Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Even Lady Gaga knows pot is not harmless

By William J. Bennett
updated 2:18 PM EST, Thu January 16, 2014
Customers wait in a long line for their turn to buy recreational marijuana outside the LoDo Wellness Center on Wednesday, January 1, in Denver. Colorado is the first state in the nation to allow retail pot shops. Customers wait in a long line for their turn to buy recreational marijuana outside the LoDo Wellness Center on Wednesday, January 1, in Denver. Colorado is the first state in the nation to allow retail pot shops.
HIDE CAPTION
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
Retail pot shops open in Colorado
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • William Bennett, nation's first "drug czar," believes legal marijuana is bad for society
  • Bennett says Lady Gaga agrees that pot is addictive and not just a harmless plant
  • Bennett: Medical studies find chronic use leads to abnormal brain structure, bad memory
  • Bennett: Colorado and Washington will come to regret decision to legalize pot for adults

Editor's note: William J. Bennett is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) -- President George H.W. Bush appointed me as the nation's first director of national drug control policy -- or "drug czar" -- in 1989. We took on many big fights, the largest of which was the cocaine epidemic spreading from the jungles of Colombia to the streets of the United States. We conducted an all-out assault on drugs through tough enforcement measures and public education. Contrary to "war on drugs" critics, drug use and addiction dropped across the country.

The issue of marijuana legalization was far less prominent than it is today, although even then, some argued that we should experiment with legalization. I told them not on my watch; the cost to society would be too great.

If you don't want to take my word that it can be harmful, perhaps you'll take Lady Gaga's.

In a recent interview, the world-famous pop star admitted she was heavily addicted to marijuana. "I have been addicted to it and it's ultimately related to anxiety coping and it's a form of self-medication and I was smoking up to 15 or 20 marijuana cigarettes a day with no tobacco," she said. "I was living on a totally other psychedelic plane, numbing myself completely."

William Bennett
William Bennett

Lady Gaga said she was speaking out to bust the myth that marijuana is just a harmless plant. "I just want young kids to know that you actually can become addicted to it, and there's this sentiment that you can't and that's actually not true."

Today a fully functioning experiment in legal marijuana for adults is going on in Colorado and another one is set to begin later this year in Washington. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once remarked that in our democratic Republic, the states are the laboratories of democracy. We are running a few labs now and shall see what happens.

But, as with any public debate, we need to hear all sides. So far, the advocates of marijuana legalization have dominated the public arena. It's certainly had an effect. According to a new CNN poll, a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana. But where are the voices of the wounded? Where is the outrage from the families who have been hurt?

Pot stocks are hot on Wall Street
Mom: Medical marijuana saved my ill son
Does legal marijuana mean more addicts?

We know they are out there. More Americans are admitted to treatment facilities for marijuana use than any other illegal drug.

I've talked to parents all over the country who lost children to drug abuse -- not to marijuana alone; though in many cases it was a gateway drug or part of their deadly drug concoction. People have been deeply hurt by drug related accidents or spent thousands of dollars on drug rehabilitation. We need to hear their voices.

During my tenure as drug czar, I traveled to more than 120 communities to see firsthand the impact of illegal drugs. Among those visits was a trip to Boston to take part in drug busts in some of the city's most broken and dangerous neighborhoods. Not once during that visit did a parent or community leader advocate for legalization or loosening drug restrictions. Rather, they wanted the drugs confiscated and drug dealers locked up. They knew the damage drugs had inflicted on their children and communities.

That same evening Harvard University held a discussion on drugs and law enforcement. There I listened to scores of academics argue for legalizing or decriminalizing drugs.

It's hardly an exercise in intellectual rigor for those in the middle- and upper-class who live in areas with little crime and violence to be willing to experiment with drug legalization. They live far removed from the realities of the drug trade. But travel to its core, to the slums and projects run by ruthless drug dealers, and these intellectuals may rethink their position.

It's a myth that marijuana, because it is not as harmful as cocaine, heroin or some other illegal hard drugs, is safe or safe enough to warrant legalization. Opponents contest that marijuana hasn't ravaged communities or that the drug itself isn't to blame.

But that's not true. It's ravaged the community of the young.

Marijuana is the most widely used drug in the country, especially among young people. According to the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, "of the 7.3 million persons aged 12 or older classified with illicit drug dependence or abuse in 2012, 4.3 million persons had marijuana dependence or abuse," making marijuana the drug with the largest number of people with dependence or abuse.

The medical community has warned about the danger.

A recent Northwestern University study found that marijuana users have abnormal brain structure and poor memory and that chronic marijuana abuse may lead to brain changes resembling schizophrenia. The study also reported that the younger the person starts using marijuana, the worse the effects become.

In its own report arguing against marijuana legalization, the American Medical Association said: "Heavy cannabis use in adolescence causes persistent impairments in neurocognitive performance and IQ, and use is associated with increased rates of anxiety, mood and psychotic thought disorders."

The country can ill-afford a costly experiment with drugs. While we are undergoing a national debate over improving health care costs and education performance, legalizing marijuana will undercut those vital missions.

We will wait and see what Colorado's and Washington's experiments hold, but I expect that after several years, we will see marijuana use rise dramatically, even among adolescents. The states will come to regret their decisions.

As the late, great political scientist James Q. Wilson remarked, "The central problem with legalizing drugs is that it will increase drug consumption" -- and all its inherent harm.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William Bennett.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT