John Fleming is all about the war on drugs.. Photo via Wikimedia CommonsOn Friday, at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit, United States Congressman and noted anti-pot advocate John Fleming of Louisiana decried the nationwide trend toward the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, in the process spewing out a bunch of discredited myths that could have come straight out of decades-old war on drugs propaganda films.
According to Fleming, if you smoke marijuana, you will get addicted and/or die. And even if you don’t smoke marijuana, you might end up dead at the hands of a stoner, because pot is the source of "broken families, broken lives, and broken bodies” across America.And that’s not even the craziest thing he said.In addition to rehashing dozens of disproven statistics and claims about the harms of smoking pot, Fleming also informed his conservative, pro–small government audience that marijuana prohibition doesn’t actually put people arrested for using the drug in jail.“What a myth, folks!” he remarked, adding that “a number of experts” have told him personally that “this myth derives from the fact that when marijuana users are arrested for more serious crimes, marijuana possession may be an added charge.”According to Fleming, a former “Louisiana Family Practice Physician of the Year,” the 600,000+ people arrested annually for weed possession must’ve been shoplifting, raping, or committing some other awful crime. This makes perfect sense to him because “spouse abuse, child abuse, motor vehicle accidents, suicides, mental illness, and failed marriages” are just a few of the “social ills” he linked to “our good friend marijuana,” in addition to permanent brain damage, addiction, schizophrenia, and at least one murder.Since in Fleming's world pot can kill you or worse, naturally marijuana policy reform would actually cost more money than it saves.
“Now my libertarian friends argue taxpayers and society in general should not make or enforce laws that dictate to them how they should behave or what they should do with their lives when it comes to drugs,” he said. “My answer is it is the same taxpayers who will be required to take care of you and your family once drugs have lead to your broken families, broken lives, and broken bodies. If you truly want a smaller government, then you will oppose the legalization of marijuana."Otherwise, we should be ready for an “an increasing entitlement state.”Holy shit, you might think. What kind of pot are the kids smoking these days? Well, according to Fleming, the kind that is three times more potent than the stuff old heads might’ve toked in the 60s (a myth) and “contains tar” four times more potent than tobacco. No wonder “one in six” teen smokers are addicted to pot (actually, they’re not).All of this is, of course, as bogus as it is old news: Study after study has debunked the idea that teen marijuana users are doomed to cancer or addiction, and found instead that marijuana is pretty harmless, though it could have some negative impact on brain development. Even new propagandistic threats about marijuana legalization—like an alleged increase in fatalities caused by marijuana DUIs after recreational weed was legalized in Colorado—can be quickly proven to be bullshit. And we know that in some medical situations, weed can even be pretty helpful.
Fleming, however, believes that allowing even medical access to marijuana will only make the growing "marijuana addiction" crisis worse.“Somehow, without any real science,” he said, the fact that marijuana could reduce nausea among cancer patients “morphed into the idea that marijuana is actually a safe natural treatment for many illnesses and is otherwise harmless and nonaddictive.”The Marijuana Policy Project’s Karen O’Keefe pointed to dozens of studies—full of real science—that detail the potential medical benefits of marijuana, and contested Fleming’s suggestion that legalizing medicinal or recreational access will wreak havoc on society as we know it."Nineteen states—including Mississippi, Nebraska, and North Carolina—have legalized or decriminalized marijuana," O'Keefe told me. "Taking a more humane approach to marijuana users hasn’t caused the sky to fall in any of these states, despite Congressman Fleming’s doom-and-gloom perspective."To that, Fleming might respond that in some towns in California and Colorado, “there are more pot dispensaries than Starbucks coffee shops.” Can you even imagine such a hellscape?Thankfully, outside of a few drug-war dinosaurs, no one is likely to believe the congressman's hyperbole and fearmongering."His positions and pronouncements are both out of touch with available science as well as public opinion,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told me. “If prohibition worked, then we wouldn’t be having this public discussion today and the majority of Americans wouldn’t be voicing their support for regulatory alternatives.”Or, as O'Keefe put it, "Thankfully, the public increasingly realizes that there is nothing moral about criminalizing their neighbors for making their own decisions to use a substance that is safer than alcohol."Follow Kristen Gwynne on Twitter.