"For Michele Leonhart, the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, there is no difference between the health effects of marijuana and those of any other illegal drug. 'All illegal drugs are bad for people,' she told Congress in 2012, refusing to say whether crack, methamphetamines or prescription painkillers are more addictive or physically harmful than marijuana.
"Her testimony neatly illustrates the vast gap between antiquated federal law enforcement policies and the clear consensus of science that marijuana is far less harmful to human health than most other banned drugs and is less dangerous than the highly addictive but perfectly legal substances known as alcohol and tobacco. Marijuana cannot lead to a fatal overdose. There is little evidence that it causes cancer. Its addictive properties, while present, are low, and the myth that it leads users to more powerful drugs has long since been disproved.
"That doesn’t mean marijuana is harmless; in fact, the potency of current strains may shock those who haven’t tried it for decades, particularly when ingested as food. It can produce a serious dependency, and constant use would interfere with job and school performance. It needs to be kept out of the hands of minors. But, on balance, its downsides are not reasons to impose criminal penalties on its possession, particularly not in a society that permits nicotine use and celebrates drinking."
The New York Times, "What Science Says About Marijuana," by Philip M. Boffey, July 30, 2014.