DEA administrator claims that marijuana legalization imperils dogs

April 4, 2014

It’s hard to come up with a new angle on a much-debated policy issue like the War on Drugs. But Drug Enforcement Administration head Michele Leonhart may have succeeded with her recent claim that we should oppose marijuana legalization because it poses a health risk for dogs. Unfortunately, her argument ignores the reality that the War on Drugs poses a far greater threat to dogs than marijuana does.

It is indeed true that ingesting marijuana creates some small risks for dogs. As Jacob Sullum notes, marijuana itself is not dangerous to canines; but ingesting it can sometimes lead them to be slower in vomiting up other dangerous foods in which it has been infused, such as chocolate (which is poisonous for dogs, when ingested in large quantities). However, he also notes that the risk is miniscule. Since Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2000, a study by veterinarian Tim Hackett a total of two dogs have died in the state from causes related to marijuana consumption. Dog owners can reduce the already minor risk still further simply by storing marijuana, chocolate, and other such substances somewhere where the dog can’t reach them.

Meanwhile, every year hundreds or thousands of dogs are needlessly slaughtered in overaggressive police raids undertaken as part of the War on Drugs. Jacob Sullum’s critique of Leonhart’s argument includes links to descriptions of numerous reprehensible incidents of this type. Whether you focus on dogs or on humans, the War on Drugs destroys vastly more lives than it saves.

Ilya Somin is Professor of Law at George Mason University. His research focuses on constitutional law, property law, and popular political participation. He is the author of "The Grasping Hand: Kelo v. City of New London and the Limits of Eminent Domain" (forthcoming) and "Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter."
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