Pubdate: Sun, 29 Sep 2013
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2013 McClatchy
Author: Rob Hotakainen, McClatchy Washington Bureau


For States Forging Ahead, the Challenge Is to Keep Marijuana Away From Minors.

The Debate Has Intensified As Momentum for Legalization Builds.

WASHINGTON - When the Justice Department promised not to prosecute 
illegal marijuana sales planned to begin in Washington state and 
Colorado next year, its top lawyers demanded that the states 
reciprocate with a pledge to keep the drug away from minors.

Officials in those pioneering pot states - where recreational use of 
marijuana was approved by voters in November - say they are ready to 
comply. But to legalization opponents, such promises are a pipe 
dream, destined to fail. They say it's more likely the United States 
will unleash a new industry that will try hard to attract young users 
and turn them into "addicts."

"Kids are going to be bombarded with this. They're already getting 
the message that it's acceptable," said Kevin Sabet, a legalization 
opponent and director of the University of Florida Drug Policy 
Institute, who was an adviser on drug issues to President Obama and 
former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

With polls showing support for legalizing marijuana on the rise, 
questions about how it would affect children remain. The debate has 
intensified as momentum for legalization builds and as research shows 
increased marijuana use among youngsters.

Legalization backers say they are just as eager as opponents to 
protect kids. And they say the public has no reason to worry if the 
drug is sold openly in stores instead of on the streets.

"Forcing marijuana sales into the underground market is the worst 
possible policy when it comes to protecting our young people," said 
Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a 
pro-legalization group. "It is odd that those who wish to keep 
marijuana out of the hands of kids are fighting to keep it as 
uncontrolled as possible."

Teens already are more likely to smoke pot than tobacco, according to 
a study released in December by the National Institute on Drug Abuse 
and the University of Michigan. In 2012, 23 percent of high school 
seniors reported using marijuana in the past month, while 17 percent 
of the seniors said they had smoked tobacco. As recently as 2008, 
high school seniors were more likely to smoke cigarettes than marijuana.

The study reported similar findings in past-month use for students in 
younger grades. Seventeen percent of the 10th-graders had used 
marijuana, compared with 11 percent who had smoked cigarettes. Among 
eighth-graders, 6.5 percent had smoked pot, compared with 5 percent 
who had smoked tobacco.

As officials in Washington state and Colorado prepare to open the 
nation's first retail pot shops, many acknowledge the tricky task 
awaiting them. But they appear determined both to allow adults to 
smoke pot for fun while trying to convince kids that it's not a good idea.

"We are committed to countering the perception among young people 
that marijuana is less dangerous to them because it has been made 
legal for adult use," Jack Finlaw, chief legal counsel for the 
Colorado governor, told the Senate Judiciary Committee this month. 
Among other things, Colorado will ban pot advertising aimed at anyone 
under 21 and form a "marijuana educational oversight committee" to 
let minors know the drug could hinder their neurological development, 
Finlaw said. In a letter to the Senate panel, Washington Gov. Jay 
Inslee and Attorney General Bob Ferguson promised that all of the 
marijuana will be sold in child-resistant packaging and that none of 
the state's 334 retail pot stores will be allowed within 1,000 feet 
of a school, park, playground, or video arcade when they open June 1.

While the industry already has used billboard advertising, Washington 
state's top consultant said the Justice Department should do more to 
discourage marketing.

"A retailer needs a modest sign on the outside of the building and a 
website listing what it has to sell," said consultant Mark Kleiman, 
who is also a professor of public policy at the University of 
California, Los Angeles. "There is no need to tolerate anything more 
than that."

In written testimony to the committee, Kleiman said that cracking 
down on marketing "would do more to prevent increased drug abuse and 
increased use by minors than any single other step the federal 
government could take."

Sabet predicted that attracting more young users will be necessary 
for the survival of the industry. "They don't make money off casual 
users, and in order to get addicts, you have to start people young," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom