Legalize marijuana? Not so fast. (via Christian Monitor)

May 22, 2009 – By the Monitor’s Editorial Board The Monitor’s Editorial Board

The American movement to legalize marijuana for regular use is on a roll. Or at least its backers say it is.


They point to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said in early May that it’s now time to debate legalizing marijuana – though he’s personally against it. Indeed, a legislative push is on in his state (and several others, such as Massachusetts and Nevada) to treat this “soft” drug like alcohol – to tax and regulate its sale, and set an age restriction on buyers.

Several recent polls show stepped-up public support for legalization. This means not only lifting restrictions on use (“decriminalization”), but also on supply – production and sales. The Obama administration, meanwhile, says the US Drug Enforcement Agency will no longer raid dispensaries of medical marijuana – which is illegal under federal law – in states where it is legal.

The push toward full legalization is a well-organized, Internet-savvy campaign, generously funded by a few billionaires, including George Soros. It’s built on a decades-long, step-by-step effort in the states. Thirteen states have so far decriminalized marijuana use (generally, the punishment covers small amounts and involves a fine). And 13 states now allow for medical marijuana.

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), recently told a Monitor reporter that three reasons account for the fresh momentum toward legalization: 1) the weak economy, which is forcing states to look for new revenue; 2) public concern over the violent drug war in Mexico; and 3) more experience with marijuana itself.

If there is to be a debate, let’s look at these reasons, starting with experience with marijuana.

A harmless drug? Supporters of legalization often claim that no one has died of a pot overdose, and that it has beneficial effects in alleviating suffering from certain diseases.

True, marijuana cannot directly kill its user in the way that alcohol or a drug like heroin can. And activists claim that it may ease symptoms for certain patients – though it has not been endorsed by the major medical associations representing those patients, and the Food and Drug Administration disputes its value.

Rosalie Pacula, codirector of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center, poses this question: “If pot is relatively harmless, why are we seeing more than 100,000 hospitalizations a year” for marijuana use?

Emergency-room admissions where marijuana is the primary substance involved increased by 164 percent from 1995 to 2002 – faster than for other drugs, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network.

Research results over the past decade link frequent marijuana use to several serious mental health problems, with youth particularly at risk. And the British Lung Foundation finds that smoking three to four joints is the equivalent of 20 tobacco cigarettes.

While marijuana is not addictive in the way that a drug like crack-cocaine is, heavy use can lead to dependence – defined by the same criteria as for other drugs. About half of those who use pot daily become dependent for some period of time, writes Kevin Sabet, in the 2006 book, “Pot Politics” – and 1 in 10 people in the US who have ever used marijuana become dependent at some time (about the same rate as alcohol). Dr. Sabet was a drug policy adviser in the past two presidential administrations.

He adds that physicians in Britain and the Netherlands – both countries that have experience with relaxed marijuana laws – are seeing withdrawal symptoms among heavy marijuana users that are similar to those of cocaine and heroin addicts. This has been confirmed in the lab with monkeys.

Today’s marijuana is also much more potent than in the hippie days of yesteryear. But that doesn’t change what’s always been known about even casual use of this drug: It distorts perception, reduces motor skills, and affects alertness. When combined with alcohol (not unusual), or even alone, it worsens the risk of traffic accidents.

Would legalization take the violence out of the Mexican drug war?

NORML likes to point out that marijuana accounts for the majority of illicit drug traffic from Mexico. End the illicit trafficking, and you end the violence. But that volume gives a false impression of marijuana’s role in crime and violence, says Jonathan Caulkins, a professor at Carnegie Mellon and a drug-policy adviser in the US and Australia.

It’s the dollars that count, and the big earners – cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin – play a much larger role in crime and violence. In recent years, Mexico has become a major cocaine route to the US. That’s what’s fanning the violence, according to Dr. Caulkins, so legalizing marijuana is unlikely to quiet Mexico’s drug war.

Neither are America’s prisons stuffed with users who happened to get caught with a few joints (if that were the case, a huge percentage of America’s college students – an easy target – would be behind bars). Yes, there are upward of 700,000 arrests on marijuana charges each year, but that includes repeat arrests, and most of those apprehended don’t go to jail. Those who do are usually large-scale offenders.

