Did marijuana actually kill 62 kids in Arizona? Or...
Just how deadly a killer is marijuana? Not a single person has ever died from a weed overdose. According to one frequently cited study, a marijuana smoker would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times
If you happened to read a guest editorial in Tuesday's Arizona Republic by Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk you might have come away believing that marijuana use killed 62 kids in Arizona in 2013.
Polk has no real proof of that, of course, hedging her bets with the word "associated." It's good work. But all her essay proves is that Polk wants to be like … me.
The Yavapai prosecutor is serving as vice chairwoman of Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy, and is doing everything she can to make the case against marijuana legalization. She's not making that argument in a hall of justice, however, but in the court of public opinion, where (as I well know) a bland set of facts can be made palatable with a heaping helping of spiced baloney.
In her essay, for example, Polk writes, "In 2013, marijuana use was associated with the tragic and needless deaths of 62 children in Arizona."
Wow. That's a pretty startling figure. I mean, if marijuana killed 62 kids don't you think that might have made, you know, the news?
Here's the deal. Polk is using as a reference a report by the Arizona Child Fatality Review Program. The report notes that 811 children under 18 died in Arizona in 2013. How they died is then broken down. Mistreatment. Prematurity. Drowning. Firearms. Motor Vehicles. And so on. The report also notes the number of kids whose deaths had some relation to drugs.
It says, "The CFR program defines substance use as associated with a child's death if the child, the child's parent, caretaker and/or if the person responsible for the death, during or about the time of the incident leading to the death, used or abused substances, including illegal drugs, prescription drugs, and/or alcohol."
So, it's not necessarily a child who is using the drugs. And it's often a combination of substances. That's why Polk says marijuana is "associated" with 62 deaths.
What does "associated" mean?
According to the report, "Although substance use is a known risk factor in child fatalities, it is important to remember the term associated is used because it is not always clear if or how the substance use had a direct or contributing effect on the fatality incident."
So, maybe the drug contributed, maybe it didn't. Not the kind of evidence Polk would present in a courtroom.
The report adds, "Although there was a rise in associated marijuana use over alcohol in 2013, this may not be indicative of a new trend as the reported percentages of these two substances fluctuate from year to year. It was also usually a combination of some of these substances and not just one, which played a part in the fatality incident."
What? We can't totally trust the numbers? Again, not exactly courtroom-worthy evidence.
Polk concludes her essay, "It is unconscionable to experiment with legalization on Arizona's youth. Those 62 children whose lives were snuffed out in 2013 would certainly agree."
So, not only can those who are opposed to marijuana legalization fiddle with the facts, they can also speak for the dead?
And I thought it was stoners who were supposed to lose touch with reality.