Pubdate: Sun, 9 Aug 2009
Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA)
Section: Sunday Outlook
Copyright: 2009 The Times-Herald
Author: Rachel Raskin-Zrihen, Times-Herald staff writer


Paul Armentano is on a mission.

The 37-year-old Vallejo resident aims to convince the powers that be 
that smoking marijuana is less dangerous on a number of levels than 
drinking alcohol, and that laws should reflect that.

He has co-authored a book, "Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving 
People to Drink?," which is available on, and will soon be distributed to bookstores 
nationwide, he said.

"For those who may be initially skeptical of this message, 'Marijuana 
Is Safer' will change the way you think about cannabis," Armentano 
said. "And for those roughly 50 percent of Americans nationwide who 
already support reforming America's draconian pot laws, this book 
will change the way they talk about marijuana."

A married father of a young daughter, Armentano said he's not a big 
pot smoker, though he, "like an estimated 100 million Americans, 
including our present president, have experimented with marijuana, 
and when I did so I was making a decision to consume a substance that 
is objectively safer than alcohol. It is illogical and inconsistent 
for the criminal law to punish people for that decision."

Working with nationally recognized marijuana-policy experts Steve Fox 
and Mason Tvert, Armentano "compares and contrasts the relative harms 
and legal status of the two most popular recreational substances in 
the world -- marijuana and alcohol," according to Chelsea Green 
Publishing, which is handling the book. "Through an objective 
examination of the two drugs and the laws and social practices that 
steer people toward alcohol, the authors pose a simple yet rarely 
considered question: Why do we punish adults who make the rational, 
safer choice to use marijuana instead of alcohol?"

For those unfamiliar with marijuana, the book "provides an 
introduction to the cannabis plant and its effects on the user, and 
debunks some of the government's most frequently cited marijuana 
myths," according to the publisher's Web site. "For current and 
aspiring advocates of marijuana-law reform, as well as anyone else 
who is interested in what is becoming a major political battle, the 
authors spell out why the message that marijuana is safer than 
alcohol must be a prominent part of the public debate over legalization."

The book also provides the information policy reform advocates need 
to "make persuasive arguments to friends, family, coworkers, and 
elected officials," the site notes.

Armentano, deputy director of The National Organization for the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws and the NORML Foundation, said he developed 
a passion for the subject as a teenager. He now makes his living as 
an expert in the field of marijuana policy, health, and pharmacology, he said.

"I see it from a civil liberties view point -- that adults have the 
right to chose what to put in their bodies in the confines of their 
own homes," he said.

Armentano also strongly disagrees with what he sees as the selective 
enforcement of the marijuana laws.

"The laws are particularly bad for young people and for race 
relations in this country," he said.

The book's authors selected its title based on "scientific facts" 
they say prove that alcohol is more dangerous than pot medically and 
in terms of impairment. Society's relative love affair with booze and 
disdain for pot is highly hypocritical, not to mention dangerous, 
Armentano said.

Alcohol consumption is much more often associated with vehicle 
crashes and violent crimes than marijuana is, he said.

"Marijuana is a safer alternative intoxicant," Armentano said. "If we 
could cut down on alcohol consumption, it could create a net gain for 
the health of society."

Armentano said he hopes his book will spark the debate in society 
that may lead to a change in the laws.

"I think our (marijuana-related) policies, which have been an 
expensive disaster, cause more harm to society than the use of 
marijuana ever could," he said. 
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