Alcohol Is Really Pissed Off at Marijuana Right Now

The marijuana industry is convincing Americans its substance is safer than alcohol, and booze lobbyists don’t like it.

National Journal
Ben Terris
Nov. 7, 2013, 7:19 a.m.

Marijuana has been giv­ing al­co­hol a bad name. So con­tend booze lob­by­ists, who are get­ting sick of an ad cam­paign that makes the claim that pot is safer than their be­loved bever­ages.

“We’re not against leg­al­iz­a­tion of marijuana, we just don’t want to be vil­i­fied in the pro­cess,” said one al­co­hol in­dustry rep­res­ent­at­ive who didn’t want to be quoted har­sh­ing his col­leagues mel­low. “We don’t want al­co­hol to be thrown un­der the bus, and we’re go­ing to fight to de­fend our in­dustry when we are de­mon­ized.”

The marijuana in­dustry has had a good couple of years: a re­cent poll found that 58 per­cent of the coun­try thinks the product should be leg­al, re­cre­ation­al use has been leg­al­ized in two states already, and this past elec­tion saw the city of Port­land, Maine, leg­al­ize 2.5 ounces of pot. Ahead of the vote in Port­land — which re­ceived 70 per­cent sup­port — the Marijuana Policy Pro­ject put up signs around the city with mes­sages like “I prefer marijuana over al­co­hol be­cause it doesn’t make me rowdy or reck­less,” and “I prefer marijuana over al­co­hol be­cause it’s less harm­ful to my body.”

Al­co­hol lob­by­ists be­lieve it’s a “red her­ring” to com­pare the two. “We be­lieve it’s mis­lead­ing to com­pare marijuana to beer,” said Chris Thorne of the Beer In­sti­tute. “Beer is dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent both as a product and an in­dustry.”

Thorne notes that the al­co­hol in­dustry is reg­u­lated, stud­ied ex­tens­ively, and per­haps more im­port­antly already an ac­cep­ted part of the cul­ture.

“Fac­tu­ally speak­ing beer has been a wel­come part of Amer­ic­an life for a long time,” he said. “The vast ma­jor­ity drink re­spons­ibly, so hav­ing ca­ri­ca­tures won’t really in­flu­ence people.”

But MPP takes is­sue with the idea they are paint­ing a false pic­ture. In a re­cent Op-Ed for CNN, Dan Riffle, the group’s dir­ect­or of fed­er­al policies, notes that ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol ex­cess­ive al­co­hol use is the third lead­ing life­style-re­lated cause of death. Booze also “plays a role in a third of all emer­gency room vis­its,” he says.

And as to wheth­er it’s fair to com­pare the two sub­stances?

“That’s like say­ing we shouldn’t talk about re­l­at­ive harms of sushi to fried chick­en,” said Ma­son Tvert, who in ad­di­tion to work­ing at MPP wrote a book called Marijuana is Safer: So Why are We Driv­ing People to Drink? “It’s im­port­ant that people know the re­l­at­ive harms of all sub­stances, so there’s no reas­on not to talk about the two most pop­u­lar sub­stances in the world.”

Tvert says he could “ap­pre­ci­ate their con­cerns if we were ex­ag­ger­at­ing or mak­ing any­thing up, but we aren’t. We are simply point­ing out the facts.”

Per­haps there’s a need for a booze and weed sum­mit. Tagline: shots taken, not fired.

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