Pubdate: Sun, 09 Feb 2014
Source: Albany Herald, The (GA)
Copyright: 2014 The Albany Herald Publishing Company, Inc.
Author: Cynthia Tucker


By the time my 5-year-old daughter leaves for college, it's quite 
likely that marijuana use will be broadly decriminalized. Alaska has 
become the most recent state to move toward legalization, placing an 
initiative on the ballot for an August vote. If it passes, Alaska 
would join Washington and Colorado, which have already made 
recreational use legal for adults.

The trend will probably continue, since 52 percent of Americans 
support legalization, according to the Pew Research Center. That's 
good news - and not because I want my daughter to indulge.

Quite the opposite. Having grown up in the years of cannabis 
prohibition, I know all about the dangers of the weed. Even though I 
don't accept the exaggerations of such propaganda as "Reefer 
Madness," a 1930s-era film that portrayed pot-smoking as the road to 
destruction, I know that marijuana overuse is dangerous. That's 
especially true for adolescents, whose brains are stunted by frequent 
pot-smoking, research shows.

Overindulgence in alcohol is dangerous, too. Yet the nation learned 
through wretched experience that Prohibition was worse. It bred a 
gaggle of violent criminals who trailed death and devastation in 
their wake. Their crimes were generated by the law itself: Making 
alcohol illegal did not stop its use; it merely fostered a huge and 
profitable black market.

The futile War on Drugs has done the same thing, promoting violent 
crime throughout the Americas and fueling the growth in prison 
populations. According to the FBI, about half of the annual drug 
arrests in the United States are for marijuana.

The so-called war has done its greatest damage in black America, 
decimating whole neighborhoods as young black men are locked up for 
non-violent crimes, then released with records that will restrict 
their employment opportunities for the rest of their lives.

At a time when policymakers are struggling to close a yawning income 
gap - to find ways to support equal opportunity for all - it makes no 
sense to criminalize a group of people for getting stoned. Not only 
does a drug record stigmatize them for life, but a prison sentence 
also forces them into close quarters with hardened criminals, making 
it more likely that they will graduate to violent crimes themselves.

And here's the thing that's especially galling: Whites don't pay 
nearly the same price. (If they did, marijuana would have been 
legalized decades ago.) Although studies show that whites and blacks 
smoke pot at about the same rate, blacks are 3.7 times more likely to 
be arrested, according to a 2013 report by the American Civil 
Liberties Union. "The war on marijuana has disproportionately been a 
war on people of color," Ezekiel Edwards, director of the ACLU 
Criminal Law Reform Project, said last year.

Even with all the evidence of the harm from the War on Drugs, though, 
many middle-aged and older Americans are still reluctant to support 
legalization of marijuana. That's less true of the young. According 
to Pew, 65 percent of millennials - born since 1980 and now between 
18 and 32 - favor legalization, up from just 36 percent in 2008.

Those less enthusiastic about legalizing pot point to risks, 
including a likely increase in rates of cannabis addiction. In 
addition, they note, legalization of marijuana would probably lead to 
increased calls for the decriminalization of much more harmful drugs, 
such as heroin.

There is no doubt that most narcotics are more dangerous than pot and 
may need to be treated differently. The recent death of actor Philip 
Seymour Hoffman is a stark reminder of that. But we can distinguish 
between cannabis and heroin just as we distinguish between Tylenol 
and Oxycontin.

Unfortunately, the federal government stubbornly clings to an 
outdated view, insisting that its law enforcement authorities will 
continue to view marijuana sales and possession as a crime. That's 
dumb, and President Obama ought to know better. He has long admitted 
his youthful pot use, and he recently acknowledged in a New Yorker 
interview that it is no more dangerous than alcohol.

That doesn't mean he wants his two daughters to smoke pot, any more 
than I want mine to. But I certainly don't think any of them should 
go to jail if they do.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom