Marijuana as a Gateway Drug: the Causal Fallacy

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Marijuana as a Gateway Drug: The Causal Fallacy

The marijuana plant, perhaps the most widely-used illicit drug in the world, was once demonized by authorities and the media. In the 1936 film Marijuana: Weed with Roots in Hell, director Dwain Esper portrayed teens smoking marijuana and then engaging in perceived evils such as nude bathing and unchaperoned partying, with one girl becoming pregnant. The film went on to further depict the characters becoming addicted to marijuana and committing serious crimes including a police shootout and kidnapping for ransom. These claims are based on the type of faulty casual analysis that has given rise to anti-marijuana myths that have endured over the years, but they are fortunately starting to abate. While the Western world has lightened up, some misconceptions persist, particularly those based on casual fallacy. An example of such a fallacy can be found in the argument that marijuana is a “gateway drug” which causes users to eventually progress to hard drugs, when that’s not actually the case.

The correlation between marijuana and other illegal substances is not in dispute, nor is the chronology in that marijuana use typically precedes other drug use. Studies show that a hard drug users’ first experience with an illicit drug is likely to be marijuana, and that nearly every hard drug user has tried marijuana at least once. Furthermore, studies also show that marijuana users are more likely to try hard drugs than non-users. But correlation and chronology doesn’t imply causation, and it’s causation that is at the crux of the “gateway drug” argument.

The reason marijuana use typically occurs before other illicit drug is because it’s readily available and accessible, especially for youth. Instead of having to venture to a store and provide photo ID as a young teens would with liquor and tobacco, they might be able to buy marijuana without having to leave school property or even their own home. Acquiring it may involve...
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