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 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 5:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 6:21 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 4:48 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT