Pubdate: Thu, 20 Aug 2015
Source: Napa Valley Register (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Lee Enterprises
Author: Paul Armentano
Note: Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML - the National 
Organization for the reform of Marijuana Laws - and also serves as a 
senior policy adviser for Freedom Leaf, Inc. He resides in Vallejo.


In his op-ed article against the legalization of cannabis in 
California ("Marijuana's harms ignored in push for legalization," 
Aug. 14), guest columnist Thomas Elias yearns for a time when shaming 
and fear-mongering, not facts, drove the marijuana policy debate in 
America. Those days are largely over.

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 experiences 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.

Contrary to Elias' claims, 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: "... 
the 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. ... concerns 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 
that 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, state and local governments can regulate cannabis in a 
manner that keeps pot out of the hands of children while 
simultaneously satisfying the seller, the consumer and the taxman - 
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 should welcome the opportunity to bring these 
necessary and long-overdue controls to the cannabis market.

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.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom