Pubdate: Thu, 30 Sep 2004
Source: Anchorage Press (AK)
Section: Feature Article
Copyright: 2004 Anchorage Publishing, Inc.
Author: Ethan A Nadelmann
Note: Ethan A. Nadelmann is the founder and executive director of the Drug 
Policy Alliance. This article first appeared in National Review on July 12.
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Popular)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Nadelmann, Ethan)


The Drive to Legalize Picks Up

Never before have so many Americans supported decriminalizing and even 
legalizing marijuana.

Seventy-two percent say that for simple marijuana possession, people should 
not be incarcerated but fined: the generally accepted definition of 
"decriminalization." Even more Americans support making marijuana legal for 
medical purposes.

Support for broader legalization ranges between 25 and 42 percent, 
depending on how one asks the question.

Two of every five Americans - according to a 2003 Zogby poll - say "the 
government should treat marijuana more or less the same way it treats 
alcohol: It should regulate it, control it, tax it, and only make it 
illegal for children."

Close to 100 million Americans - including more than half of those between 
the ages of 18 and 50 - have tried marijuana at least once. Military and 
police recruiters often have no choice but to ignore past marijuana use by 
job seekers.

The public apparently feels the same way about presidential and other 
political candidates. Al Gore, Bill Bradley and John Kerry all say they 
smoked pot in days past. So did Bill Clinton, with his notorious caveat. 
George W. Bush won't deny he did. And ever more political, business, 
religious, intellectual and other leaders plead guilty as well. The debate 
over ending marijuana prohibition simmers just below the surface of 
mainstream politics, crossing ideological and partisan boundaries. 
Marijuana is no longer the symbol of Sixties rebellion and Seventies 
permissiveness, and it's not just liberals and libertarians who say it 
should be legal, as William F. Buckley Jr. has demonstrated better than anyone.

As director of the country's leading drug-policy-reform organization, I've 
had countless conversations with police and prosecutors, judges and 
politicians, and hundreds of others who quietly agree that the 
criminalization of marijuana is costly, foolish and destructive. What's 
most needed now is principled conservative leadership. Buckley has led the 
way, and New Mexico's former governor, Gary Johnson, spoke out courageously 
while in office.

How about others?

Marijuana prohibition is unique among American criminal laws. No other law 
is both enforced so widely and harshly and yet deemed unnecessary by such a 
substantial portion of the populace.

Police make about 700,000 arrests per year for marijuana offenses.

That's almost the same number as are arrested each year for cocaine, 
heroin, methamphetamine, Ecstasy, and all other illicit drugs combined.

Roughly 600,000, or 87 percent, of marijuana arrests are for nothing more 
than possession of small amounts.

Millions of Americans have never been arrested or convicted of any criminal 
offense except this. Enforcing marijuana laws costs an estimated $10-15 
billion in direct costs alone.

Punishments range widely across the country, from modest fines to a few 
days in jail to many years in prison.

Prosecutors often contend that no one goes to prison for simple possession 
- - but tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of people on probation and 
parole are locked up each year because their urine tested positive for 
marijuana or because they were picked up in possession of a joint.

Alabama currently locks up people convicted three times of marijuana 
possession for 15 years to life. There are probably - no firm estimates - 
100,000 Americans behind bars tonight for one marijuana offense or another.

And even for those who don't lose their freedom, simply being arrested can 
be traumatic and costly.

A parent's marijuana use can be the basis for taking away her children and 
putting them in foster care.

Foreign-born residents of the U.S. can be deported for a marijuana offense 
no matter how long they have lived in this country, no matter if their 
children are U.S. citizens, and no matter how long they have been legally 
employed. More than half the states revoke or suspend driver's licenses of 
people arrested for marijuana possession even though they were not driving 
at the time of arrest.

The federal Higher Education Act prohibits student loans to young people 
convicted of any drug offense; all other criminal offenders remain eligible.

This is clearly an overreaction on the part of government. No drug is 
perfectly safe, and every psychoactive drug can be used in ways that are 
problematic. The federal government has spent billions of dollars on 
advertisements and anti-drug programs that preach the dangers of marijuana 
- - that it's a gateway drug, and addictive in its own right, and 
dramatically more potent than it used to be, and responsible for all sorts 
of physical and social diseases as well as international terrorism.

But the government has yet to repudiate the 1988 finding of the Drug 
Enforcement Administration's own administrative law judge, Francis Young, 
who concluded after extensive testimony that "marijuana in its natural form 
is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man."

Is marijuana a gateway drug? Yes, insofar as most Americans try marijuana 
before they try other illicit drugs.

But no, insofar as the vast majority of Americans who have tried marijuana 
have never gone on to try other illegal drugs, much less get in trouble 
with them, and most have never even gone on to become regular or problem 
marijuana users.

Trying to reduce heroin addiction by preventing marijuana use, it's been 
said, is like trying to reduce motorcycle fatalities by cracking down on 
bicycle riding. If marijuana did not exist, there's little reason to 
believe that there would be less drug abuse in the U.S.; indeed, its role 
would most likely be filled by a more dangerous substance.

Is marijuana dramatically more potent today?

There's certainly a greater variety of high-quality marijuana available 
today than 30 years ago. But anyone who smoked marijuana in the 1970s and 
1980s can recall smoking pot that was just as strong as anything available 

What's more, one needs to take only a few puffs of higher-potency pot to 
get the desired effect, so there's less wear and tear on the lungs.

Is marijuana addictive?

Yes, it can be, in that some people use it to excess, in ways that are 
problematic for themselves and those around them, and find it hard to stop. 
But marijuana may well be the least addictive and least damaging of all 
commonly used psychoactive drugs, including many that are now legal.

Most people who smoke marijuana never become dependent. Withdrawal symptoms 
pale compared with those from other drugs.

No one has ever died from a marijuana overdose, which cannot be said of 
most other drugs. Marijuana is not associated with violent behavior and 
only minimally with reckless sexual behavior.

And even heavy marijuana smokers smoke only a fraction of what cigarette 
addicts smoke.

Lung cancers involving only marijuana are rare.

The government's most recent claim is that marijuana abuse accounts for 
more people entering treatment than any other illegal drug. That shouldn't 
be surprising, given that tens of millions of Americans smoke marijuana 
while only a few million use all other illicit drugs.

But the claim is spurious nonetheless. Few Americans who enter "treatment" 
for marijuana are addicted. Fewer than one in five people entering drug 
treatment for marijuana do so voluntarily. More than half were referred by 
the criminal-justice system.

They go because they got caught with a joint or failed a drug test at 
school or work (typically for having smoked marijuana days ago, not for 
being impaired), or because they were caught by a law-enforcement officer - 
and attending a marijuana "treatment" program is what's required to avoid 
expulsion, dismissal, or incarceration. Many traditional drug-treatment 
programs shamelessly participate in this charade to preserve a profitable 
and captive client stream.

Even those who recoil at the "nanny state" telling adults what they can or 
cannot sell to one another often make an exception when it comes to 
marijuana - to "protect the kids." This is a bad joke, as any teenager will 
attest. The criminalization of marijuana for adults has not prevented young 
people from having better access to marijuana than anyone else. Even as 
marijuana's popularity has waxed and waned since the 1970s, one statistic 
has remained constant: More than 80 percent of high-school students report 
it's easy to get. Meanwhile, the government's exaggerations and outright 
dishonesty easily backfire.

For every teen who refrains from trying marijuana because it's illegal (for 
adults), another is tempted by its status as "forbidden fruit." Many 
respond to the lies about marijuana by disbelieving warnings about more 
dangerous drugs.

So much for protecting the kids by criminalizing the adults.

The debate over medical marijuana obviously colors the broader debate over 
marijuana prohibition. Marijuana's medical efficacy is no longer in serious 
dispute. Its use as a medicine dates back thousands of years. 
Pharmaceutical products containing marijuana's central ingredient, THC, are 
legally sold in the U.S., and more are emerging.

Some people find the pill form satisfactory, and others consume it in teas 
or baked products.

Most find smoking the easiest and most effective way to consume this 
unusual medicine, but non-smoking consumption methods, notably vaporizers, 
are emerging.

Federal law still prohibits medical marijuana.

But every state ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana has been 
approved, often by wide margins - in California, Washington, Oregon, 
Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Maine, and Washington, D.C. State legislatures in 
Vermont, Hawaii, and Maryland have followed suit, and many others are now 
considering their own medical marijuana bills - including New York, 
Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Illinois. Support is often bipartisan, with 
Republican governors like Gary Johnson and Maryland's Bob Ehrlich taking 
the lead. In New York's 2002 gubernatorial campaign, the conservative 
candidate of the Independence party, Tom Golisano, surprised everyone by 
campaigning heavily on this issue. The medical-marijuana bill now before 
the New York legislature is backed not just by leading Republicans but even 
by some Conservative party leaders.

The political battleground increasingly pits the White House - first under 
Clinton and now Bush - against everyone else. Majorities in virtually every 
state in the country would vote, if given the chance, to legalize medical 
marijuana. Even Congress is beginning to turn; last summer about two-thirds 
of House Democrats and a dozen Republicans voted in favor of an amendment 
co-sponsored by Republican Dana Rohrabacher to prohibit federal funding of 
any Justice Department crackdowns on medical marijuana in the states that 
had legalized it. (Many more Republicans privately expressed support, but 
were directed to vote against.) And federal courts have imposed limits on 
federal aggression: first in Conant v. Walters, which now protects the 
First Amendment rights of doctors and patients to discuss medical 
marijuana, and more recently in Raich v. Ashcroft and Santa Cruz v. 
Ashcroft, which determined that the federal government's power to regulate 
interstate commerce does not provide a basis for prohibiting 
medical-marijuana operations that are entirely local and non-commercial. 
(The Supreme Court let the Conant decision stand, but has yet to consider 
the others.)

State and local governments are increasingly involved in trying to regulate 
medical marijuana, notwithstanding the federal prohibition. California, 
Oregon, Hawaii, Alaska, Colorado and Nevada have created confidential 
medical-marijuana patient registries, which protect bona fide patients and 
caregivers from arrest or prosecution. Some municipal governments are now 
trying to figure out how to regulate production and distribution.

In California, where dozens of medical-marijuana programs now operate 
openly, with tacit approval by local authorities, some program directors 
are asking to be licensed and regulated.

Many state and local authorities, including law enforcement, favor this but 
are intimidated by federal threats to arrest and prosecute them for 
violating federal law.

The drug czar and DEA spokespersons recite the mantra that "there is no 
such thing as medical marijuana," but the claim is so specious on its face 
that it clearly undermines federal credibility. The federal government 
currently provides marijuana - from its own production site in Mississippi 
- - to a few patients who years ago were recognized by the courts as bona 
fide patients.

No one wants to debate those who have used marijuana for medical purposes, 
be it Santa Cruz medical-marijuana hospice founder Valerie Corral or 
National Review's Richard Brookhiser. Even many federal officials quietly 
regret the assault on medical marijuana.

When the DEA raided Corral's hospice in September 2002, one agent was heard 
to say, "Maybe I'm going to think about getting another job sometime soon."

The Anchorage Press, Anchorage AlaskaThe bigger battle, of course, concerns 
whether marijuana prohibition will ultimately go the way of alcohol 
Prohibition, replaced by a variety of state and local tax and regulatory 
policies with modest federal involvement. Dedicated prohibitionists see 
medical marijuana as the first step down a slippery slope to full 
legalization. The voters who approved the medical-marijuana ballot 
initiatives (as well as the wealthy men who helped fund the campaigns) were 
roughly divided between those who support broader legalization and those 
who don't, but united in seeing the criminalization and persecution of 
medical-marijuana patients as the most distasteful aspect of the war on 
marijuana. (This was a point that Buckley made forcefully in his columns 
about the plight of Peter McWilliams, who likely died because federal 
authorities effectively forbade him to use marijuana as medicine.)

The medical-marijuana effort has probably aided the broader 
anti-prohibitionist campaign in three ways. It helped transform the face of 
marijuana in the media, from the stereotypical rebel with long hair and 
tie-dyed shirt to an ordinary middle-aged American struggling with MS or 
cancer or AIDS. By winning first Proposition 215, the 1996 
medical-marijuana ballot initiative in California, and then a string of 
similar victories in other states, the nascent drug-policy-reform movement 
demonstrated that it could win in the big leagues of American politics.

And the emergence of successful models of medical-marijuana control is 
likely to boost public confidence in the possibilities and virtue of 
regulating nonmedical use as well.

In this regard, the history of Dutch policy on cannabis (i.e., marijuana 
and hashish) is instructive. The "coffee shop" model in the Netherlands, 
where retail (but not wholesale) sale of cannabis is de facto legal, was 
not legislated into existence.

It evolved in fits and starts following the decriminalization of cannabis 
by Parliament in 1976, as consumers, growers and entrepreneurs negotiated 
and collaborated with local police, prosecutors and other authorities to 
find an acceptable middle ground policy. "Coffee shops" now operate 
throughout the country, subject to local regulations. Troublesome shops are 
shut down, and most are well integrated into local city cultures.

Cannabis is no more popular than in the U.S. and other Western countries, 
notwithstanding the effective absence of criminal sanctions and controls.

Parallel developments are now underway in other countries.

Like the Dutch decriminalization law in 1976, California's Prop 215 in 1996 
initiated a dialogue over how best to implement the new law. The variety of 
outlets that have emerged - ranging from pharmacy-like stores to medical 
"coffee shops" to hospices, all of which provide marijuana only to people 
with a patient ID card or doctor's recommendation - play a key role as the 
most public symbol and manifestation of this dialogue.

More such outlets will likely pop up around the country as other states 
legalize marijuana for medical purposes and then seek ways to regulate 
distribution and access. And the question will inevitably arise: If the 
emerging system is successful in controlling production and distribution of 
marijuana for those with a medical need, can it not also expand to provide 
for those without medical need?

Millions of Americans use marijuana not just "for fun" but because they 
find it useful for many of the same reasons that people drink alcohol or 
take pharmaceutical drugs.

It's akin to the beer, glass of wine, or cocktail at the end of the 
workday, or the prescribed drug to alleviate depression or anxiety, or the 
sleeping pill, or the aid to sexual function and pleasure.

More and more Americans are apt to describe some or all of their marijuana 
use as "medical" as the definition of that term evolves and broadens.

Their anecdotal experiences are increasingly backed by new scientific 
research into marijuana's essential ingredients, the cannabinoids. Last 
year, a subsidiary of The Lancet, Britain's leading medical journal, 
speculated whether marijuana might soon emerge as the "aspirin of the 21st 
century," providing a wide array of medical benefits at low cost to diverse 

Perhaps the expansion of the medical-control model provides the best answer 
- - at least in the U.S. - to the question of how best to reduce the 
substantial costs and harms of marijuana prohibition without inviting 
significant increases in real drug abuse.

It's analogous to the evolution of many pharmaceutical drugs from 
prescription to over-the-counter, but with stricter controls still in place.

It's also an incrementalist approach to reform that can provide both the 
control and the reassurance that cautious politicians and voters desire.

In 1931, with public support for alcohol Prohibition rapidly waning, 
President Hoover released the report of the Wickersham Commission. The 
report included a devastating critique of Prohibition's failures and costly 
consequences, but the commissioners, apparently fearful of getting out too 
far ahead of public opinion, opposed repeal.

Franklin P. Adams of the New York World neatly summed up their findings:

Prohibition is an awful flop.

We like it.

It can't stop what it's meant to stop.

We like it.

It's left a trail of graft and slime

It don't prohibit worth a dime

It's filled our land with vice and crime,

Nevertheless, we're for it.

Two years later, federal alcohol Prohibition was history.

What support there is for marijuana prohibition would likely end quickly 
absent the billions of dollars spent annually by federal and other 
governments to prop it up. All those anti-marijuana ads pretend to be about 
reducing drug abuse, but in fact, their basic purpose is sustaining popular 
support for the war on marijuana.

What's needed now are conservative politicians willing to say enough is 
enough: Tens of billions of taxpayer dollars down the drain each year. 
People losing their jobs, their property and their freedom for nothing more 
than possessing a joint or growing a few marijuana plants.

And all for what? To send a message?

To keep pretending that we're protecting our children?

Alcohol Prohibition made a lot more sense than marijuana prohibition does 
today - and it, too, was a disaster.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake