Pubdate: Sun, 08 Jul 2007
Source: Times Union (Albany, NY)
Copyright: 2007 Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation
Author: Kathleen Parker, Washington Post Writers Group
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


News that Al Gore's 24-year-old son, Al Gore III, was busted for pot
and assorted prescription pills has unleashed a torrent of mirth in
certain quarters.

Gore-phobes on the Internet apparently view the son's arrest and
incarceration as comeuppance for the father's shortcomings. Especially
rich was the fact that young Al was driving a Toyota Prius when he was
pulled over for going 100 mph -- just as Papa Gore was set to preside
over concerts during a 24-hour, seven-continent Live Earth celebration
to raise awareness about global warming.

Whatever one may feel about the former vice president's environmental
obsessions, his son's problems are no one's cause for celebration. The
younger Gore's high-profile arrest does, however, offer Americans an
opportunity to get real about drug prohibition, and especially about
marijuana laws.

For the record, I have no interest in marijuana except as a public
policy matter. My personal drug of choice is a heavenly elixir made
from crushed grapes. But it is, alas, a drug.

Tasty, attractive and highly ritualized in our culture, wine and other
alcoholic beverages are approved for responsible use despite the fact
that alcoholism and attendant problems are a plague, while responsible
use of a weed that, at worst, makes people boring and hungry, is criminal.

Pot-smokers might revolt if they weren't so mellow.

Efforts over the past few decades to relax marijuana laws have been
moderately successful. Twelve states have decriminalized marijuana,
which usually means no prison or criminal record for first-time
possession of small amounts for personal consumption. (Those states
are: Alabama, California, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi,
Nebraska, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Oregon.)

Yet even now, federal law enforcement agents raid the homes of
terminally ill patients who use marijuana for relief from suffering in
states where medical marijuana use is permitted. These federal raids
have become an issue in the 2008 presidential race as candidates have
been asked to take a position. A summary is available on the Marijuana
Policy Project Web site (

Beyond the medical issue is the practical question of criminalizing
otherwise good citizens for consuming a nontoxic substance --
described by the British medical journal Lancet as less harmful to
health than alcohol or tobacco -- at great economic and social cost.
Each year, more than 700,000 people are arrested for marijuana-related
offenses at a cost of more than $7 billion, according to the Marijuana
Policy Project.

Here's a Bingo thought for people concerned about the federal deficit,
America's 4.5 million uninsured children or our soon-to-be-bankrupt
Social Security system:

If marijuana were legalized, regulated and taxed at the rates applied
to alcohol and tobacco, revenues would reach about $6.2 billion
annually, according to an open letter signed by 500 economists who
urged President Bush and other public officials to debate marijuana
prohibition. Among those economists were three Nobel Prize winners,
including the late Milton Friedman.

Friedman and others were acting in response to a 2005 report on the
budgetary implications of marijuana prohibition by Jeffrey Miron,
visiting professor of economics at Harvard. By Miron's estimate,
regulating marijuana would save about $7.7 billion annually in
government prohibition enforcement -- $2.4 billion at the federal
level and $5.3 billion at the state and local levels.
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MAP posted-by: Steve Heath