As North Dakota entertains the idea of legalizing marijuana, I wondered how dangerous that Schedule 1 drug might be compared to the legal drugs sold by Budweiser, Pfizer, Philip Morris and the like.

According to the National Council on Alcoholism, 2.5 million people worldwide die each year due to alcohol, whether directly or indirectly. And in the United States alone, the number is between 80,000 and 100,000 people who perish due to excess drinking.

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Some 438,000 people die in the United States from smoking with another 41,000 deaths from secondhand smoke, according to the American Lung Association. And from what I could find, it looks like around 100,000 people die each year here in America from physician-prescribed drugs, whether by prescription or abuse.

So, how does marijuana compare? What I found is that it’s impossible to overdose on marijuana, as no one has done so yet in the history of record keeping. According to research recently done at the medical research center of the University of California at Los Angeles, smoking marijuana does not even increase the risk of lung cancer.

“We know that there are as many, if not more, carcinogens and co-carcinogens in marijuana smoke as in cigarettes,” researcher Dr. Donald Tashkin of UCLA’s Geffen School of Medicine told WebMD.

“But we did not find any evidence for an increase in cancer risk for even heavy marijuana smoking.” Even heavy, long-term marijuana users who had smoked more than 22,000 joints over a lifetime seemed to have no greater risk than infrequent marijuana users or nonusers. Interesting.

Cory Christofferson

Hamar, N.D.