Pubdate: Sat, 20 Jun 2015
Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Times-Herald
Author: Paul Armentano


In their op-ed article against cannabis legalization (June 17, "What 
happened to the pot stigma?"), former drug czar William J. Bennett 
and Seth Leibsohn yearn for a time when shaming and fear-mongering, 
not facts, drove the marijuana policy debate in America. Those days 
are largely over.

Bennett and Leibsohn blame the "marijuana lobby" for re-shaping the 
way Americans think about the cannabis plant and the public policies 
governing it. But the reality is that voters' views on pot have 
evolved in recent years based on both the failures of marijuana 
prohibition and the success of its legalization and regulation. For 
decades, those opposed to amending cannabis criminalization warned 
that any significant change in marijuana policy would lead to a 
plethora of unintended consequences. Yet the initial experience in 
Colorado and Washington, in addition to many other states' 
deep-rooted experiences regulating the production and distribution of 
marijuana for therapeutic purposes, has shown these fears to be misplaced.

For example, neither the imposition of statewide medical marijuana 
legalization nor the establishment of dispensaries is associated with 
increases in violent crimes, burglary or property crimes, according 
to the available literature. A federally commissioned study, 
appearing in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, determined 
that there are "no observed associations between the density of 
medical marijuana dispensaries and either violent or property crime 
rates." A second paper, published last year in the journal PLOS One, 
concluded that legalizing medical marijuana access at the state level 
"is not predictive of higher crime rates and may be related to 
reductions in rates of homicide and assault."

Similarly, incidences of violent crime in Denver, the epicenter of 
Colorado's commercial marijuana industry, fell significantly 
following the opening of retail marijuana businesses in 2014. Between 
Jan. 1 and April 30 last year, violent crime and property crime 
dropped 10.6 percent compared with that same span one year earlier.

Liberalized marijuana laws also are not predictive of upticks in 
overall cannabis use by young people. Authors of a federally 
commissioned study published just this past week in Lancet Psychiatry 
assessed the relationship between state medical marijuana laws and 
rates of self-reported adolescent marijuana use over a 24-year period 
in a sampling of over one million adolescents in 48 states. 
Researchers reported no increase in teens' overall use of the plant 
that could be attributable to changes in law, and acknowledged a 
"robust" decrease in use among eighth-graders. They concluded: "(T)he 
results of this study showed no evidence for an increase in 
adolescent marijuana use after the passage of state laws permitting 
use of marijuana for medical purposes. ... (C)oncerns that increased 
marijuana use is an unintended effect of state marijuana laws seem unfounded."

Researchers' results were similar to those of a July 2014 paper 
published by the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research 
which determined: "Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis 
that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the 
use of marijuana among high school students. In fact, estimates from 
our preferred specification are small, consistently negative and are 
never statistically distinguishable from zero."

Likewise, state survey data released last August by the Colorado 
Department of Public Health & Environment found that fewer high 
school students in the state consumed cannabis in 2013 as compared 
with 2011. (Marijuana legalization went into effect in Colorado in 
2012, although retail sales of cannabis to adults did not begin until 
Jan. 1, 2014.) According to the survey, the percentage of high 
schoolers who reported using marijuana within the past 30 days fell 
from 22 percent in 2011 to 20 percent in 2013 - a percentage that is 
below the national average.

In short, government can regulate cannabis in a manner that satisfies 
the seller, the consumer and the tax man - and the sky won't fall. 
Just the opposite is true. Regulations, such as age restrictions for 
consumers and licensing requirements for commercial producers and 
merchants, are effective and proven alternatives to prohibition. For 
instance, the public's overall consumption of alcohol and tobacco, 
and young people's use in particular, now stands at near-historic 
lows. According to recent federal government figures alcohol 
consumption within the past 30 days among young people has fallen 
from 70 percent of 12th-graders in 1980 to 40 percent today. Monthly 
tobacco use among 12th-graders has similarly plunged from nearly 40 
percent in the late 1970s to just 16 percent today.

These results have not been achieved by imposing blanket 
criminalization upon society, but rather by regulation and public education.

Policymakers, as well as pundits like Bennett and Leibsohn, should 
welcome the opportunity to bring these necessary and long-overdue 
controls to the cannabis market.

A pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the legal, licensed 
commercial production and retail sale of cannabis to adults but 
restricts its use among young people - coupled with a legal 
environment that fosters open, honest dialogue between parents and 
children about cannabis' potential harms - best reduces the risks 
associated with the plant's use or abuse.

It makes no sense from a public health perspective, a fiscal 
perspective or a moral perspective to perpetuate the prosecution and 
stigmatization of those adults who choose to responsibly consume a 
substance that is objectively safer than either alcohol or tobacco.

Paul Armentano/Vallejo
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom