Opponents to cannabis legalization like Marco Rubio often plead for us to think of the children who might be endangered by the supposed evils of marijuana - the "devil weed with roots in hell," according to a famous propaganda film from the 1930s.
But a member of America's biggest organized opposition to legalization once urged us to think of the dangers cannabis poses to rabbits. Seriously. A DEA agent once urged Utah not to expand the state's medical marijuana program in fear that there could be a rise in pot-addled bunnies.
On Feb. 26, 2015, the Utah Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony on Senate Bill 259, which would have expanded the state's CBD-only medical marijuana program and allowed patients to access marijuana flower and edibles.
Speaking against the bill was DEA Special Agent Matt Fairbanks, who discussed the many environmental hazards caused by marijuana. Fairbanks was certainly right that the cultivation of cannabis produces many environmental concerns that activists and advocates need to address. As part of the DEA's cannabis eradication program in Utah, Fairbanks had devoted many hours working in the state's wilderness, so his comments on the environmental impacts of cannabis seemed legit when he talked about the harms of unregulated pesticide use, deforestation, erosion and contaminated water.
But then he went off about rabbits:
"The deforestation has left marijuana grows with even rabbits that had cultivated a taste for the marijuana where one of them refused to leave us. And we took all the marijuana around him, but his natural instincts to run were somehow gone."
So does marijuana lead to addiction and risky behavior in bunnies? Not necessarily. In fact, the instincts of the rabbit Fairbanks encountered may have been functioning normally. As Abby Haglage of The Daily Beast noted, animals like rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks commonly freeze when they fear that a predator is nearby. So the rabbit in question was probably high on adrenaline, not cannabis.
Moreover, Fairbanks doesn't clarify whether or not he actually witnessed the rabbit chewing cannabis, so its alleged dependence and reckless behavior on the drug are likely based on circumstantial evidence.
However, we do know that the DEA has no documented evidence to suggest that rabbits are prone to cannabis addiction. On Mar. 4, 2015, Beryl Lipton, a member of MuckRock - a website dedicated to keeping the government accountable - says she filed a request the DEA's intel on rabbits under the Freedom of Information Act. She asked for:
"[a]ny and all reports, memos, notes, communications, or other materials related to the relationship between rabbits and marijuana, the effects of marijuana on rabbits, and the effects of marijuana legalization on rabbits or other animal populations."
Just last week, she received a letter from the DEA saying "After reviewing your request, no responsive records were located."
In other words, there is no link between rabbits and cannabis consumption. In a follow-up interview, Fairbanks told The Daily Beast that his observation about the rabbits was merely an "aside," and he wished people would pay more attention to his broader concerns about the impact of cannabis cultivation on the environment.
So that rabbit wasn't consuming cannabis after all? Perhaps, but we know of at least one rabbit that is clearly under the influence: