- - Friday, January 17, 2014

Columnist Emily Miller’s allegation that marijuana is “similar to heroin or cocaine” is patently false (“Obama’s cultural legacy is legal marijuana blowing through America,” Commentary, Jan. 9). Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that significantly influences the brain’s release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a compound which regulates pleasure and craving. Heroin is a central nervous system depressant, which acts primarily upon the brain’s opioid receptors. Alcohol also acts on this same receptor system. That is why the consumption of either heroin or alcohol may cause respiratory failure, coma and even death.

In fact, alcohol possesses a ratio of fatal dose to effective dose of 10-to-1. That means that 10 times the effective dose of alcohol is estimated to cause lethal overdose in 50 percent of the population that consumes it at such a dose. For heroin, this ratio is 5-to-1.

The only way in which marijuana and heroin are similar is that federal law improperly classifies both as Schedule I substances possessing equal levels of harm.

By contrast, the biologically active compounds in marijuana — known as cannabinoids — are acknowledged by experts such as the World Health Organization to be relatively nontoxic and incapable of causing lethal overdose. Cannabinoids act on endogenous cannabinoid receptors, which regulate the body’s maintenance of homeostasis (internal equilibrium), affecting our appetite, our response to pain, our mood, and our immune response, among other vital functions.

Criminalizing marijuana is a disproportionate response to what, at worst, is a health issue, not a criminal justice issue.

PAUL ARMENTANO

Deputy director

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

Washington