Pubdate: Sun, 8 Mar 2009
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2009 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Kevin A. Sabet
Note: Kevin A. Sabet, a senior drug policy adviser in the Clinton and 
Bush administrations, is a native of Anaheim. He wrote this article 
for the Mercury News.
Referenced: AB390
Bookmark: (Opinion)
Bookmark: (Marijuana - California)


It's a tempting idea: Legalize and tax a commodity that a lot of 
people like, collect the revenue, and reap the budgetary benefits. In 
economic times like these, that might be just the formula we need to 
pull us out of the red. In this case, the truth does not live up to the hype.

Legalizing marijuana will not solve our budget woes, nor will it be 
good for public health. Introducing marijuana into the open market is 
very likely to do some other things, however: increase the drug's 
consumption, and with it, the enormous social costs associated with 
marijuana-related accidents, illness and productivity loss.

The example of legal alcohol and tobacco reveal an unsettling 
pattern. Legal drugs are by definition easy to obtain, and 
commercialization glamorizes their use and furthers their social 
acceptance. Their price is low, and high profits make promotion 
worthwhile for sellers. Addiction is simply the price of doing 
business. Any revenue gained from taxing these drugs is quickly 
offset by the heavy costs associated with their increased prevalence. 
Because today's high-potency marijuana is much more harmful than once 
thought, a spike in use from legalization would result in a financial 
burden California cannot afford to bear.

It is almost universally accepted in the medical community that 
marijuana use is linked with mental illness. Since the appearance of 
the British Medical Journal's famous 2002 headline, "Marijuana and 
psychiatric illness: the link grows stronger," the research showing 
marijuana's link with illnesses like psychosis and schizophrenia has 
become frighteningly commonplace. In fact, researchers from King's 
College in London have shown that eliminating marijuana use would 
decrease the incidence of schizophrenia in the American population by 
more than 8 percent.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's justification for AB 390 relies on the myth 
that marijuana laws are costing taxpayers millions of dollars and 
wrecking the lives of otherwise law-abiding citizens. But a closer 
examination of the facts reveals a very different reality. Although 
there are thousands of arrests for marijuana possession every year in 
our state, most of these arrests result in little or no consequences. 
Most of those who are charged with possession plead down from more 
serious charges, such as trafficking. Researchers from Rand report 
that many marijuana arrests result from drinking and driving 
violations at alcohol checkpoints. "The police also find joints, and 
then (the offender) is in jail for both offenses. People's images of 
the casual (marijuana) user getting hauled off to jail are not true," 
a Rand researcher recently commented.

Rand-sponsored research reveals that in the Netherlands, where the 
drug is sold openly at "coffee shops," marijuana use among young 
adults increased almost 300 percent after a wave of 
commercialization. The country has also become a haven for producers 
of high-potency marijuana, and other drugs like ecstasy and 
methamphetamine. These unintended consequences have led many Dutch 
officials to advocate for rolling back the status quo.

To be sure, restricting marijuana use by law -- especially because 
some people find it extremely pleasurable -- is not without its 
costs. But legalizing this addictive substance would only exacerbate 
our problems by increasing the harm that greater levels of use will 
cause. Given the heavy costs associated with our two legal 
substances, and the relatively minor costs associated with our 
current restrictive marijuana policy, the case for a commercial 
market for marijuana remains weak and unconvincing -- even in this 
uncomfortable economic environment.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake