Pubdate: Mon, 17 Aug 2009
Source: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
Copyright: 2009 Austin American-Statesman
Author: Ryan Grim


Americans have historical amnesia of a general variety, but the
blackout is particularly acute when it comes to what our grandparents,
and their grandparents, did to get high. Forty years after Woodstock,
the nation is taking a fresh look at its twisted relationship with
drugs and insobriety. But we're doing so without drawing lessons from
the centuries of experience we have with inebriation and the effort to
control it. Five widespread myths must be dispensed with if America
ever plans on making rational drug policy.

1. America's drug problem began in the late 1960s.

Drugs (other than booze) went mainstream in the early to mid-19th
century. The father of the opium boom  or, more accurately, the
mother  was the temperance movement. Pressured by the Woman's
Christian Temperance Union, the Anti-Saloon League, religious leaders
and others, Americans put down the bottle, and drinking plummeted by a
half to three-quarters.

They got high instead. In 1872, the Massachusetts State Board of
Health noted that "between 1840 and 1850, soon after teetotalism had
become a fixed fact ... our own importations of opium swelled." When
opium started causing problems, in came morphine, marketed as a
nonaddictive alternative. When that proved patently false, Bayer's
heroin was sold as a nonaddictive substitute for morphine. Sears,
Roebuck and Co. was slinging cocaine kits, complete with powder and

2. President Richard Nixon is to blame for the war on

Nixon's declaration was nothing new. Americans have been waging war
against their love of inebriation since before they were Americans. In
1619, Virginia got it going by banning "playing dice, cards,
drunkenness, idleness, and excess in apparel." The nation's first
uprising revolved around sobriety, when George Washington put down the
1794 Whiskey Rebellion.

Temperance movements, led by women, left men unsure that they wanted
to share the franchise. "I am not sure how I will vote, but think I
will vote against suffrage," Sen. Warren Harding of Ohio said in 1916,
according to a contemporaneous article in the Nation magazine. "I
don't see how I can vote for suffrage and against prohibition." He
voted for prohibition and, as president during the dry spell, held
regular whiskey and poker nights.

3. Legalization will increase teen drug use.

But the children! Californians fretted loudly in 1996 that the state's
medical marijuana law would lead to a rise in teen pot-smoking, so the
state studied it closely. The attorney general's office first look a
year later found no effect. The office looked again a decade later.
Teen use had collapsed. Among seventh- and 11th-graders, the number of
kids saying they'd smoked in the last month fell by a quarter; among
ninth-graders, it fell by 47 percent. Bigger declines were found in
weekly and annual use. In almost every other state that passed a
medical marijuana law, pot-smoking among children declined faster than
in states that didn't.

4. In foreign countries, legalization has been disastrous.

First, no country has ever completely legalized drugs, not since
global treaties were signed a century ago ushering in prohibition. In
Holland, drug laws are still on the books, but a social pact between
the government and the people keeps shops from getting busted.

In 2001, Portugal abolished drug laws when it repealed criminal
penalties for pot, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. The United
Nations initially suggested that the new law could be a treaty
violation and would lead to crime, a spike in addiction and a rise in
"drug tourism." The country didn't fully legalize and people caught
with drugs still faced a small penalty. But they wouldn't go to jail.

Now the U.N. is lauding Portugal. In its most recent World Drug
Report, it says, "These conditions keep drugs out of the hands of
those who would avoid them under a system of full prohibition, while
encouraging treatment, rather than incarceration, for users." The
report also noted that the policy had not led to an increase in drug
tourism and that "a number of drug-related problems have decreased."

5. Americans aren't ready for legalization.

While pot-smoking peaked in the late '70s, legalization never came
close to being a majority position. The nation has fewer pot smokers
today  a University of Michigan study found that marijuana use among
18- to 20-year-olds dropped by nearly half since the late '70s  but
polls show support at about 50 percent for taxing and regulating marijuana.

But Americans have a dim view of their neighbors' enlightenment, an
appraisal that shines through in research by Zogby. The survey, paid
for by the Marijuana Policy Project (my onetime employer), interviewed
501 likely voters in Rhode Island and 502 in Vermont. It found 69 and
71 percent support for medical marijuana, respectively. No surprise.
But Zogby asked one last question: Regardless of your own opinion, do
you think a majority in your state support or oppose medical
marijuana? In Vermont, 38 percent of people thought a majority backed
it; a quarter of Rhode Islanders guessed their fellow citizens
supported medical pot.

Americans are ready. They just don't know it yet. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr