As ridiculous as it may sound to many, the public opinion of cannabis and its effects have been informed by images like the murder scene from Reefer Madness. In the minds of a large section of the voting-age population, using cannabis leads directly to a desire to murder other people just for the thrill of it, or at least to an meth or alcohol-like aggression. This article looks at the truth.
Anyone who has been part of a cannabis-using scene knows that the supposed link between cannabis and violence is bullshit. It’s simple enough to just contrast the results of cannabis cafes in Amsterdam, or cannabis festivals, with bars and pubs just about anywhere else. Cannabis, by itself, makes people mellow in the vast majority of cases.
The myth that cannabis makes people violent was proven false as far back as 1977. A review published that year in the Psychological Bulletin stated that “The consensus is that marihuana does not precipitate violence in the majority of those using it sporadically or chronically.” All of the further research since then backs up this point.
Interestingly, that article cites the importance of set and setting, which is something that any responsible person would emphasise if they wanted to reduce harms (more on this below).
The presence of a scientific consensus that there is no causal link between cannabis use and violence doesn’t stop prohibitionists from cherry-picking data and research to create the impression that such a link exists. After all, there are correlations between all kinds of things, but (as any honest scientist knows) these correlations are often best explained by underlying third factors.
There is certainly a correlation between violence and cannabis, as there is between violence and everything on the black market. This is inevitable, because anything on the black market is all but guaranteed to be sold by someone who won’t go to the Police if they are ripped off, stood over or killed. Cases like the example of Marlborough man Colin Farrell, who was robbed of his cannabis plants in a home invasion, only happen because of prohibition.
It’s true of everything that if only criminals use it, it will have an association with crime. It’s also true that if something is illegal, then only criminals will use it. Therefore, anything that’s illegal will have an association with crime. This, by itself, explains most of the link between cannabis and violence.
Another reason why an association exists between cannabis and violence is that some people use cannabis as part of a pattern of polydrug usage during nihilistic benders. There are a lot of meth benders that end up with a person smoking cannabis to try and calm themselves down and get to sleep, only to find it not quite working, at which point something really out of order often happens. The same is true of alcohol benders.
This is why the headlines proclaiming things like “Cannabis Crash Tragedy Kills Five” inevitably lead into an article that describes how the driver was also drunk, and/or on meth and/or on prescription sleeping pills. The mainstream media is happy to play up the cannabis angle to these stories, partly because drink driving fatalities are not news and partly because it pleases the alcohol manufacturers who spend millions advertising in that same media.
Logical thinking tells us that, just because a person smoked cannabis and became violent later doesn’t mean that the cannabis caused the violence. This is an example of the informal logical fallacy known as post hoc ergo propter hoc, or “after this, therefore because of this.” This is because people who smoke cannabis and become violent have usually been drinking alcohol or doing methamphetamine at the same time, or haven’t slept for days.
Logical thinking would ask: “Where are the cases of murders and violent crimes being committed by people who were only on cannabis and nothing else?”
Of course, there are few or none – even making an Internet search for examples comes up with little. This is because the people who are using cannabis without also using alcohol or methamphetamine are almost always just quietly using it at home, to relax, in a similar manner to how many responsible people drink alcohol daily.
Much like alcohol, the emphasis ought to go on educating people about the real effects of the substance. Absurd lies like the Reefer Madness story have to be consigned to history, where they belong alongside witch hunts, virgin sacrifices and the persecution of left-handers as embarrassing examples of human superstition, cowardice and stupidity.
The truth about things like set and setting have to be explained to people, so that they can make intelligent decisions about their cannabis use instead of relying on abstinence-based fearmongering (this is true of alcohol as well as cannabis). Part of this involves only using cannabis in situations where they are safe and where they don’t have to be responsible for anything, and preferably around people they like and who won’t harass them when they are high.
Any correctly informed person who is concerned about violence would support the legalisation of cannabis, because it would replace known violence-causing drugs (in particular alcohol and methamphetamine) with something that causes less violence. In reality, the connection between cannabis and violence is so weak that, far from being an argument for its prohibition, it’s an argument to legalise it.
This article is an excerpt from The Case For Cannabis Law Reform, compiled by Vince McLeod and due for release by VJM Publishing in the summer of 2018/19.