Pubdate: Wed, 25 Nov 2009
Source: Jewish Journal Boston North (MA)
Copyright: 2009 The Jewish Journal Boston North
Author: Susan Jacobs, Jewish Journal Staff


Steve Fox is high on a mission. The Marblehead native is Director of
State Campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C.
the nation's largest marijuana reform organization.

He has just co-authored a book entitled "Marijuana is Safer: So Why
Are We Driving People to Drink?" The provocative work was written
with Paul Armentano of NORML (the National Organization for the
Reform of Marijuana Laws, a nonprofit lobbying organization working
to legalize marijuana), and Mason Tvert of SAFER (Safer Alternative
for Enjoyable Recreation, a Colorado-based organization that
maintains marijuana is less harmful than alcohol).

Fox, who is a graduate of Marblehead High School, Tufts University,
and Boston College Law School, probably never expected to find himself
on this career track. Yet the successful lobbyist, who worked
previously as associate director of the Massachusetts Democratic
Leadership Council and in the press office of the Secretary of the
U.S. Department of Commerce, has found a calling.

"I started working on marijuana policy professionally in 2002. At the
time, I did not envision myself working in the field for the
long-term. But it has really become my passion. I believe it is wrong
to punish adults who prefer to use marijuana instead of alcohol," Fox

Up until the 1940s, marijuana was legal. But in the 1950s, the
government embarked on a propaganda campaign to convince Americans
that pot was a dangerous, addictive substance. It was classified as a
Schedule 1 drug, and viewed in the same category as LSD or PCP.
Possession and recreational use of pot became a crime that is still
punishable by law in all 50 states.

Fox and other advocates for marijuana reform believe the government
has a double standard. While alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs
(which they maintain are proven to be far more dangerous than pot) are
legal, the sale and consumption of cannabis for recreational purposes
remains illegal.

In the book he states, "Why do we criminally arrest or discipline
people for consuming a substance that is not associated with acts of
violence, yet tolerate and at times even celebrate the use of another
that is? Why do we embrace the use of alcohol, a toxic substance whose
consumption is responsible for hundreds of acute alcohol-poisoning
deaths in the United States each year, while at the same time condemn
the use of marijuana, which is incapable of causing a fatal overdose?"

Many agree. Over the years, personal attitudes towards "the killer
weed" have mellowed. The U.S. government reports that over 100 million
citizens over the age of 12, or nearly 43 percent of the population,
say they've smoked pot. The Gallup organization, which has been
gauging support for marijuana legalization for decades, showed
national support for legalization has increased from 31 percent in
2000, to 44 percent today.

Law enforcement and the medical community are also loosening up. The
American Medical Association has called for a review of marijuana's
classification. Cannabis use for medicinal purposes has been legalized
in 13 states. And in a major policy shift from the Bush
administration, federal prosecutors under the Obama administration are
no longer targeting medicinal users.

Although this all comes as a breath of fresh air to Fox, he does not
anticipate federal legislation legalizing pot in the near future.

"The only way we will change our marijuana laws is on a state-by-state
basis," he said.

Although some are convinced that the dangling carrot that will push
legislation through is the tax revenue stream that legalization of
marijuana could produce, Fox disagrees.

"The revenue would be a benefit on top of the realization that it just
doesn't make sense to spend our law enforcement resources maintaining
a system of prohibition over a substance that is just so benign," he

Although he acknowledges that pot has its dangers, Fox believes that
it is a better choice than alcohol.

"When parents have a serious talk about drugs with their kids, they
should think about the fact that alcohol overdose can result in death
in one night, while there has never been a marijuana overdose death in
history. Our society is literally driving people to drink, and no one
should be punished for making the rational choice to use a safer
substance," he said.

When questioned if he personally smokes marijuana, the clean-cut and
professional-looking Fox said, "I have in the past, and I will when
it's legal. Think of it this way: If the alcohol industry announced
tomorrow that they had developed a new recreational substance that is
less addictive, less toxic, less likely to lead to serious health
problems, less likely to be associated with violence and does not
produce hangovers, would you use it?"

Steve Fox will sign copies of his book at 4 p.m. on Nov. 28 at Spirit
of 76 Bookstore in Marblehead.

[sidebar by Bette Keva]


Essex County District Atty. Jonathan Blodgett is a regular speaker in
schools and at conferences about his opposition to marijuana. When
Question 2 to decriminalize possession of small amounts of it went on
the ballot in the Nov. 4, 2008 election, he made known his views. It
would have a negative effect on children, he said. Furthermore, it
would lead supporters to aim for "their ultimate goal -- the
legalization of drugs," he told The Daily News Tribune of Needham on
Oct. 8, 2008.

Ultimately, voters overwhelmingly approved the ballot initiative last
November in which users caught with less than an ounce of pot can be
punished by a civil fine of $100.

Blodgett was not alone in his opposition last year. The governor,
attorney general and district attorneys around the state said that
decriminalizing possession would promote drug use and benefit drug
dealers. They warned it would increase violence and safety hazards in
the workplace, causing more car crashes as more youths drive under the

Medical Marijuana lists pros and cons on marijuana use.
Here are a few:

.  While proponents laud it for relieving certain types of pain and
nausea, opponents say there has not been enough scientific evidence to
prove it.

.  DEA Administrative Law Judge Francis L. Young said evidence shows
that marijuana relieves the distress of great numbers of very ill
people. He advocates administering it under medical supervision. On
the contrary, John Walters, Director, Office of National Drug Control
Policy, maintains that it damages the brain, heart, lungs and immune
system. It impairs learning and interferes with memory, perception,
and judgment.

.  Proponents say there is little evidence that smoking is a
significant health risk. Although cannabis has been smoked widely in
Western countries for more than four decades, there have been no
reported cases of lung cancer or emphysema attributed to marijuana,
according to Dr. Leter Grinspoon, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at
Harvard Medical School. The British Lung Foundation is opposed, saying
three to four marijuana joints a day are associated with the same
evidence of acute and chronic bronchitis and the same degree of damage
to the bronchial mucosa as 20 or more tobacco cigarettes a day.

Neither District Attorney John Blodgett nor Detective Rose Cheever of
the Swampscott Police Department returned phone calls to respond on
this issue. 
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