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RAND study: Legalizing marijuana will increase use. Is this what parents want for their kids?

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(Read caption) Richard Lee is the president of Oaksterdam University, a marijuana growing vocational school in Oakland, CA. He strongly supports a November ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in California.

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This week the RAND Corporation came out with a study that said that legalizing marijuana in California – as a November ballot measure proposes – could cut the price of pot by as much as 80 percent, and will increase use.

It made me think of an article I read last year by Michael Winerip in the Sunday New York Times. Mr. Winerip is a journalist and a children’s book author – and also a father.

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His article riffed off of an interview he had with Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which is at the forefront of the marijuana legalization movement.

Winerip found his interviewee’s arguments for legalizing pot persuasive. He acknowledged that the pro-pot strategy was aimed squarely at people such as himself: baby boomers who smoked it, enjoyed it, and to whom nothing terrible happened.

“The 20-something me believes marijuana could be legalized, regulated and taxed like alcohol, providing much needed revenue,” he wrote.

However, “the 50-something me – who hasn't smoked in more than 20 years – knows stories in our little suburb about classmates of my kids smoking pot in middle school, using heroin in college, going into rehab, relapsing, trying again. The 50-something me has seen the eyes of those boomer parents – good people – seen the weariness and fear, and thought, 'There but for the grace of God. ...’ ”

Almost 40 years ago, I was a middle school kid smoking pot. My parents intervened, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

I had become a regular user for a stupid reason: to impress a boy. One day, I inhaled something that was either very strong, or laced with another drug. I started hallucinating and was so frightened I came straight home and told my mother.

That summer, my parents put me on a plane to visit relatives in Germany. I thought I was just going to have a fun summer with kids my age, riding ponies in the nearby paddock and riding waves in a giant outdoor swimming pool. But when I was grown up, my mom told me it was to get me away from bad influences. Well, it worked. My pot experience began and ended in the 9th grade.

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It wasn’t hard to buy marijuana then, and it isn’t hard now. But it will be much easier and much less expensive for young people to get access to this drug if it’s legalized. The Rand study says the untaxed retail price of high-quality marijuana could drop to as low as $38 per ounce compared to about $375 per ounce today.

Of course, legalization advocates say that, as with alcohol, no one under 21 would be allowed to buy pot. But kids get around that rule by getting into their parents' liquor cabinet or asking someone older to buy them beer.

Legalization advocates also maintain that marijuana is harmless. This simply is not true. Check out p. 7 of this March speech by President Obama’s “drug czar,” Gil Kerlikowske. He points out, among other things, that it can lead to dependence. Young people are especially vulnerable.

(For a Monitor editorial laying out the arguments against legalization, click here.)

The legalization drive is well-financed, sophisticated, and everywhere. But it can be defeated if parents take an active stand – at home and in the public sphere. The public sits up and listens to parents. And while parents may not believe it, their kids take note, too. Parents must enforce consequences for their teens using pot, and not be afraid to take such actions if they are not popular or their kids rebel.

Many of today’s moms and dads have had experience with marijuana. Ask yourself, is this really what you want for your children?