Monday’s edition of Fox & Friends featured a discussion of marijuana during which hosts and a Florida law enforcement official used superheated, evidence-free rhetoric straight out of the failed “war on drugs” era.
The reason for the segment was a story out of Mulberry, Florida, involving a 12-year-old who handed out THC gummies in a gym class at Mulberry Middle School last Thursday, sending at least five of them to the hospital with symptoms like stomach pain, dizziness, and nausea. According to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, the student who passed out the gummies faces seven felony charges for possessing and distributing marijuana.
During the segment on Monday, Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade pivoted from the Florida story to fearmongering about marijuana in general.
“No one talks about this — THC is addicting,” Kilmeade said. “I know so many people, they say they were told one thing and they end up getting addicted to it. That is an addicting substance. There is a price to pay for pot.”
Sheriff Judd expressed his wholehearted agreement.
“There absolutely is a price to pay for pot,” he said. “You know, I spent my entire life in law enforcement, and a lot of it investigating traffickers of drugs, and it is not a minor, nonviolent felony. It is ruining families and killing people every day across the United States and we stand here in denial thinking it is not a gateway drug.”
“You don’t start on cocaine — you probably start with marijuana and it leads to other things, right?” asked host Ainsley Earhardt.
“That is absolutely right,” Judd replied. “And still today we have a meth problem across this state and country. If someone is in possession of meth, they’re in possession of marijuana because it kinda cuts the edge of the meth. And then they use the marijuana and the meth and they go out and kill themselves or overdose or kill someone else.”
Fox & Friends goes full Reefer Madness, claiming that cannabis is:— Bobby Lewis (@revrrlewis) December 3, 2018
-"not a minor, non-violent felony"
-"killing people every day across the United States"
-"a gateway drug"
-used by meth addicts to help "kill themselves, or overdose, or kill someone else" pic.twitter.com/euvjB4h3Dr
But a number of the claims made in that brief clip are controversial at best. Let’s unpack them one by one.
“THC is addicting”
Research indicates that nearly 11 percent of people who smoke marijuana report having problems quitting or controlling their intake, so there is evidence this claim is true, at least for some people.
But marijuana addiction does not involve the same risks as addiction to more dangerous drugs, like cocaine, opiates, or even smoked tobacco.
Furthermore, the fact that THC is addicting for some people isn’t necessarily an argument that decriminalizing or legalizing it is a bad idea. After all, alcohol is more addicting than marijuana, yet nobody cites that as a reason to go back to the days of Prohibition.
“Not a minor, nonviolent felony”
Judd’s claim on this score is false.
In Florida, possession of less than 20 grams of cannabis is a misdemeanor, which is a textbook “minor” offense.
Florida has legalized medical marijuana but hasn’t legalized or decriminalized recreational use. Ten states and Washington, DC, have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, but even in those jurisdictions, it’s illegal for kids to possess or use cannabis.
“It is ruining families and killing people every day across the United States”
While the students in Florida who ingested edibles were sent to the hospital because they felt ill, nobody has ever died from a marijuana overdose.
There also is no evidence that marijuana use is correlated with violent behavior. Although former Attorney General Jeff Sessions claimed last year that “current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago, and we’re seeing real violence around that,” studies have indicated that for the general population, there is no link between marijuana consumption and increased aggression.
In fact, research indicates that violent crime has gone down in states that have legalized marijuana, in part because the distribution of sale of it is largely pushed from black markets into regulated ones.
“A gateway drug”
While it is true that there is a correlation between marijuana use and harder drug use, that isn’t necessarily because of anything specifically having to do with marijuana use. It may be that marijuana is simply more accessible than other drugs, so people predisposed to use drugs start with pot — just like they often start with other accessible drugs like alcohol and tobacco.
As Vox’s German Lopez has written, “[t]o the extent there is any gateway effect, it might be due to marijuana’s illegality”:
As drug policy experts Jon Caulkins, Beau Kilmer, and Mark Kleiman explained in their newly released book, Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know, it’s possible that people may be exposed to harder drugs when they, for example, interact with their pot dealer. Once that dealer knows a marijuana user is a reliable customer, he may push his customer to trying harder drugs, such as heroin or cocaine.
Studies have also shown that the availability of legal medical marijuana correlates with less opioid abuse.
People addicted to meth use marijuana and “go out and kill themselves or overdose or kill someone else”
Using meth and marijuana in tandem is dangerous, but that’s mainly because of the dangers of meth, not of marijuana.
There is no precedent for someone going on a violent crime spree because of marijuana use, or of a person experiencing a THC overdose.
It is true that driving while stoned isn’t safe. But researchers in Canada who recently studied accident rates in US states that legalized marijuana didn’t find a meaningful increase in accidents.
This type of rhetoric is antiquated, even by this era’s standards
While Sessions was fiercely opposed to decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana, there are indications that President Donald Trump is open to a different approach now that Sessions is gone.
Trump has thrown his support behind the First Step Act, a bill that would ease mandatory minimums for drug offense convictions like the ones Sheriff Judd apparently hopes to secure against the 12-year-old responsible for bringing THC gummies to school and giving them to classmates.