Cannabis leaf on grunge background, shallow DOF.You know that old argument about legalizing cannabis because it’s no worse for your health than alcohol or tobacco? That’s actually a better rationale for prohibiting booze and cigarettes than it is for legalization of pot.

Not that anybody seriously thinks we should return to Prohibition. Been there, done that, have the t-shirt. But what makes us think that legalization will put an end to all our worries about cannabis?

You certainly can’t use alcohol and cigarettes as proof of that.

Alcohol and tobacco are far and away our biggest killers. In part, that’s because they’re unusually toxic. But it’s also because so many people use them. A typical American kid may have his or her first alcoholic drink at age 12, also about when he or she smokes a first cigarette. So much for age restrictions, huh?

Sometimes I’ll ask audience members to hold up their hands if they waited until they were legally of age to drink or smoke. Not many hands go up. If the audience is small, maybe one or two. If the audience is large, still maybe one or two.

Now we’re all taught about the laws against underage use, and yet we all went right ahead and broke them. Heck, not just broke, but threw them on the ground and stomped on them.

So how surprised can parents be when their offspring do exactly the same thing?

For kids, drinking and smoking is seen as an entrance requirement for adulthood. If you managed to turn 18 without at least some experimentation, people will assume there’s something wrong with you. You’re a religious cultist, or maybe just a weirdo. It’s more rare than remaining a virgin ’til marriage, and that’s not exactly common, either.

Despite our extensive experience with ‘successfully managing’ alcohol and tobacco, we still lose about 100,000 people a year to alcohol-related deaths, and incredibly, about a thousand a day to tobacco-related illnesses. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, America. No, better not.

Looked at that way, our grand experiment with legal alcohol and tobacco could be considered a massive failure. Like Prohibition, except a lot worse. The reality is, we don’t actually have a solution to the problem of substance use. No matter what laws we pass.

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