Only 0.7 percent of inmates in state and federal prisons are in for marijuana possession (0.3 percent counting first-time offenders only, according to a 2002 US Justice Department survey). In federal prisons, the median amount of marijuana for those convicted of possession is 115 pounds – 156,000 marijuana cigarettes.

Can marijuana rescue state coffers?

The California legalization bill proposes a $50/ounce tax on marijuana. The aim is to keep pot as close to the black-market price as possible while still generating an estimated $1.3 billion in income for this deficit-challenged state.

But the black market can easily undercut a $50 tax and shrink that expected revenue stream. Just look at the huge trade in illegal cigarettes in Canada to see how taxing can spur a black market (about 30 percent of tobacco bought in Canada is illegal).

A government could attempt to eliminate the black market altogether by making marijuana incredibly cheap (Dr. Pacula at the RAND Organization says today’s black market price is about four times what it would be if pot were completely legalized). But then use would skyrocket and teens (though barred) could buy it with their lunch money.

Indeed, legalizing marijuana is bound to increase use simply because of availability. Legalization advocates say “not so” and point to the Netherlands and its legal marijuana “coffee shops.” Indeed, after the Dutch de facto legalized the drug in 1976, use stayed about the same for adults and youth. But it took off after 1984, growing by 300 percent over the next decade or so. Experts attribute this to commercialization (sound like alcohol?), and also society’s view of the drug as normal – which took a while to set in.

Now the Dutch are finding that normalization has its costs – increased dependence, more dealers of harder drugs, and a flood of rowdy “drug tourists” from other countries. The Dutch “example” should be renamed the Dutch “warning.”

As America has learned with alcohol, taxes don’t begin to cover the costs to society of destroyed families, lost productivity, and ruined lives – and regulators still have not succeeded in keeping alcohol from underage drinkers.

No one has figured out what the exact social costs of legalizing marijuana would be. But ephemeral taxes won’t cover them – nor should society want to encourage easier access to a drug that can lead to dependency, has health risks, and reduces alertness, to name just a few of its negative outcomes.

Why legalize a third substance that produces ill effects, when the US has such a poor record in dealing with the two big “licits” – alcohol and tobacco?

Parents need to resist peer pressure, too.

Legalization backers say the country is at a tipping point, ready to make the final big leap. They hope that a new generation of politicians that has had experience with marijuana will be friendly to their cause.

But this new generation is also made up of parents. Do parents really want marijuana to become a normal part of society – and an expectation for their children?

Maybe parents thought they left peer pressure behind when they graduated from high school. But the push to legalize marijuana is like the peer pressure of the schoolyard. The arguments are perhaps timely, but they don’t stand up, and parents must now stand up to them.

They must let lawmakers know that legalization is not OK, and they must carry this message to their children, too. Disapproval, along with information on risk, are the most important factors in discouraging marijuana and cocaine use among high school seniors, according to the University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future” project on substance abuse.

Parents must make clear that marijuana is not a harmless drug – even if they personally may have emerged unscathed.

And they need to teach the life lesson that marijuana does not really solve personal challenges, be they stress, relationships, or discouragement.

In the same way, a search for joy and satisfaction in a drug is misplaced.

The far greater and lasting attraction is in a life rooted in moral and spiritual values – not in a haze, a daze, or a munchie-craze.

Today’s youth are tomorrow’s world problem solvers – and the ones most likely to be affected if marijuana is legalized. Future generations need to be clear thinkers. For their sakes, those who oppose legalizing marijuana must become vocal, well-funded, and mainstream – before it’s too late. Source.

0 responses to “Legalize marijuana? Not so fast. (via Christian Monitor)”

  1. Should we also make refined white sugar and Big Macs illegal?

    Consuming those are also wicked dangerous for our society…AND consuming them also reflects ignorance and self-loathing (conscious or subconscious). With blood sugar issues myself, I know firsthand how “crazy” white sugar can make us. I’d wager a lot of crimes are committed while on a “sugar high.” Especially violent ones…

    Excessive forcing (laws) of human beings doesn’t work. Period. It’s like trying to control a volcano, try to cork it and see what happens. Have all our lofty laws wiped out drug use, prostitution…have they remedied the need for so many prisons?

    Our unreasonable control of people just makes things worse, and we’re too blind to see that this force just explodes into some other problem for our society. We are beings that were meant to be free.

    We are a world of self-loathing, fearful, and ignorant people. Take away one drug and we’ll find another, and another… The “cure” isn’t about control, it’s about curing the self-loathing, fearfulness and ignorance — those are the true roots of our self-destructive world. Not substances or weapons.

    But we’ve been on this controlling path for a long time, change it too suddenly and yeah, those feeling “free” will go kinda wild. Consequently, it’s about slowly weening people off that control (lessening the laws and penalties), while at the same time EDUCATING them and most importantly treating human beings with respect and kindness — not like cattle or slaves. Striking a child tells the child that it is NOTHING of any real value. Striking a child should be no different than striking another human being — (unless defending oneself) AGAINST THE LAW. We are struck first thing out of the woman, beginning the process toward self-loathing. This needs to stop.

    Teaching people they are valuable, and consequently they will value others, and the world… Sadly, religion does NOT teach us this, quite the contrary. Think about it, if religion was the cure, why world gotten worse, a world saturated with religion… It is, in fact, at the root of our ills. And until we realize what I’m saying here, we’re barreling toward self-destruction — and no amount of laws is gonna change that. What needs to change is US.

    Be Strong,

  2. [Rosalie Pacula, codirector of the Rand Drug Policy Research Center, poses this question: “If pot is relatively harmless, why are we seeing more than 100,000 hospitalizations a year” for marijuana use?

    Emergency-room admissions where marijuana is the primary substance involved increased by 164 percent from 1995 to 2002 – faster than for other drugs, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network.]

    How many of these hospitalizations are enforced by plea deals? How many have something to do with cannabis laced with a harmful drug? That would not happen if cannabis were regulated.

    [He adds that physicians in Britain and the Netherlands – both countries that have experience with relaxed marijuana laws – are seeing withdrawal symptoms among heavy marijuana users that are similar to those of cocaine and heroin addicts. This has been confirmed in the lab with monkeys.

    Today’s marijuana is also much more potent than in the hippie days of yesteryear.]

    A. Cannabis has some nicotine in it. Pump enough reefer smoke into a monkey, there will be physical dependence. Most responsible users don’t smoke that much. Most responsible users are not monkeys.

    B. “Statistics” that say today’s pot is way more potent are correct, to an extent. Anyone quoting this statistic is always referring to a test done back in the 70’s of 60’s cannabis. In the 5-10 years that the cannabis sat in the police contraband cage, it got stale and became much less potent. So while the results of that test (which everyone quotes) say that the THC potency percentage was about 3-4%, the reality is that it was probably closer to 10%. Today’s engineered cannabis can reach up to 23%. So what’s wrong with that? It means more THC and other cannabinoids with less nicotine. People aren’t smoking 3-4 joints of kind bud like they used to with the Mexican weed in the 60s and 70s. You’d have to be nuts to do that. But even if you did, you probably wouldn’t end up in the hospital.

    I think most people that end up in the hospital have previous conditions that bring them there; and, often times, they are trying to self-medicate. If a doctor could prescribe a particular strain with a particular potency to be used in a tea or with an oil or butter, most of these alarming “marijuana hospitalizations” would go away. Most of these people are teenagers who have access to what kind of pot (other than ‘illegal’)? Probably dirty Mexican cartel weed that is mostly Sativa, genetically speaking. A person who already has psychological issues should not be smoking a Sativa, which is going to give you a head-high.

    And if it’s pain relief you’re looking for, a nice Indica will give you that body-high. Where does that cannabis come from? The hills and mountains of the Hindu-Kush region. Don’t want to deal with militant terrorists from the Middle East? What do we do? How about tearing up these bogus treaties that Nixon made with countries all over the world for the prohibition of cannabis. Then let’s reform our laws and give safe access to responsible adult cannabis users. We need to stop our children from accessing cannabis and stop the ignorant, misleading propaganda that is always swirling around the topic of cannabis.

  3. “If pot is relatively harmless, why are we seeing more than 100,000 hospitalizations a year?”

    This statistic is not cited, so I’ll have to take it at face value. (Notice also that the claim is not “we see more than 100,000 pot-related hospitalizations per year”, so this may be a totally inaccurate number.) The claim is that that 100,000 hospitalizations per year is not in the category of “relatively harmless”, so we need some context to understand what the accepted scale of harmless to harmful actually is.

    The Center for Disease Control provides this report that summarizes hospitalizations in the US (For 2006):

    Let’s consider some hospitalizations that are obviously on the “harmful” end of any reasonable scale: In 2006, about 2.2 million people were hospitalized for Heart Disease; about 1.1 million people for fractures and broken bones. Clearly these are “harmful” conditions affecting 1000 times more than the claimed 100,000 hospitalizations for pot use. In fact the CDC survey linked above does not summarize hospitalization rates for conditions much below about 600,000 incidences per year. The absence of CDC data suggests that hospitalizations for marijuana use are in fact *uncommon*.

    uncommon does not necessarily equal “harmless”, but I think it’s reasonable to say that, yes, even if we are seeing 100,000 hospitalizations per year for marijuana–again, a statistic that isn’t cited or supported by any data I can find–that it is in fact “relatively harmless” when compared to evidently harmful conditions.

  4. I’m sorry to see so many lies coming from people who call themselves “Christians”, -those who compose “The Monitor’s Editorial Board”. There was obviously not a shred of objective research put into this article.

    As Americans, we would think that such slanted, irresponsible journalism would only occur in other, terribly backwards, foreign countries or times, such as Nazi Germany or Marxist Lennon. But, no. The bull-slinging and outright lies come from within. And, do remember, God calls His children “sheep”. Need anyone else say more?

    But, thank God for giving us free will. Some of us Christians have been shown the light. We don’t lie, we don’t steal, and we don’t practice shameful and embarrassing journalism intended to cruelly extend the suffering of sick and dying people, and encourage blatant racism, police corruption and fund gang activity. Thanks a lot, “Christian Monitor”! Your shoddy journalism is NOT helping society!

    PROVERBS 19: 9 The false witness will not be free from punishment, and he that launches forth mere lies will perish.

    Everyone, please understand- the drug war is not a war against substances. It’s a war against people. People…FAMILIES pay the price, not the substance.

  5. My letter to the Monitor:

    Dear Editors,

    Normally I appreciate your thoughtful analyses, yet the recent anti-legalization piece was disappointing. Not only did you rely on discredited data and quotes from heavily invested drug warriors like Rosalie Pacula for the semblance of intellectual merit, your argument against legalization can be extended to a number of other substances that we currently regulate with success. Alcohol, tobacco, sugar, caffeine, guns, and automobiles, under your reasoning, should be made illegal, yet we have learned to behave like adults where those are concerned. Is alcohol problem free? Of course not, and neither will any substance that humans get their hands on, but the problems that come with regulation are infinitely more manageable and palatable to the conscience than those that have arisen from the endless war on the people and cities of America. For your esteemed journal to perpetuate lies that have been repeatedly debunked only serves to diminish your respectability and reputation as a journal concerned with the ethical climate in the world.

    I harbor no illusions about your desire to participate honestly in this debate, nor am I naive enough to think that your interests lie with revealing truth and repealing injustices that may conflict with other values you hold. Yet, I’d like to think that your staff is composed of humans after all, and that somewhere in their hearts there remains the ability to care about the millions of citizens caught in the ideological crossfire rather than being rigidly to an outmoded morality. The choice is not between vice and no vice; rather, the real choice is between either alleviating or exacerbating human suffering. Thus far, your position aligns with the latter. Your audience depends on you to inform them fully and participate in this debate with as much objectivity as possible.

    Our nation languishes while you prevaricate.


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