Pubdate: Wed, 13 Aug 2014
Source: Tahoe Daily Tribune (South Lake Tahoe, CA)
Copyright: 2014 Swift Communications
Author: Andy Whyman
Note: Incline Village resident Andrew Whyman, MD, is a clinical and 
forensic psychiatrist.


Regular readers of this column know I have argued that marijuana is 
far safer than alcohol. Also, that the criminalization of marijuana 
usage, a central component of the failed "War on Drugs," really 
amounts to a War on Citizens, particularly citizens of color.

Now, the New York Times, in an unprecedented series of editorials, 
forcefully contends that the time has come to end the federal 
prohibition against marijuana and allow the states to make their own 
rules about this drug (See N.Y. Times, July 27, 2014).

The Times detailed and defended its argument to end marijuana 
prohibition, taking into account both political reality and medical 
science. Why now?

Said the Times Editorial Board, "It took 13 years for the United 
States to come to its senses and end Prohibition, 13 years in which 
people kept drinking, otherwise law-abiding citizens became criminals 
and crime syndicates arose and flourished. It has been more than 40 
years since Congress passed the current ban on marijuana, inflicting 
great harm on society just to prohibit a substance far less dangerous 
than alcohol."

The Times went on to note that according to FBI figures there were 
256,000 marijuana possession arrests in 2012, almost three times the 
arrest rate for other illegal drugs. And these arrests fall 
disproportionately on young black men contributing to both ruining 
their lives and creating career criminals.

Pertaining to issues of medical concern, the Times said, "...the 
evidence is overwhelming that (marijuana) addiction and dependence 
are relatively minor problems, especially compared with alcohol and 
tobacco" and "moderate use of marijuana does not appear to pose a 
risk for otherwise healthy adults."

This well reasoned and colorful series of editorials points out "the 
federal government's archaic rules" and the "increasing absurdity" of 
trying to defend the idea that marijuana should continue to be listed 
as a Schedule I drug in the Controlled Substances Act i.e. one of the 
most dangerous drugs on earth.

Brent Staples, writing in the Times on July 30, 2014 says that, "The 
federal law that makes possession of marijuana a crime has its 
origins in legislation that was passed in an atmosphere of hysteria 
in the 1930s and that was firmly rooted in prejudices against Mexican 
immigrants and African-Americans.."

He then says that current federal policy, "is so driven by myth and 
propaganda that it is almost impervious to reason." Which, I should 
note, was soon followed by a White House position piece defending the 
status quo about marijuana.

It's important to keep in mind when we reason through this issue 
that, as citizens, we tend to believe that federal and state 
prohibitions are there to protect us. Not so much with marijuana, I 
would argue.

For example, Drug Enforcement Administrator Michele Leonhart 
maintains that there is no difference between the health effects of 
marijuana and those of other illegal drugs.

In 2012, she instructed Congress that "All illegal drugs are bad for 
people," refusing to acknowledge that crack cocaine, methamphetamine 
and prescription painkillers are far more addictive and physically 
harmful than marijuana.

Yet, the venerable and trusted Institute of Medicine, the health arm 
of the National Academy of Sciences, found that 32 percent of tobacco 
users become dependent, as do 23 percent of heroin users, 17 percent 
of cocaine users, and 15 percent of alcohol drinkers. Only 9 percent 
of marijuana users develop any degree of dependency.

State actors are no less immune to political pressure over medical 
issues than the feds. Two recent examples: Recall that Nevada 
citizens legalized medical marijuana more than 10 years ago through 
the initiative process, yet it's only now that local jurisdictions 
are being grudgingly dragged into compliance with the will of the people.

Recall also that two years ago the citizens of California were on the 
verge, according to polls at the time, of passing a marijuana 
legalization initiative before the last minute "No on legalization" 
efforts of the alcohol industry, the private prison industry, and 
nine former administrators of the DEA, each of whom had either 
financial and/or ideological incentives to oppose legalization.

Nonetheless, the pro-legalization train is picking up speed, and will 
continue to accelerate. In 1991, 78 percent of Americans thought that 
marijuana should be illegal. By 2008, the figure was down to 57 percent.

In 2013, 52 percent favored legalization. Add state financial 
incentive, i.e. Colorado realized about $24 million in new revenue in 
just the first five months after legalization, and these two 
locomotives of change will lead to full marijuana legalization over time.

My take on marijuana legalization is that it will lead to a number of 
positive social changes. It will increase personal freedom. Like 
alcohol, used responsibly, it will provide a pleasant social and 
personal experience without the specter of criminal behavior lurking 
in the background.

It will de-stigmatize the problems of marijuana abuse and/or 
dependency for those with emotional problems and allow for more ready 
access to treatment. It will allow the criminal justice system to 
realign resources and manpower to pursue dangerous criminals.

And because it is consistent with the factual story of marijuana, 
ending government prohibition of the drug is better for everyone.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom