Pubdate: Sat, 31 Jul 2010
Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA)
Copyright: 2010 Paul Armentano
Author: Paul Armentano


Editor's Note: The Author Is The Co-author Of The Book "Marijuana Is Safer: 
So Why Are We Driving People To Drink?"

The latest screed by ex-law enforcement officer Lyndon Lafferty
("Don't let the marijuana myth live on," July 25) epitomizes novelist
Upton Sinclair's famous quotation, "It is difficult to get a man to
understand something when his job depends on not understanding it."

Contrary to Mr. Lafferty's allegations, I neither claimed that
marijuana is harmless nor that its consumption is appropriate for
young people. Rather, I have asserted repeatedly that cannabis ought
to be legalized and regulated. I come to this conclusion precisely
because marijuana is a temporarily mind-altering substance and ought
to be controlled accordingly.

After all, society doesn't tax and regulate alcohol -- a substance
that objectively poses far greater risks to the users and to society
than pot -- because it's innocuous. It does so because we recognize
that booze temporarily alters mood and behavior and thus should be
regulated accordingly -- complete with common sense controls regarding
who can legally produce it, who can legally distribute it, who can
legally consume its, and under what circumstances is its use lawfully
permitted. Mr. Lafferty's fear-mongering aside, there's no logical
reasons why these same principles ought not to apply to cannabis.

The present prohibition of marijuana provides California law
enforcement and state regulators with no legitimate market controls.
It is this absence of state and local government control that
jeopardizes, rather than promotes, public safety. For instance, Mr.
Lafferty alleges that marijuana is a "gateway" to the public's use of
other, more dangerous substances. Yet, in truth, studies of the
subject have consistently concluded that "environmental
circumstances," not the preceding use of a drug itself, is the primary
reason why a minority of people transition from the use of pot to
harder drugs. One such study from the Trimbos Institute in the
Netherlands explains the phenomenon like this:

"As for a possible switch from cannabis to hard drugs, it is clear
that the pharmacological properties of cannabis are irrelevant in this
respect. There is no physically determined tendency towards switching
from marijuana to harder substances. Social factors, however, do
appear to play a role. The more users become integrated in an
environment ('subculture') where, apart from cannabis, hard drugs can
also be obtained, the greater the chance that they may switch to hard
drugs. Separation of the drug markets is therefore essential."

To put it another way: If U.S. policymakers legalized marijuana in a
manner similar to alcohol -- thereby allowing its sale to be regulated
by licensed, state-authorized distributors rather than by criminal
entrepreneurs and pushers of various other, hard drugs -- the
likelihood is that fewer, not more, marijuana consumers would ever go
on to try any another illicit substance. In short, it is cannabis
prohibition, not the use of cannabis itself, that presently fosters
any potential "gateway" to the use of harder drugs.

Bottom line: Those like Lyndon Lafferty who remain wedded to today's
pot prohibition are little different than the "flat Earthers" of
yesteryear. Golden State lawmakers criminalized the possession and use
of marijuana in 1913. Yet right now in California the federal
government reports that approximately 10 percent of people annually
consume about 1.2 million total pounds of pot. Further, among young
people, some 85 percent report that marijuana is "easy" to obtain, and
according to a 2009 Columbia University report, adolescents now have
easier access to black market marijuana than they do regulated alcohol.

Self-evidently, cannabis is here to stay. Let's address this reality
and stop conceding control of this market to unregulated, untaxed
criminal enterprises, and put it in the hands of licensed businesses.
It's time to end the "reefer rhetoric" and move forward with a
sensible policy that acknowledges marijuana's relative risk while also
recognizing the gross failure of prohibition.

Paul Armentano

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