When Americans pick alcohol over marijuana, they're actually giving preference to the much more dangerous mind-altering substance.
The paradox was best exemplified during President Barack Obama's visit to Colorado, where marijuana is legal to possess and sell. When someone at a Denver bar asked the president if he wanted to take a hit from a marijuana joint, Obama laughed and walked away — a sign of just how ridiculous the offer seemed to a prominent politician. But afterward, Obama openly shared a beer with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.
The chain of events speaks to the strange contradiction in America's drug policy. Although pot is legal in Colorado and Washington, the federal government considers marijuana a schedule 1 substance. That puts the drug at a stricter enforcement level than schedule 2 substances like cocaine and meth. At the same time, alcohol is completely legal for adults 21 and over.
But for all the debate about legalizing marijuana, the research is pretty clear that alcohol is much more dangerous — not just to an individual, but to society as a whole.
For one, there have never been any deaths directly linked to a marijuana overdose or marijuana-caused health problems. Alcohol, on the other hand, causes health problems that kill tens of thousands each year.
The direct deaths, however, don't cover drunk and drugged driving. It's true that if those were taken into account, there would be some marijuana-caused deaths. But there's good reason to believe, based on Columbia University research, that alcohol is much, much deadlier on the road than any other drug, including marijuana.
On top of these two issues, there's a substantial body of research that links alcohol to all sorts of external problems. In a big review of the evidence, Alexander Wageneaar, Amy Tobler, and Kelli Komro concluded that getting people to drink less alcohol would significantly reduce violence, crime, and other negative repercussions of alcohol use.
Meanwhile, Colorado's experience with legalization and a study on medical marijuana published in PLOS ONE suggest that relaxed marijuana laws do not increase violent or property crimes.
Take all these factors together, and it's readily clear why UK researchers deemed alcohol the most dangerous drug to society as a whole.
None of that is to suggest that alcohol should be illegal. Drug experts and historians overwhelmingly agree alcohol prohibition failed. But it seems America's simultaneous prohibition of marijuana and relaxed approach to alcohol — and Obama's choice to take alcohol over pot — don't match the established science.
For a great explanation of how marijuana could replace alcohol and benefit society as a whole, watch the video below: