John Kasich Is Worried About Weed Overdoses

Well, we all knew this was going to come up. On Wednesday, moderators at the third GOP debate asked candidates about the legalization of marijuana, and things got awkward real fast. First of all, the debate took place in Colorado, a state that has become known for its legalized weed. But then Ohio Gov. John Kasich claimed that overdosing on weed is actually a real thing.

When asked about the legalization of marijuana, Kasich responded that he's concerned about the dangers the drug poses to young kids, particularly the risk that they could overdose on the substance. He didn't stay on the topic very long, though, quickly mentioning Ronald Reagan before the debate headed to a commercial break.

Sure, overdosing is a big problem when it comes to illegal substances. But when we talk about overdosing, we're usually talking about stuff like cocaine, heroin, or prescription drugs. You could even include alcohol poisoning, which can be just as dangerous as an illicit drug overdose. But is marijuana overdosing a legitimate concern? It turns out that too much weed has led to some deaths recently, particularly in Colorado, where the substance is legal. Still, it's probably hard to say that marijuana overdoses kill as many people as other drug-related risks.

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When asked by moderators about legalizing marijuana nationwide, Kasich turned the question to drugs in general:

Sending kids mixed signals about drugs is a disaster.

Then he looped in overdoses:

I've spent five years of my administration working with my team to do a whole sort of things to try to reign in overdoses.

Kasich's argument here was basically that legalizing weed sends kids the wrong message. In other words, it shows them that some drugs are OK and others are not, but it doesn't properly highlight the issue of overdosing. That all sounds great, but the thing is that overdosing on marijuana isn't necessarily on the same level as overdosing on other substances.

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In July, a 19-year-old Colorado man died after eating six times the recommended amount of marijuana in a cookie and then jumping from a four-story building. After some investigating, it seemed that deaths from marijuana consumption had become a trend in the state, leading the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) to call for better labeling of recreational marijuana products and the recommended doses of them. While these deaths and the CDC's subsequent recommendations should be given full consideration, they aren't nearly as much of a problem as deaths from other substances, both legal and illegal.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 20,000 people died in the United States from prescription drug overdose in 2013. That same year, approximately 5,000 Americans died from cocaine overdose and approximately 8,000 died from heroin overdose.

If you look at alcohol, a legal substance, the numbers grow significantly. In 2012, the World Health Organization found that 3.3 million deaths were caused by alcohol consumption. To compare, a recent study in Scientific Reports claimed that alcohol is 114 times deadlier than marijuana. In other words, it's not that marijuana overdose can't lead to death. It's just that it is probably the least of our worries when it comes to drugs — both legal and illegal.


Ultimately, Kasich's answer came off as incomplete. If he wanted to talk about drug overdoses in general, then that was a worthy cause. If he wanted to answer the question about whether or not to legalize marijuana, citing overdoses as a legitimate threat might not have been the most effective way to go.