Every advocate for marijuana legalization should share this video with friends and family who are still undecided or are in favor of the drug war. "The Flower" tells the story of the government's violent war on drugs in a Dr. Seuss-style animated short.
Are the depictions in "The Flower" really fair and accurate? I've compiled news reports, government data, and scientific studies that support each depiction in the cartoon.
1. Is marijuana really as safe and fun as it looks in the first few seconds of the video?
Marijuana may not be safe for everyone. But this is also true of alcohol and snowboarding. Alcohol is 8x worse for your health than marijuana. Tobacco is 40x worse. Both of those drugs are legal.
In 2009, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse published a study which found: "Health-related costs per user are eight times higher for drinkers than they are for those who use cannabis, and are more than 40 times higher for tobacco smokers."
Moreover, studies show heavy marijuana smokers suffer no lung damage. In 2012, the American Medical Association published a 20-year study which found heavy marijuana smokers not only experienced no lung damage, but their lungs actually showed slightly improved function.
Finally, marijuana is widely used to increase feelings of well-being. Mayo Clinic reports, "Cannabis sativa is widely used recreationally (inhaled or taken by mouth) to achieve increased feelings of well-being."
2. How many people have died from using marijuana?
Marijuana has only ever killed one person, but it took half a ton of marijuana bricks and they had to crash into him pretty hard. No one has ever actually died from smoking too much marijuana, because it's impossible: "a marijuana smoker would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times the amount of THC in a joint in order to be at risk of dying."
3. Does marijuana really have value as medicine?
Hundreds of medical journals document the medical benefits of marijuana. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, recently admitted: "Medical marijuana is not new ... There [are] in fact hundreds of journal articles, mostly documenting the benefits."
Rigorous scientific study has found marijuana has success in treating chronic pain and MS. According to Mayo Clinic, "Cannabis has been studied for the treatment of a number of conditions ... The most significant benefits have been found in the treatment of chronic pain and symptoms of multiple sclerosis."
Thousands of doctors believe marijuana should be legalized and studied. According to the California Medical Association: "As physicians, we need to have a better understanding about the benefits and risks of medicinal cannabis so that we can provide the best care possible to our patients."
4. Could legalizing marijuana really help the government's finances?
Experts estimate the war on drugs costs $40 billion annually.
The city of Philadelphia saved $2 million in one year by decriminalizing marijuana. In 2010, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams basically decriminalized marijuana, allowing thousands of offenders to simply pay a $200 fee and take a three hour class about drug abuse instead of charging them with a crime. It saved the city $2 million in one year.
Further, legalizing marijuana could raise $8.7 billion in taxes. Dr. Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard economics professor, published a study in 2010 that estimated legalizing marijuana could raise $8.7 billion in federal and state tax revenues. That's in addition to also saving the billions of dollars spent trying to enforce prohibition.
5. Is the government's war on drugs as scary, violent, and mean-spirited as depicted?
"It was terrible ... It was the most frightening experience of my life ... I thought it was a terrorist attack." - Leona Goldberg, an 82-year-old survivor of a drug raid on the wrong house.
Leona was scared and confused when six policemen with riot shields and assault weapons charged into her Brooklyn apartment and ordered her husband, Martin, to the floor. Martin, a decorated World War II vet, was 84-years-old when the raid happened.
In 2005, there were 50,000 paramilitary-style police raids on US homes. Dr. Peter Kraska, a graduate professor of criminology, has been keeping his eye on the police. Kraska says the yearly number of paramilitary police raids on homes in the U.S. increased from 3000 in 1981 to more than 50,000 in 2005. That's almost a thousand every week.
Most of these are carried out to serve drug warrants, and usually involve unannounced, forced entry by heavily-armed men dressed not as police, but soldiers.
According to Radley Balko, investigative journalist, "...the vast majority of paramilitary raids are executed against drug offenders, and many of those against marijuana offenders with no history of violence. Which means that far from defusing violent situations, most SWAT raids actually create them."
6. Are innocent people really dying in street shoot outs because of drug prohibition?
In Mexico tens of thousands are dying because of drug-related violence. In 2012, the Mexican government reported an official tally of 47,515 people killed in drug-related violence since 2006.
In one year, over a hundred U.S. residents died in drug-related violence. State Department figures show in 2010: "at least 106 U.S. residents were victims of 'executions' or 'homicides' directly related to drug battles in Mexico... and experts — and the State Department itself — say the number is certainly much higher."
7. Do the police really harass sick and injured people who use marijuana for their pain?
The government spends millions to bully medical marijuana businesses and patients. The Obama Administration has spent nearly $300 million combatting medicinal marijuana in states where it is legal. What does that pay for?
Armed police raids on patients and on small businesses that sell plants with pain-relieving properties to people who want pain relief. The police point guns at these people, seize their property, order banks to freeze their funds, and even physically attack them. Search for news reports on medical marijuana raids, and you'll read about:
Financial harassment of the owners through police orders for banks to freeze their accounts.
8. Is the drug war really turning the U.S. into some kind of police state gulag?
The US has less than 5% of the world's population, but local, state, and federal governments have locked up 25% of the world's prisoners. Half a million people were locked up for marijuana offenses in 2008.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that over 2 million people were incarcerated in the United States at the end of 2012.
In 2008, that number was 2.3 million, and a fifth of them (nearly half a million) were incarcerated for drug crimes. There were 1.5 million total drug arrests in 2011. Half were for marijuana.
According to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report: In 2009, 858,408 people were arrested in the U.S. for non-violent marijuana violations. That's one every 37 seconds, 24 hours a day. In 2010, 853,838 people were arrested for marijuana, making up over half of the 1.6 million people arrested for drug offenses that year. That's a drug arrest every 19 seconds. In 2011, 750,000 people were arrested for marijuana violations. With 1.5 million total drug arrests that year, as many people were arrested for marijuana as for all other drugs combined.
9. How does drinking alcohol actually compare with marijuana?
"Approximately 2.5 million people die each year from alcohol related causes." - WHO
In 2011, the World Health Organization reported: "Alcohol causes nearly four percent of deaths worldwide, more than AIDS, tuberculosis or violence."
Excessive drinking kills 79,000 in the U.S. each year. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine also reported in 2011: "... in the United States an estimated 79,000 lives are lost annually due to excessive drinking. As terrible as the loss of life is, the full price that society pays is even greater — health care costs rise, property is damaged, productivity is lost, and more."
Alcohol is twice as harmful to users, and five times more harmful to society. That same year the Journal of Psychopharmacology reported: "A direct comparison of alcohol and cannabis showed that alcohol was considered to be more than twice as harmful as cannabis to [individual] users, and five times more harmful as cannabis to others (society)."
10. How do prescription drugs compare with marijuana?
Prescription drugs taken properly killed over 100,000 in the U.S. in 1998.
In 1998, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported the results of a rigorous study, which estimated that toxic reactions to prescription drugs, taken properly as directed by a physician, killed 106,000 people in the United States that year, and caused over 2 million to become seriously ill.
And overdosing on prescriptions killed thousands in the U.S. in 2008. According to the CDC: "Drug overdose death rates in the United States have more than tripled since 1990 and have never been higher. In 2008, more than 36,000 people died from drug overdoses, and most of these deaths were caused by prescription drugs."
Prescription drugs actually kill more people in the U.S. than traffic accidents. This March, the Los Angeles Times reported: "Drugs overtook traffic accidents as a cause of death in the country in 2009, and the gap has continued to widen."
11. Will there be a happy ending to our drug war story?
Thousands of doctors are calling for an end to the drug war. In 2011, the California Medical Association, representing 35,000 doctors, called for the legalization of marijuana at its annual meeting. The doctor who wrote the position said current laws have "proven to be a failed public health policy."
Moreover, 56% percent of U.S. adults wanted to legalize marijuana in 2010. A 2010 AP/CNBC survey estimated that 44% of U.S. adults thought marijuana shouldn’t be treated any differently than alcohol.
Another 12% of the sample said marijuana should be treated even more leniently than alcohol.
Two years later even Pat Robertson, the last person in the world you'd ever expect to say:
"We’re locking up people that take a couple of puffs of marijuana and the next thing you know they’ve got ten years!"
"We’ve got to take a look at what we’re considering crimes, and [marijuana]’s one of them..."
"I just believe that criminalizing marijuana... it’s just, it’s costing us a fortune and it’s ruining young people."
In November 2012, the states of Colorado and Washington actually did legalize marijuana. After so much human tragedy, any ending to this story would certainly be very bittersweet. But with many new victories, marijuana activists are beginning to hope the end may finally be in sight.