But most of Berenson’s assertions are unsupported by science. For example, a recent study showed a decrease in domestic violence among cannabis-using couples. This doesn’t prove that cannabis reduces violence, but it certainly suggests that any relationship between cannabis and violence is complicated and influenced by a host of factors. Berenson conveniently dismisses studies like this that are in conflict with his narrative.
Reaction to the book has been swift. Dr Ziva Cooper, a co-author of the 2017 National Academy of Medicine report on cannabis upon which Berenson relies, tweeted: “[W]e did NOT conclude that cannabis causes schizophrenia.” RAND Drug Policy Research Center co-director Dr Beau Kilmer was unequivocal in a recent tweet about RAND’s interpretation of the literature from 2001 to 2011: “Marijuana use does not induce violent crime.”
Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Tell Your Children has nothing to do with cannabis. Berenson’s insidious association of psychosis with violence unfairly stereotypes people living with psychosis, very few of whom are ever violent, evoking the bias that has long plagued this vulnerable population.
Lest we be misunderstood, we’re not claiming cannabis use is risk-free, but we believe the book is a distraction from a serious discussion of the other risks of cannabis use. Studies show that you shouldn’t drive a car while under the influence, that underage recreational use is harmful, and that some people use cannabis problematically. However, cannabis use causes no lasting harm to most healthy, non-pregnant adults.
Berenson discusses cannabis as if it were uniquely dangerous. Many foods, drugs, and activities like motorcycle riding carry a risk of injury or death to people who indulge in them. As Alcohol Prohibition taught us, the government must not lightly wield the blunt instrument of criminal justice to stop consenting adults from engaging in risky behaviors.
Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders is an honorary board member of Doctors for Cannabis Regulation (DFCR.org), which is the first and only national physicians’ association dedicated to the legalization and effective regulation of cannabis in the United States. Dr David L. Nathan and Dr Bryon Adinoff are board members of DFCR. From 2016-2018, DFCR received 11% of its income from the cannabis industry.
The authors report no conflicts of interest concerning the subject matter of this article.