugs for the esteemed British medical journal The Lancet. It concluded that marijuana posed far fewer health and safety risks than alcohol. That same year, research commissioned by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare arrived at the same conclusion. Specifically, it determined that alcohol was a significant contributor to death and responsible for 3.2% of the total burden of disease and injury in Australia, whereas marijuana was responsible for zero deaths and just 0.2% of the total burden of disease and injury.
- In 2005, a University of Oxford meta-analysis on marijuana concluded that even long-term marijuana use does not cause “any lasting physical or mental harm. … Overall, by comparison with other drugs used mainly for ‘recreational’ purposes, cannabis could be rated to be a relatively safe drug.”
- In 2002, an exhaustive review of marijuana and health performed by a special Canadian Senate committee found that “scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue.”
- In the mid 1990s, the World Health Organization commissioned a study on the health and societal consequences of marijuana compared to alcohol, nicotine, and opiates. It concluded: “Overall, most of these risks [associated with marijuana] are small to moderate in size. In aggregate, they are unlikely to produce public health problems comparable in scale to those currently produced by alcohol and tobacco. … On existing patterns of use, cannabis poses a much less serious public health problem than is currently posed by alcohol and tobacco in Western societies.”
I believe the constant comparison between the two will have a significant impact on the legalization of marijuana and open the eyes of the federal government to finally change their view and legalize marijuana both for medical and recreational use. Groups such as The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, were essential and a driving force to getting Medical Marijuana legalized in Colorado and Washington.
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is pushing to place its initiative on the November 2016 ballot in numerous states that have failed to legalize medical marijuana. The campaign promotes itself as the more responsible route to legalization, modeled on successful initiatives in Oregon and Colorado. The initiative would leave bans in place for those under 21, would require growers to keep marijuana plants out of sight, and, in most cases, under lock and key, would tax marijuana sales and allow landlords who have safety concerns to forbid their tenants from growing marijuana. 
Moreover, The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol would create a far more tightly controlled market, including a whole new regulatory bureaucracy within the treasurer’s office called the Cannabis Control Commission. It would charge fees up to $15,000 for licenses to grow marijuana for commercial purposes, or to sell it at retail. The commission would also have the power to limit the overall amount of marijuana grown in Massachusetts. However, there are a few items which I found to be a cause for concern and I am sure there are others who would conclude this initiative must cure two issues.
First, despite its name, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol would place a limit on the amount of marijuana a person could have on their person or in their home. Last I checked, there was no cap put in place on how much alcohol I am able to purchase. If marijuana is to be legal, in comparison to alcohol, there shall be no restrictions on the amount of marijuana that can be purchased.
In addition, the campaign’s language also gives the state’s existing medical marijuana facilities a head start in seeking out licenses, and time to lock down the market. Said anticompetitive provision serves no public purpose and should be removed despite proponents claiming that the provision will ensure an “adequate supply of marijuana.” 
In my opinion, movements by groups such as The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol as well as Bay State Repeal, another competing marijuana legalization group, are essential in getting the use of medical and recreation marijuana legalized in all States and finally getting approval from the federal government. The federal government can’t have it both ways, and with continuous studies proving marijuana is much less harmful a substance than alcohol, Congress will be forced to make the correct decision and subsequently legalize marijuana.