Pubdate: Mon, 27 Oct 2014
Source: Herald, The (Everett, WA)
Copyright: 2014 The Daily Herald Co.
Author: David Sirota
Page: A9


When Colorado voters in 2012 approved a ballot measure legalizing 
marijuana, the state did not merely break new ground in the ongoing 
battle over narcotics policy. It also bolstered an innovative new 
political message that compares cannabis to alcohol.

Two years later, that comparison is being deployed in key marijuana 
related elections throughout the country, and drug reform advocates 
are so sure marijuana is safer than alcohol, they are now challenging 
police to a "drug duel" to prove their point.

The proposal for the duel from David Boyer, an official with the 
Maine chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project, came after South 
Portland Police Chief Edward Googins announced his opposition to a 
municipal referendum to legalize marijuana possession.

"Claims that marijuana is safer than alcohol are so bogus it's not 
even funny," Googins told a local newspaper.

In response, Boyer has challenged the police chief to a "hit for 
shot" duel - for every shot of alcohol Googins takes, Boyer would 
take a toke of marijuana, and the public would be able to see who is 
in worse physical condition in the end.

"We have done everything in our power to highlight the danger 
associated with laws that steer adults toward drinking by threatening 
to punish them if they make the safer choice to use marijuana," Boyer 
said in a press release promising to bring "enough alcohol to kill a 
man" to the duel. "Enough is enough. Perhaps this dramatic 
demonstration of the relative harms of each substance will finally 
get the point across."

The "drug duel" concept - and the larger comparison between cannabis 
and alcohol - is the brainchild of MPP officials Steve Fox and Mason 
Tvert. In the years leading up to Colorado's historic legalization 
vote, Tvert slammed politicians like John Hickenlooper and Pete Coors 
for opposing marijuana legalization even though they made their 
personal fortunes selling alcohol. He famously challenged both of 
them to drug duels.

Following unsuccessful legalization campaigns in Nevada and 
California, Tvert and Fox convinced advocates in Colorado to 
explicitly frame the 2012 campaign around the alcohol-marijuana 
comparison. Ultimately, the ballot initiative was called the Regulate 
Marijuana Like Alcohol Act of 2012.

Tvert says that in a state with a beer brewer governor, a burgeoning 
craft beer industry and a professional baseball stadium named after 
an alcohol brand, the strategy gave voters a familiar product to 
which they could compare cannabis.

"The message is simple: If we can regulate alcohol we can regulate a 
far less harmful substance," he said. "Marijuana has been illegal 
because too many people think it is too dangerous to allow adults to 
use, when in fact it is less harmful than alcohol."

 From crime research to hospital data to morbidity statistics, there 
is plenty of evidence to support that assertion. And since the 
Colorado vote, the message has gained political traction.

In January, for instance, the New Yorker reported that President 
Obama said, "I don't think (marijuana) is more dangerous than 
alcohol." A few months later, a Pew Research Center poll showed that 
69 percent of Americans say alcohol is more harmful to people's 
health than marijuana.

In this election, the alcohol-marijuana comparison is defining 
legalization campaigns not only in Lewiston and South Portland, 
Maine, but also in Alaska. There, drug reformers call their effort 
the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. They have sponsored 
bus ads promoting marijuana as a safer drug than alcohol.

Additionally, though much of the legalization campaign happening in 
Oregon has been about public safety, activists designed that 
initiative to invoke the alcohol comparison. Specifically, their 
proposal would have the Oregon Liquor Control Commission expand its 
regulatory oversight to marijuana.

"Everyone recognizes that alcohol prohibition was a huge failure," 
Tvert says. "Our point is that marijuana prohibition has been just as 
big of a disaster."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom