Pubdate: Thu, 30 Oct 2014
Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Copyright: 2014 Washington Post
Author: Roger Roffman, Special to the Washington Post
Note: The writer is a professor emeritus of social work at the 
University of Washington and the author of "Marijuana Nation: One 
Man's Chronicle of America Getting High - From Vietnam to Legalization."
Page: A7


Legalizing Drug Would Lower Violence, Other Negative Factors, but 
Discussion of Addiction Is Vital, Too

On a warm Seattle summer evening in 1978, my wife wanted to talk 
about my increasingly frequent pot smoking: "I feel you've abandoned 
me, that the person I married - even when you're sitting next to me 
on the couch - is not there."

She had complained before about my use, and I'd tried to reassure 
her. "It's not as if I'm stoned every day," I'd counter. "Is it that 
different from having a drink or two?" I'd promise to cut back, but 
my resolve would give way, and I'd start to cut corners, making 
exceptions to the rules I'd set. Eventually I'd slide right back to 
where I started.

But this time Cheryl broke through: "Your mind goes to a different 
place, and talking with you when you're stoned is really frustrating. 
I can't help but think that, if you really cared about me, you'd want 
to be with me. You, not the stoned you. I feel rejected by you, and 
it hurts." She began to cry, and I felt terrible.

Cheryl and I had at one time enjoyed getting stoned together 
occasionally, and then we changed. For her it became less desirable; 
for me it became more so. I tried to ignore the warning signs, among 
them the negative impact smoking marijuana was having on my teaching 
and writing. At 38, there was no avoiding the fact that I was 
addicted. I needed to quit.

Hoist by my own petard, it would seem. In the mid-1970s, I'd been the 
volunteer coordinator for the Washington chapter of the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, lobbying across the 
state for the removal of criminal penalties for small-scale 
possession by adults.

Now, my struggle stimulated a new research interest in my work. 
Several years after quitting, I received my first federal grant to 
study counseling for marijuana addiction. My colleagues and I found 
that our typical subject - an adult who voluntarily sought support - 
had first smoked pot at age 15, first used daily at 19, typically was 
high for six hours a day, had been using daily or near daily for 10 
years and had tried seriously to quit six times.

Today, about 2.7 million Americans over age 12 are dependent on 
marijuana, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 
For those who've used the drug at least once, the risk of becoming 
addicted is roughly 9 percent. It's 17 percent for those who begin in 
adolescence, and for those who get high daily, the addiction risk is 
25 percent to 50 percent.

Still, despite marijuana's addictive potential, legalizing makes far 
more sense than prohibition. For that reason I was one of the 
sponsors of Washington state's Initiative 502, which was approved by 
56 percent of the voters in 2012. In addition to mandating a tightly 
regulated market, this new law earmarks excise taxes to support 
public education about marijuana, proven prevention programs 
targeting teens, treatment services for youth who get in over their 
heads with pot, research on marijuana and a systematic evaluation of 
the law's impact on public health and safety.

Under prohibition, illicit marijuana enterprises have flourished, 
leading to horrific violence among competitors and other steep fiscal 
and social costs, including egregious racial inequities in how 
enforcement has been carried out. We are paying another price by 
maintaining a criminal approach as well, and that is the large-scale 
distortion of the truth about pot. Those arguing against legalization 
often exaggerate marijuana's risks, rarely acknowledging that most 
occasional users are not harmed, while proponents of legalization 
tend to give short shrift to the risks to health and safety.

Legalization needs to be accompanied by a substantial investment in 
marijuana education, prevention, treatment, research and policy 
evaluation. The Washington model deserves a close look by others 
heading down the same path.

Several weeks ago, during a reading of my memoir in a Maine 
bookstore, I noticed a woman, likely in her mid-30s, sitting by 
herself. She moved all of us by talking about the struggle she had 
been undergoing trying to quit pot over the past nine months. 
Seventeen years of regularly getting high had brought her to a 
crossroads. "I didn't want to leave myself behind," she told us.

Clear away the hyperbole, and the rationale for legalizing marijuana 
is compelling. But stories like hers - and mine - about marijuana's 
addiction potential absolutely have to be part of the discussion.
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