Pubdate: Mon, 29 Apr 2002
Source: Harvard Crimson (MA Edu)
Copyright: 2002, The Harvard Crimson, Inc.
Author: Thomas J. Scaramellino
Note: The writer is president of The Harvard Coalition for Drug Policy Reform.


To the editors:

Kevin Sabet's recent letter ("Staff Position on Pot Ignores Growing Cost," 
April 17) criticizing decriminalization of marijuana is typical of drug 
warriors who are willing to manipulate the facts in order to perpetuate a 
self-interested political agenda.

Sabet's claim that drug use has gone down in the past 20 years is based on 
a government survey that asks people to admit to illegal activity. Perhaps 
a more accurate measure of the effect of drug use on this country is the 
number of overdose deaths and emergency room visits, which the government's 
own Department of Health and Human Services reports has escalated since the 
early 1980s and is currently at a record high. The same is true for Sabet's 
ridiculous claim that the Dutch saw an exorbitant rise in marijuana use 
after decriminalization. The conclusion is drawn from a survey, and of 
course teens will be more willing to admit to an act once its legal.

Rates of marijuana use are lower in the Netherlands than they are in the 
U.S. This is especially true for younger teens, where 7.2 percent of Dutch 
children age 12-15 have tried marijuana compared to 13.5 percent of U.S. 
children the same age.

The prevalence of marijuana use among teenagers and hard drug use overall 
in our country is largely a product of prohibition and not the drugs 
themselves. High school students have easier access to marijuana than 
alcohol because there is a black market for marijuana that targets kids. 
Why doesn't the federal government-as the original Crimson editorial 
suggested-regulate marijuana like alcohol so kids don't have such easy 
access to it?

Sabet downplays the damage that marijuana prohibition causes to society. In 
the U.S. last year, approximately 734,000 people were arrested for 
marijuana offenses. That is 734,000 people who dealt with the humiliation, 
anguish and monetary damage that entails being handcuffed, fingerprinted, 
forced to appear before a judge, making bail and serving probation. Would 
we tolerate this treatment for the use of alcohol or cigarettes?

Is it such a stretch of the imagination to conceive of drug warriors- like 
Sabet, McCaffrey and many politicians on Capitol Hill- as playing into the 
hands of the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries which benefit from 
cannabis prohibition? The public has been manipulated far too long for the 
benefit of corporate America. It's time we put this government back in the 
hands of the people.

Thomas J. Scaramellino '05

April 23, 2002
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