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The gateway drug theory is that the use of marijuana leads to harder drugs like heroin. It is often used as an argument against decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana.
While even NORML (a non-profit organization promoting the legalization of Marijuana) agrees that excessive marijuana use is unhealthy, there is debate as to whether infrequent use is innocuous.
Decriminalizing marijuana means reducing criminal charges associated with the possession of marijuana, and for smaller offenses, replacing criminal charges with fines. Decriminalization is not equivalent to legalization.
Marijuana (or cannabis) refers to either the plant or byproduct of the plant containing the psychoactive compound THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that is illegal in most countries. The arguments for its illegality are based on its negative health effects and associated social costs. The arguments for its legality are typically based on respecting individual liberty, being scientific about the health risks, and the cost, failure, and injustices of enforcement.
Andrew Morral
We've shown that the marijuana gateway effect is not the best explanation for the link between marijuana use and the use of harder drugs. An alternative, simpler and more compelling explanation accounts for the pattern of drug use you see in this country, without resort to any gateway effects. While the gateway theory has enjoyed popular acceptance, scientists have always had their doubts. Our study shows that these doubts are justified.
The Catholic Church
...the Holy See does not agree with the proposal to legalize the circulation and distribution of drugs, not even so-called light drugs. We must not fail to take into account the risk of moving from the use of light drugs to the use of those with more destructive effects. The State should not assist its more vulnerable citizens to alienate themselves from society and ruin their lives.
Drug Enforcement Administration
Marijuana is a gateway drug. In drug law enforcement, rarely do we meet heroin or cocaine addicts who did not start their drug use with marijuana. Scientific studies bear out our anecdotal findings. For example, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported, based on a study of 300 sets of twins, that marijuana-using twins were four times more likely than their siblings to use cocaine and crack cocaine, and five times more likely to use hallucinogens such as LSD.
In the United States, the claim that marijuana acts as a gateway to the use of other drugs serves mainly as a rhetorical tool for frightening Americans into believing that winning the war against heroin and cocaine requires waging a battle against the casual use of marijuana. Not only is the claim intellectually indefensible, but the battle is wasteful of resources and fated to failure.
John McCain
I believe that marijuana is a gateway drug. That is my view and that's the view of the federal drug czar and other experts, although that is also a debatable question.
Drug Policy Alliance
Marijuana does not cause people to use hard drugs. What the gateway theory presents as a causal explanation is a statistic association between common and uncommon drugs, an association that changes over time as different drugs increase and decrease in prevalence. ... Indeed, for the large majority of people, marijuana is a terminus rather than a gateway drug.
Eliezer Yudkowsky
It is a non-so-hidden agenda of this site, Less Wrong, that there are many causes which benefit from the spread of rationality - because it takes a little more rationality than usual to see their case, as a supporter, or even just a supportive bystander. Not just the obvious causes like atheism, but things like marijuana legalization - where you could wish that people were a bit more self-aware about their motives and the nature of signaling, and a bit more moved by inconvenient cold facts.
Ron Paul
Drugs are very dangerous but there's a lot of things that are very dangerous. The question is, should we regulate danger? Should we take responsibility for ourselves or should the government take care of us? I don't believe in the nanny state.
Carl Sagan
I hope [legalization of marijuana] isn't too distant; the illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.

New Comments

1 Point       Nashhinton       19 Nov 2011     Should marijuana be legal? Agree
Marijuana should be legal due to several reasons. First legalizing marijuana allows more freedom for people to participate in activities that provide escapism and pleasure. Secondly, legalizing marijuana will reduce the crime rate and abolish the drug wars. Thirdly, legalizing marijuana will allow the prison population to decrease, thus allowing the country to increase its revenue because of its decreased expenditures on its prison population.

1 Point       Australian       19 Oct 2011     Should marijuana be legal? Neutral
I sometimes think that the majority of humans born into a western society are emotionally invested in making fellow human beings suffer, in other words, these people won't feel like they have accomplished anything unless they've made someone cry at the end of the day.

Some people have the nerve to say that alcohol and tobacco should be illegal along with marijuana and all the other God designed natural drugs which give our lives the slightest joy during the hectic haze of everyday life. People, wake up, we are not robot workers, we are human beings but our society, government, culture and education has raised us all to believe we are mindless consumers, as if we are some sort of livestock.

0 Points       Benja       25 Apr 2011     Is marijuana a gateway drug? General Comment
Ah, yes. "Would you like crack with that?" or "I don't have any weed on me right now. But would you like some crack?". Or even sometimes throwing in some crack for free just to get you hooked.

1 Point       mike34ism       24 Apr 2011     Is marijuana a gateway drug? Neutral
Marijuana is a sort of gateway in that it's being illegal forces people who want to use it to consort with drug dealers and people who they wouldn't otherwise associate with if not for the legality of marijuana. This association with certain criminal elements is the gateway, rather than marijuana itself being the gateway.

My stance covers agreement and disagreement to extents, so I'll say I'm neutral. I believe that if marijuana were legal, I would be in complete disagreement that it is a gateway drug.

0 Points       Benja       24 Apr 2011     Is marijuana a gateway drug? General Comment
People - especially fucked up people - easily make the jump straight from alcohol to crack. No "ticket" required.

0 Points       pineconedegg       25 Mar 2011     Is marijuana a gateway drug? Disagree
Marijuana is no more of a gateway drug than coffee.

1 Point       NonSmoker       01 Mar 2011     Should marijuana be decriminalized? Agree
Yes, but why not make money off of it? Even if it's true that marijuana is a gateway drug (which it's not), then decriminalizing it only speeds up the process without any benefits. Legalizing it would speed up the process but at the same time, make billions of dollars. This would be harsh of me to say if in fact marijuana was a gateway drug. But it's not. So legalize it.

0 Points       blacktrance       10 Feb 2011     Should marijuana be decriminalized? Agree
Yes, but it'd be even better to legalize it.

0 Points       blacktrance       10 Feb 2011     Should marijuana be legal? Agree
Yes. People should have the right to do whatever they want with their own bodies. Personally, I oppose use, but I do not want to use the force of government to enforce this kind of preference on other people.

0 Points       Benja       12 May 2010     Is marijuana a gateway drug? General Comment
If you try something and like it, our basic animal instinct is to want to try other things similar to it. Humans however, can use education to override that instinct. If you like marijuana, it's natural to be curious about other drugs, but it's also natural to use reason to determine whether it's a good idea to try out a particular drug. When people talk about a "gateway drug", they're assuming a person is a slave to their animal instincts, who is incapable of using reason to decide for themselves whether to act upon them. They also assume that a gateway drug is a bad thing. Many people might not have had mushrooms had they not first tried marijuana but many of those people think that's a good thing.

0 Points       the27th       09 May 2010     Should marijuana be legal? Agree
Current law is insane.

1 Point       Chance       10 Apr 2010     Should marijuana be legal? Agree
Rather than repeat the already stated reasons for legalization, I think I have a different angle.:

For my entire life I have lived in an area of heavy marijuana use. It is generally accepted as socially acceptable, and is rarely a matter of interest among police. This very same area has never in my memory had an issue with harder, more dangerous drugs such as cocaine or heroin.

Likewise, in the larger city roughly 50 kilometers away, the police have spent the last 20 years in a strict crackdown on marijuana, and have been successful to the point where the city seems almost entirely free from both users and dealers. However, the void left by the absence of majiuana has been filled by much more alarming and addictive substances.

As such, I believe from my own observations that the crackdown on majiuna use and it's criminalization is a bad thing because, among other reasons, it serves as a alternative to more addictive and deadly substances.

New Editorial Comments

0 Points       Benja       26 Sep 2008     Does marijuana get more dangerous with its potency? Editorial Comment
Dr. Dale Gieringer's assertion that marijuana users self-regulate is interesting. On the one hand, his point needs empirical research to back it up. On the other hand, it's a moot point - if pure THC itself does any harm then it obviously does more harm if there's more of it - but to use Barack Obama's words: "I inhaled frequently - that was kinda the point".

0 Points       Benja       26 Sep 2008     Can modest marijuana use cause depression? Editorial Comment
This is a good example of taxpayer money used to misinform the public with one side of the story. I'm by no means suggesting that marijuana use does not cause depression. I'm merely saying that the science is NOT settled, when we have scientists publishing the opposite view to the government in peer reviewed journals.

There's obvious a related question here: clearly the US government agencies responsible for drug control need to constantly justify their position - to not do so would be to not justify their existence. They're in the same position as an employee explaining to their boss why they shouldn't be made redundant. That is not to say that the employee isn't useful or even great - it's merely saying it's highly unlikely he/she will have an unbiased opinion.

0 Points       Benja       09 Sep 2008     Should marijuana be legal? Editorial Comment
Should also have questions here regarding:

Is marijuana a gateway drug?
Is moderate marijuana use dangerous to health?
- does it effect memory / intelligence long term?
- does it cause cancer - i.e. the active ingredient THC

Regarding health, there is this potency argument that assumes marijuana is more dangerous if it's more potent... But if the real danger is cancer from smoking, then more potent marijuana potentially allows the same high to be delivered without requiring the inhalation of so many carcinogens.

A question on medical marijuana too...

Marijuana Question Index

Should marijuana be legal?
Is marijuana a gateway drug?
Can modest marijuana use cause depression?
Does marijuana get more dangerous with its potency?
Should marijuana be decriminalized?
Is modest marijuana use detrimental to your health?