Pubdate: Sun, 27 Mar 2011
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2011 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Roger Roffman
Note: Roger Roffman is a professor emeritus of social work at the 
University of Washington and a private practitioner specializing in 
treating marijuana dependence.
Referenced: OPED: Legalizing Marijuana Could Hurt Young People
Bookmark: (Washington)
Bookmark: (Opinion)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United States)


The marijuana-legalization debate can too quickly become polarized. 
Guest columnist Roger Roffman argues that both sides need to tone 
down the rhetoric at look at ways youth can be protected if adult 
marijuana use becomes legal in Washington state.

MARIJUANA is not an entirely harmless substance, as Patti 
Skelton-McGougan's guest editorial pointed out ["Legalizing marijuana 
could hurt young people," Opinion, March 3].

Proposals to regulate and legalize its use for adults must include 
careful planning for how children and adolescents, who are more 
vulnerable to the risks posed by marijuana use, can best be protected.

But a full discussion requires not only that the proponents of change 
acknowledge the risks of trying a new approach, but also that those 
opposing change acknowledge the harms of current policies and the 
potential of alternative strategies. They may find it's possible to 
implement a policy that accomplishes both protecting youth and ending 
the criminalization of responsible adult marijuana use.

A legalization policy should draw from the successes and failures of 
alcohol and tobacco laws. In the success category, teenage alcohol- 
and tobacco-usage rates have declined considerably since the late 
1970s. Our experience shows that prevention can work and that society 
can establish community norms, making clear we neither approve nor 
tolerate underage use. In the failure category, youth are commonly 
enticed to use alcohol and tobacco via relentless advertising and cheap prices.

We can avoid this for marijuana. A new policy should regulate the 
type of advertisements that are allowed, and the product should be 
priced so that its cost discourages use but still undercuts the 
black-market dealers. By implementing the best aspects of alcohol and 
tobacco policy and eliminating the mistakes, we can develop a 
workable policy for marijuana.

We can also learn from the experiences of marijuana policy in The 
Netherlands, where regulated "coffee shops" are allowed to sell the 
drug to adults. This de facto legalization did not, in itself, affect 
rates of marijuana use among youth.

However, rates of use among young people did increase when the number 
of coffee shops was allowed to increase and the age of legal access 
was set at 16. Encouragingly, these rates declined when the number of 
coffee shops was reduced and the age of legal access was raised to 
18. So, it would make sense for a marijuana policy in Washington 
state to set the age limit at 21 and minimize the number of outlets 
where marijuana can be purchased.

A marijuana-legalization policy also should allow for the price of 
marijuana to be changed quickly to target the point that strikes the 
best balance between discouraging use and undercutting the black 
market. The newfound tax revenue from marijuana legalization should 
be earmarked for prevention, education and treatment programs, and be 
given to the most effective programs available.

Further, the new marijuana policy should be studied and evaluated 
from Day One and adjusted if it becomes clear that it is producing 
negative outcomes for youth.

Proponents of reforming the law should not imply either that 
marijuana is totally harmless or that legalization will have no 
impacts on youth. Public health and safety issues, and the need to 
protect children from behaviors that have heightened risks for them, 
are both legitimate issues which must be addressed.

Similarly, opponents of reform must acknowledge the consequences of 
current laws. Criminalizing marijuana use for adults has had 
questionable effectiveness in impacting use and abuse rates, and it 
has demonstrably significant costs. For simply possessing marijuana, 
people are jailed, get the stigma of a criminal record and lose 
employment opportunities. For society there are wasted 
criminal-justice resources, overcrowded jails and lost potential tax revenue.

If protecting youth is to be a central goal in shaping marijuana 
policy, both sides of the discussion should avoid polarizing rhetoric 
and recognize their common interest in ensuring that we treat 
marijuana use in the most safe and effective way possible.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake