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Politifact Says “Marijuana Is Less Toxic Than Alcohol” Is Mostly True. Mostly?

The Marijuana Policy Project ran an advertisement that claimed “marijuana is less toxic than alcohol”.  The political watchdog group PolitiFact then took it upon themselves to adjudicate the truthfulness of the claim.  They determined the claim is “mostly true”.

“Mostly”?  How can a claim that purports a mathematical inequality and a medically measurable effect be “mostly true”?  “Three is less than five” is not “mostly true”; it is true.  “Marijuana is less toxic than alcohol” is just plain “true”.

To judge the claim, PolitiFact looked at mortality data from the use of alcohol and marijuana.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were over 41,000 deaths attributed to alcohol in 2010.  Almost 16,000 of those deaths were from alcoholic liver disease and the other 25,000+ did not include accidents and homicides attributable to alcohol.

The CDC’s figures for marijuana?  There aren’t any.  No reports of marijuana listed as a cause of death.

Well, that seems pretty simple then, doesn’t it?  Alcohol can kill you, marijuana cannot, therefore, “marijuana is less toxic than alcohol”.  Ah, not so fast, logical-thinking, common-sense-using reader.  In a masterful turn of Clintonian parsing, the critics of the claim say it all depends on what the meaning of the word “toxic” is.

By Russ Belville
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