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British Medical Journal Publishes Junk Science Editorial

Drug Policy Alliance, 8th May 2003

An editorial in the May 3rd edition of the British Medical Journal repeats numerous thoroughly debunked reefer madness claims and makes the novel claim that marijuana may cause 30,000 deaths a year in the United Kingdom. The editorial was written by and based on the research of John Henry, professor at the Imperial College School of Medicine in London. The main problem with the research in question is that it’s based on the known risks of cigarette smoking and assumes that marijuana causes as much harm. Prof. Henry’s simplistic analysis uses the number of deaths caused by tobacco to extrapolate the number of deaths marijuana would cause - if it posed the same health risks as tobacco.

Marijuana does not share the addictive properties of tobacco, meaning marijuana consumers do not smoke upwards of twenty joints a day. Unlike daily (or hourly) tobacco smokers, most marijuana smokers use the drug infrequently and during a limited time period. According to the U.S. government National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, marijuana use among Americans typically peaks between the ages of 18 - 20 and declines steadily with increasing age. The British Medical Journal editorial contradicts its own arguments when it warns about increased marijuana potency. Both weak and strong marijuana will yield the desired result, only the potent marijuana requires significantly less smoke inhalation. It’s actually less harmful.

The British Medical Journal has been published a great deal of methodologically suspect research on marijuana’s relative harms ever since British Home Secretary David Blunkett first proposed cannabis reclassification. Critics contend that it’s already widely acknowledged that marijuana can be harmful if abused; future research should focus on the effectiveness of criminal records as health interventions. Punitive marijuana laws have failed as deterrents. British rates of marijuana use are significantly higher than the many European countries that have already decriminalized marijuana. Despite zero tolerance, lifetime use of marijuana is higher in the United States than any European country.

The results of a comparative study of European and U.S. rates of drug use can be found at:


Relevant findings of the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse can be found at:


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