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Should we legalize pot?

| 03 Mar 2014 | 02:50

Not your mom’s Woodstock weed

When asked why marijuana should not be legalized, I didn’t know where to start. Then the phone rang. A family member’s 19-year-old son was “out of control, smoking pot.” She asked if I knew of an interventionist and a rehab because her son, on legal probation, just failed another drug test. “We are just so over this, we’ve had it,” she said.

Youth are getting the message that marijuana is a benign, mellow way to chill out; that it’s natural and medicinal. Where are they getting this message? For one, from ballot initiatives encouraged by a pro-legalization movement, which put forth images of dying people with diseases that could be eased if only they had access to medical marijuana. Agreed that we need to find out how to deliver the components from marijuana that would alleviate medical conditions, but when did we decide that voting upon a new medicine was a better avenue than scientific FDA trials combined with rigorous research?

Youth are also subject to the sixties’ mindset where peace, love and happiness gathered hippies who smoked marijuana, listened to groovy music and made love not war. They are experiencing a decrease in their perception of harm of marijuana, and when the perception of harm goes down, there’s an increase in use.

But this is not your mom’s Woodstock weed. Marijuana is at least five times stronger than it was 30 years ago, and is contributing to increased mental illness concerns among adolescents, from anxiety to depression. If legalized, marijuana would become far more accessible. Will this really be a good thing?

We should be wary of a ‘Big Marijuana’ similar to America’s ‘Big Tobacco.’ There are already vending machines fitted with cannabis food and candy, marketed to kids.

Legalizing marijuana won’t decrease the cost to society; quite the opposite. Our experiences with tobacco and alcohol show that for every $1 in tax revenue, society loses $10 in social costs, from accidents to health damages. Colorado (which legalized recreational marijuana) is seeing marijuana-impaired drivers and fatalities on the rise.

I have confidence in our generation that we’ll consider other positions. So let’s pull up a chair and talk about marijuana.

Annmarie Shafer, Coordinator, Vernon Coalition, a program of the Center for Prevention and Counseling, Newton, N.J.

Prohibition is a failed policy

Prohibition is a failed policy. Despite more than 20 million arrests and hundreds of millions of dollars spent in the past forty three years, more than 100 million Americans, including Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, admit to having used marijuana.Worse than being merely ineffective, however, treating marijuana use as a law enforcement issue creates harms that would not exist in the absence of prohibition.

Before we had a war on drugs, police in the U.S. spent the majority of their time focusing on violent crimes, and as a result, were more successful at solving them. Whereas before the war on drugs police solved about nine out of 10 murders, now that police are forced to target nonviolent drug offenders, that stat has dropped to approximately six out of 10, and is even worse for other crimes (four out of ten rapes, one in ten burglaries).

In addition, legalizing marijuana would eliminate much of the income of violent street gangs and drug cartels, striking a blow to those organizations unequaled by anything law enforcement has done in the past four decades.

For those targeted by police, there are other consequences of prohibition. Having an arrest record impacts employment status, the ability to secure housing, federal financial aid, food stamps, and can even lead to the removal of children from the homes of offending parents.

Current policy also impacts our children in other ways. High school students tell us it is easier to buy marijuana than it is to buy beer because drug dealers don’t check IDs. And, according to the DEA, 900,000 teenagers in our country now participate in the lucrative business of selling illicit drugs. Neither of those things would occur in a regulated and controlled market. Instead, marijuana could create jobs and tax revenues that could be spent on better schools and other needs of the community.

For all these reasons and more, legalizing marijuana is one of the easiest, most effective ways to improve public safety and ensure the future prosperity of our communities.

Jack Cole, retired detective lieutenant, New Jersey State Police, and co-founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. jackacole@leap.cc.