Pubdate: Sun, 13 Sep 2009
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2009 The Washington Post Company
Author: Robert McCartney
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


As Maryland weighs legalizing medical marijuana, it should consider 
my experience when I visited the student lounge at Montgomery 
College's Rockville campus at lunchtime last week and began 
interviewing randomly selected students about their views on weed.

Among the first group I approached, one of the four young men 
volunteered within minutes that he not only smoked marijuana but also 
sold it. He told me his price list: $10 a gram for "middies," the 
least potent and most readily available variety; $20 a gram for 
"headies" with more THC; $35 for the strongest, "exotic" types, like 
"white widow."

The youth's matter-of-fact attitude highlights a reality that's under 
our nose but is often overlooked in the oh-so-earnest debates over 
drug policy. When it comes to marijuana, American society has lost 
the war on drugs--and that's okay. We should stop squandering time 
and money trying to reverse history and instead legalize both medical 
and recreational use of this mild narcotic widely seen as no more 
harmful than alcohol.

Here are some facts:

Pot is widely available. A sizable chunk of the population thinks 
that's not a problem. In many locales, including Montgomery, 
prosecutors routinely send offenders caught with small quantities to 
a few days or weeks of drug education rather than prison. California 
and 12 other states will let you buy marijuana for health reasons, 
such as to control vomiting or relieve glaucoma. Four of those states 
permit collectives in which members grow their own.

In our region, advocates in Maryland and the District are pushing to 
legalize medical cannabis. (Virginia is sitting it out for now.) 
Maryland's policy recently attracted attention when a little-noticed 
2003 law, which sets a maximum fine of $100 for medical use, was 
applied in two separate cases Aug. 27 in Rockville. Otherwise the 
penalty for pot possession in Maryland is up to one year in prison 
and a $1,000 fine.

My campus interviews indicate that the younger generation 
overwhelmingly favors legalizing cannabis. Fifteen of 20 students 
said they supported it, and the opponents acknowledged that they were 
in a small minority.

This, mind you, is the generation raised since the onset of 
well-financed, high-profile, anti-drug education campaigns, such as DARE.

Students offered numerous thoughtful reasons for legalization. The 
most frequent, by far, was the common-sense point that current laws 
aren't working. "For most people my age, it's a popular thing. People 
are going to do it anyway," said Simone Brewer, 17, a freshman from Rockville.

Several also argued that the economy would benefit. The government 
should tax marijuana and save the money now spent on prosecuting and 
imprisoning users, they said. "People are doing it every day, but the 
government isn't making money off of it," said Billy Vivian, 19, of 
Wheaton, who is studying criminal justice. "The prisons wouldn't be 
so filled up with nonviolent offenders."

All the students who supported legalization also favored keeping laws 
against such stronger drugs as cocaine, ecstasy, heroin and 
methamphetamines. They said those can cause severe mental and health 
problems or even kill you. They said legal marijuana should be 
subject to restrictions similar to those on alcohol, with strict 
prohibitions against underage use and driving while high.

Many of the students said they thought alcohol is more harmful than 
pot. It is more dangerous to drive drunk than stoned, they thought, 
and pot makes people mellow while alcohol makes them belligerent.

"When's the last time you heard about some guy on marijuana coming in 
and hitting his wife?" Anthony Thompson, 18, of Silver Spring, said.

In my view, there's one strong reason for keeping marijuana illegal. 
The risk of getting caught discourages some people from trying it or 
using it regularly. That's a plus for public health. But that's 
outweighed by the social and economic benefits of legalization.

Moreover, the current policy leads people to be cynical about the 
law. "If you have laws that are not effectively enforced, or are 
flouted as openly as some of these are, I think it undermines public 
confidence," said a senior Maryland law enforcement official who 
spoke on condition of anonymity in order to be candid about a 
controversial subject.

Some of the young people who support legalization now will doubtless 
change their minds as they get older, especially when they start to 
worry that their own children will smoke as they -- or their friends 
- -- did. Given the other trends, though, there's a good chance that 
the rising generation will change the laws when it comes to power. We 
should change them now. It would save millions of dollars and 
countless hours of police officers' time and eliminate a source of 
hypocrisy about what we as a society actually tolerate.

Maybe She Does Walk on Water

The good news keeps coming for D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. 
After city schools opened without major disruptions, the system 
reported that enrollment was close to surpassing that of the previous 
year. If the number is confirmed in early 2010 after an audit, it 
would be a vote of confidence from parents. It also would embarrass 
Rhee's detractors on the D.C. Council, who were skeptical when she 
predicted that enrollment would be so high. On Friday, we learned 
that she's moved closer to a contract with the union. Let's just hope 
that there aren't too many mysterious erasures on the next round of 
standardized tests.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom