Reefer madness

I shouldn’t be surprised anymore when it comes to the intellectual vacuity of Miranda Devine, but her latest column is yet again replete with ignorance and shoddy logic.

I know, I know, I shouldn’t read her stuff. It just makes my blood pressure go up. And normally I don’t bother, but the picture of Obama and Clinton that accompanied it drew my interest. That, and the good news I read about some ballot initiatives in the US regarding marijuana.

To be honest, I’d forgotten about Obama’s admissions of drug use. That I was able to says a lot about the way the political landscape has changed. During the campaign I heard endless amounts about his palling around with terrists and liberal (in the US sense) voting record, but his youthful dalliance with drink and smoke and blow barely raised a mention. I think it’s great, don’t get me wrong.

Devine mentions how something similar has happened in Australia with regards to marijuana, but by her fifth paragraph she is done with rational insight, and proceeds to write her usual dross.

1. “marijuana is not the benign drug it was once thought”

Logical fallacy known as a strawman argument. No-one has ever seriously claimed marijuana is benign. The principal argument has been it is less dangerous than other illicit drugs, as well as alcohol and nicotine. Inhaling burnt plant matter with psychotropic effects is never going to be benign.

2. “Recent research suggests that, without cannabis, the incidence of schizophrenia would drop by at least 10 per cent.”

Devine writes this as if it is devastating evidence against marijuana, when in fact I find it to be quite positive. Let me be clear – what she means is the total and complete eradication of marijuana use would drop schizophrenia cases by 1 in 10. That means we would have to stop roughly 8 million people smoking pot to prevent about 25,000 cases of schizophrenia (for say 60 years, because the we’re talking about people who will develop that mental illness at any point in their lifetime).

And what about schizophrenia caused by alcohol consumption? Will we ever get a column from Devine about that? Not likely.

3. “the Tough on Drugs strategy of the Rudd and Howard governments has seen a dramatic decline in youthful cannabis use. Among 14- to 19-year-old males, use has dropped from 36 per cent in 1995 to 13 per cent in 2007, according to the National Drug Strategy Household Survey.”

Devine is quick to give credit to being “tough on drugs” (though of course the ‘toughness’ hasn’t changed in any real terms between 1995 and 2007), but I wonder. In all age groups it went from 18% to 14%, and for men aged from 30 to 60, it went up by a few percent, a pattern repeated with women. The decline in younger women and girls in that time period is also much smaller. So was it government policy that drove the changes? I strongly doubt it. There are other factors to consider, like the rise of party drugs, and alcopops. Conclusion: Devine is cherry-picking. Again.

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