Pubdate: Sun, 16 Sep 2012
Source: Bellingham Herald (WA)
Copyright: 2012 Bellingham Herald


Initiative 502 has the virtue of acknowledging a reality: The state is
already rife with marijuana, and criminalizing it hasn't made it go

Give its authors credit for honesty. Unlike the charades and
subterfuges of "medical cannabis," I-502 is a straightforward attempt
to get pot out of the black market and into state-licensed retail stores.

Give them credit, too, for a good faith effort to keep the drug within
bounds. The measure contains serious restrictions on would-be sellers,
store locations and driving-while-stoned. Something like I-502 would
be a reasonable way to deal with adult use of marijuana  though this
is ultimately a federal and not a state issue.

But adult use is not the chief issue with marijuana. People who get
past high school before they try it are unlikely to become compulsive
users. For juveniles, the odds are much worse.

Any psychoactive drug  including alcohol  tends to have a much greater
long-term impact on adolescents than on adults.

It's a matter of brain development. Kids who get in the habit of
smoking dope at, say, 15 often become heavy users because their brains
get wired to crave it.

Compulsive marijuana use is damaging. It can derail educations, jobs,
relationships, emotional maturity  life in general.

There are other threats. Considerable research has linked adolescent
marijuana use to early-onset schizophrenia. A newly released study,
which followed more than 1,000 New Zealanders for 38 years from youth
through adulthood, found significant IQ impairment among heavy users
who started smoking pot at an early age.

I-502 again deserves credit for recognizing the problem. It prohibits
anyone under 21 from possessing cannabis (not that that's been a great
success so far). It would earmark marijuana taxes for research and
public education designed to discourage juvenile use.

But recognizing a problem isn't the same as solving it. Legalization
would likely produce a surge of dope smoking among teenagers who now
avoid it simply because it is stigmatized as illegal.

Kids notice what adults consider acceptable, and not all of them are
hell-bent on rebellion. Federal data suggest that most adolescents
either avoid alcohol and drugs, or only experiment with them.

Of those who've gotten in deep, roughly twice as many drink as smoke
marijuana (or drink and smoke marijuana). Marijuana is easier to
conceal, easier on the body and probably as easy to come by.

Some of that difference can be explained by perceptions of what is
legal among their elders. Legality will inevitably make marijuana more
attractive to youth. Mere advertising campaigns aren't likely to
counteract that effect  especially since marijuana marketers will be
doing their own advertising under I-502.

The initiative also wouldn't shut down the black market or the drug
cartels, as its supporters hope. For example, sales would still be
forbidden to those under 21  but does anyone believe that dealers will
stop selling to them?

There may be ways to legalize or decriminalize marijuana for adults
without creating a wider snare for juveniles. It would be nice if
I-502 could do that. It's likely to have just the opposite effect.
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