Letters to the Editor
Readers write about the debate over whether or not to legalize marijuana.
Reasons to legalize marijuana
Regarding the May 22 editorial, "Legalize marijuana? Not so fast": Marijuana is not a "harmless" substance. Very few things humans put into their body are. However, cannabis's potential health risks to the user are low compared with those of other intoxicants – alcohol and tobacco in particular – and the drug's relative impact on society is nominal.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control, alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of death in America, trailing only tobacco smoking and poor diet. By contrast, marijuana use – as admitted by the Monitor – cannot cause fatal overdose and is relatively nontoxic to healthy human cells and organs.
In fact, a 2007 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare study reported that cannabis use was responsible for zero deaths and only 0.2 percent of the estimated total burden of disease and injury in that country. (Marijuana use rates in Australia are comparable to those in the United States.)
Further, it is disingenuous to highlight pot's potential risks, of which there are relatively few, while simultaneously ignoring the costs associated with enforcing marijuana prohibition, of which there are many.
The continued criminalization of cannabis has led to the arrest of over 20 million Americans since 1965, empowered and enriched criminal entrepreneurs, and alienated millions of otherwise law-abiding citizens while creating widespread disrespect for the rule of law among minorities and young people. At the same time, this expensive and arbitrary policy has done virtually nothing to address the very concerns voiced by the Monitor.
Clearly it is time to try a different approach.
The Monitor asserts that "activists claim that it may ease symptoms for certain patients – though it has not been endorsed by the major medical associations representing those patients." Not true. Here are two of many examples:
In 2003, the American Academy of HIV Medicine stated that, "When appropriately prescribed and monitored, marijuana/cannabis can provide immeasurable benefits for the health and well-being of our patients." And in 2008, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society said that it "supports legislation to remove criminal and civil sanctions for the doctor-advised, medical use of marijuana by patients with serious physical medical conditions."
Of course marijuana hasn't been endorsed by the major medical associations or the Food and Drug Administration. Those groups receive a large portion of their funding from Big Pharma. If marijuana is legalized, Big Pharma stands to lose big time. Marijuana costs very little compared to manufactured medications.
Would legalization of marijuana take the violence out of the Mexican drug war? Absolutely. Take a look at Portugal's drug laws. There aren't any – and guess what? Violent crime has taken a dramatic nose dive there. Prohibition keeps the price of drugs artificially high. When the price is high, there is more at stake. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that greed is directly proportional to violence.
OK, so marijuana isn't harmless and legalization would bring on some knotty problems. But we have to admit that the "war on drugs" is over. Drugs won.
Prohibition did not work. Since it ended, the per capita consumption of alcohol has decreased with great regularity. Ditto for the consumption of legal tobacco products. Yet the demand for illegal drugs seems boundless.
We need to stop considering those who use drugs to be criminals and start treating them as sick individuals who need treatment. We need to control the market for drugs in order to put the drug gangs out of business. The illegal drug culture, like the illegal alcohol culture during the Prohibition era, is a major source of corruption in the US, as well as other countries. Enough already!
Seems to me that there is an easy answer to the marijuana issue. There are apparently hazards and costs to legalizing it and making it a "normal" part of society. There are also problems in making usage a criminal offense.
Perhaps there is a middle ground. Perhaps it could be decriminalized federally, but usage and possession could become a violation. The monetary penalty could be a particularly onerous amount, so it would always sting when someone is busted. A less harmful penalty is more enforceable, the money is an incentive for enforcement, and consistent enforcement, with a painful but short-lived penalty, is a more effective deterrent. A "sin tax" by penalty, if you will, rather than commerce.
It is within your legal rights to choose whether or not to use alcohol and tobacco in your pursuit of happiness; prudent discernment and experience may dictate a modicum of moderation for some, while others choose to live a life devoid of such things. The beauty of a free nation lies in being able to make that personal choice – and not have it dictated by others.
The fact is, criminalizing marijuana has not made it unavailable to young people. Just as criminalizing alcohol added a layer of violence and crime in the 1930s, so has criminalizing all drugs.
What your editorial fails to consider is that legalizing drugs could be done with many restrictions on age and access, while spending much of the revenue on treatment and education, rather than spending tax money on policing and prisons.
There will always be a market for these substances. Let's spend our resources on education, treatment, and creating other opportunities for young people.
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