Pubdate: Wed, 20 May 2015
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2015 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Josh Richman


Newsom Task Force, Others Debate Merits of Drug's Legalization

OAKLAND - As Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's marijuana commission explores 
how best to tackle legalization of the weed, everyone agrees 
protecting California's youth is paramount.

They just can't agree on the best way to do it. Some commissioners at 
a public forum Tuesday at the Youth Uprising neighborhood hub in East 
Oakland - a community wracked both by illegal drugs and the 
government's effort to control them - believe legalization is better 
than an unacceptable status quo. They argued that "just say no" 
programs haven't stemmed drug use by youth - and that suspending or 
expelling users from school and shunting them into the juvenile 
justice system often dooms their futures.

"I don't think teenagers need any more messages - what they really 
need is real education that can actually result in keeping them 
safe," said Commissioner Marsha Rosenbaum, director emerita of the 
San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance.

Rosenbaum said she prefers that her family's children abstain from 
marijuana, but misinformation and scare tactics "are not getting us anywhere."

It's time to replace "just say no" with "just say know," she said.

And legalization would bring tax revenue that can be plowed back into 
in-school, interactive antidrug programs like Oakland High School's 
Upfront, which was axed due to budget cuts, she said.

But some in the audience said that although decriminalization is fine 
to keep young people from facing lifelong consequences for minor 
marijuana use, full legalization will only bring more use and is 
being pursued for all the wrong reasons.

Don Carney, who directs the YMCA's Youth Court in Marin County, said 
his program has diverted more than 1,000 drug-using youth in the past 
decade with a program that has only an 8 percent recidivism rate - 
all without legalization.

"It's a little Kafkaesque to say we have to legalize marijuana to 
generate revenue to keep kids healthy - that's twisted," Carney said. 
"Why can't we make our kids a priority without legalizing dope?"

California is among several states likely to see 2016 ballot measures 
for legalization, as Colorado and Washington state approved in November 2012.

The American Civil Liberties Union convened California's Blue Ribbon 
Commission on Marijuana Policy in October 2013, with Newsom as its 
chairman, to study the issues around legalization.

"Whether you support the tax and legalization of marijuana for adults 
or not ... the likelihood that this will be on the ballot is almost a 
certainty," Newsom said Tuesday. "We need to be prepared. ... I want 
to make sure it's done right, and I say that as a parent first and foremost."

The commission's first field hearing in April in Los Angeles dealt 
with public safety issues; Tuesday's focused on youth education and 
prevention. The panel will meet with marijuana growers at the end of 
this month in Humboldt County, and then will hold a forum on 
regulation and taxation June 3 in Fresno.

Commissioner Peter Banys, a UC San Francisco psychiatry professor and 
past president of the California Society of Addiction Medicine, said 
Americans "have never embraced the distinction between hard and soft 
drugs" and still treat marijuana like methamphetamine or heroin. 
"This is patently absurd; it cannot continue."

Legalization and regulation would do more to keep it out of most 
children's hands, he said, as would engaging youth in schools in a 
more meaningful way than "scared straight" sorts of programs.

But Aglaia Panos, president of the Marin County Pharmacists 
Association, noted from the audience that today's marijuana is many 
times more potent than that of the past, and its harmful effects on 
youth can't be underestimated. She'd rather see marijuana 
reclassified under federal law and dispensed through pharmacies.

"Yes, I'm for education," she said, "but two wrongs don't make a 
right. ... It's a drug, I'm a pharmacist. We need to educate, and you 
have to have controls."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom