Pubdate: Thu, 20 Dec 2001
Source: Union, The (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Nevada County Publishing, Inc.
Author: Robert Sharpe
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


Hank Starr offered excellent advice in his Dec. 15 column on youth drug 
use. The importance of parental involvement in reducing adolescent drug use 
cannot be overstated. Starr is also right about supervised recreation. 
Extracurricular activities have been shown to reduce drug use. They keep 
kids busy during the hours they are most prone to getting into trouble. 
However, Starr is mistaken if he thinks zero tolerance drug laws are a good 
thing. Attempts to limit the supply of illegal drugs while demand remains 
constant only increases the profitability of drug trafficking. The obscene 
profits to be made guarantee replacement dealers. In terms of addictive 
drugs like meth, a rise in street prices leads desperate addicts to 
increase criminal activity to feed desperate habits. The drug war doesn't 
fight crime, it fuels crime. Taxing and regulating marijuana, the most 
popular illicit drug, is a cost-effective alternative to the $50 billion 
drug war. There is a big difference between condoning marijuana use and 
protecting children from drugs. Decriminalization acknowledges the social 
reality of marijuana use and frees users from the stigma of life-shattering 
criminal records. What's needed is a regulated market with enforceable age 
controls. Right now, kids have an easier time buying pot than beer.

More disturbing is the manner in which marijuana's black market status 
exposes users to sellers of hard drugs. Marijuana may be relatively 
harmless compared to legal alcohol - the plant has never been shown to 
cause an overdose death - but marijuana prohibition is deadly. As long as 
marijuana distribution remains in the hands of organized crime, consumers 
will come into contact with hard drugs. In Europe, the Netherlands has 
successfully reduced overall drug use by replacing marijuana prohibition 
with regulation. Dutch rates of drug use are significantly lower than U.S. 
rates in every category. Separating the hard- and soft-drug markets and 
establishing enforceable age controls for marijuana has proven more 
effective than zero tolerance. Drug policy reform may send the wrong 
message to children, but I like to think the children themselves are more 
important than the message.

Robert Sharpe, Program Officer

Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation

Washington, D.C.
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