Pros and Cons Debate

December 4, 2009 – Cancer patients, glaucoma patients and others can benefit from medical marijuana, and now a new analysis shows that it can help multiple sclerosis (MS) patients find relief from the muscle spasms that are the hallmark of the debilitating autoimmune disease.

“The therapeutic potential of cannabinoids in MS appears to be comprehensive, and should be given considerable attention,” said lead researcher Dr. Shaheen Lakhan, executive director of the Global Neuroscience Initiative Foundation.

“Spasticity, an involuntary increase in muscle tone or rapid muscle contractions, is one of the more common and distressing symptoms of MS,” the researchers noted in their review. “Medicinal treatment may reduce spasticity, but may also be ineffective, difficult to obtain or associated with intolerable side effects,” they added.

“We found evidence that cannabis plant extracts may provide therapeutic benefit for MS spasticity symptoms,” Lakhan said.

Although some objective measures showed improvement, there were no significant changes in after-treatment assessments, Lakhan said. “However, subjective assessment of symptom relief did often show significant improvement post-treatment,” he added.

For the study, Lakhan and his colleague Marie Rowland reviewed six studies where marijuana was used by MS patients. Five of the trials showed that marijuana reduced spasms and improved mobility, according to the report published Dec. 3 in the online journal BMC Neurology.

Specifically, the studies evaluated the cannabis extracts delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). These studies found that both THC and CBD extracts may provide therapeutic benefit for MS spasticity symptoms, Lakhan said.

Although there was a benefit from using marijuana there were also side effects, such as intoxication. This varied depending on the amount of marijuana needed to effectively limit spasms, but side effects were also seen in the placebo groups, Lakhan and Rowland noted.

The careful monitoring of symptom relief and side effects is critical in reaching an individual’s optimal dose, Lakhan said. “Moreover, there is evidence that cannabinoids may provide neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory benefits in MS,” he added.

“Considering the distress and limitations spasticity brings to individuals with MS, it would be important to carefully weigh the potential for side effects with the potential for symptom relief, especially in view of the relief reported in subjective assessment,” Lakhan said.

Dr. Moses Rodriguez, a professor of neurology and immunology at the Mayo Clinic, said that “the idea of using cannabis to treat MS has been around for a long time.”

Rodriguez noted that the effects of using marijuana have been mixed. “It has been difficult to know whether the effect has been just a general well-being or whether it has a direct effect on muscle fibers and spasticity,” he said.

If drugs could be developed that take away the intoxicating effects of marijuana, it could have a direct effect on spasms without the high, Rodriguez said.

The Obama administration announced in October that it will no longer prosecute medical marijuana users or suppliers, provided they obey the laws of states that allow use of the drug for medicinal purposes.

Rodriguez said he is often asked by his MS patients about whether there is a benefit to using marijuana.

“What I tell my patients,” he said, “is if they want to try it they should try it. They should understand that there is a potential for it to be habit-forming and there may be a potential that they are fooling themselves.”

Patricia A. O’Looney, vice president of biomedical research at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said the society has studied this issue and does not think enough is known to recommend that MS patients use marijuana.

“Because the studies to date do not demonstrate a clear benefit compared to existing therapy, and issues of side effects and long-term effects are not clear, the recommendation is that it should not be recommended at this time,” she said.

Another expert, Dr. William Sheremata, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center at the University of Miami School of Medicine, also doesn’t think MS patients necessarily benefit from marijuana use.

Sheremata noted that the objective measures in the study did not show any benefit from marijuana. “Those are the only valid measures. Subjective responses are subjective; they really don’t have much in the way of validity,” he said. “I am not convinced that the use of marijuana benefits patients as a whole.” Source.

For more information on multiple sclerosis, visit the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

November 22, 2009 – With multiple initiatives in circulation and an Assembly bill gathering headlines, discussions about legalizing marijuana have become part of California’s political discourse.

Advocates on one side argue that the result will be an economic boon as tax revenues rolls in and jails rid themselves of nonviolent offenders. Defenders of prohibition say legalization would be a nightmare of stoned kids, addiction and highway deaths.

Or maybe the reality would be a lot more mundane.

“Most of the popular debate is dominated by two groups—avid pro-marijuana crowd, and the true prohibitionists,” said Michael Vitiello, a University of Pacific law professor who has written several articles on the topic, including a recent Wisconsin Law Review piece looking at the potential for legalization in California. Both sides, he said, are prone to “gross overstatements.”

By contrast, Vitiello calls himself a “tepid legalizer.” On the one hand, he said, he doesn’t “expect Western civilization as we know it to end” if pot becomes legal. He points to the widely-circulated statistic that per capita marijuana in the Netherlands, where pot has essentially been legal for years, is half that of the U.S — partially, he said, because few there view the drug as “cool.”

Medical research, Vitiello said, is increasingly pointing to the idea that people choose or avoid certain drugs based on their own brain chemistry. Marijuana is already so prevalent in California, he said, that most people who would use it probably already are.

On the other hand, he said he doubts projections that legalization will result in big tax revenues and thousands of non-violent offenders leaving prisons. The bigger impact would probably come on local jails, where many people head for a period after a marijuana arrest but never actually go to prison.

“The idea that we’re going to empty our prisons and save a billion, I don’t know how they’re getting that number,” Vitiello said.

Most in the debate agree that very few people are going to prison in California merely for smoking pot. The bigger issue is how many people are going back to prison on a parole violation of failing a drug test for marijuana. This has become a major rallying point for pro-legalization activists.

“My estimate is that there are thousands of people today in state prison in California for having done nothing but smoking marijuana because they were on parole,” said James Gray, a retired Orange County Superior Court judge who has become a major legalization and libertarian activists.

According to Corrections spokesman Paul Verke, only 256 were found to have violated parole in California last year solely for failing a marijuana test. He added that he did not know how many of these were returned to custody. Some in the legalization community say they have been seeking these figures, unsuccessfully, for years. “CCR will say it’s not many, parole officers will say they never do that, but on the other had we know family members who say that they have,” said Margaret Dooley- Sammuli, deputy state director with the Drug Policy Alliance. “Clearly this is an area where we don’t know what happening, and clearly this is a problem.”

Another area where the actual effect would be unclear is on tax revenue. The legalization initiative filed by the founder’s of Oakland’s Oaksterdam University, which teaches students about cultivation and other aspects of the medical marijuana business, cites a figure of $15 billion in illegal marijuana sales in California annually. While estimates vary, few contest that pot is California’s top cash crop, easily outpacing our state’s vaunted wine industry.

That initiative calls for unspecified taxes. AB 390, the marijuana legalization bill being carried by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, calls for a tax of $50 an ounce. Growers would pay a licensing fee of $5,000, with a $2,500 annual renewal. While it’s very unlikely AB 390 will get anywhere, some have pointed to these fees as a possible model of taxation.

But the state would be trying to overlay these taxes on an already-thriving illegal market, with numerous large operations already running without the knowledge of authorities. Legalization would also likely inspire more people to grow their own. Few people are going to grow and ferment their own wine, or grow and roll their own tobacco for that matter. But small amounts of marijuana can be successfully grown by anyone who can keep a houseplant alive.

In fact, Vitiello said, there is a natural tension between the desire to relax law enforcement and the hope of brining in tax revenue. If not reporting a crop is nothing more than a minor tax offense, he said, there will be little incentive for most people to report to the Franchise Tax Board. Making penalties strong enough to get people to report, however, could actually send more people to prison, at least in the short term.

John Lovell, lobbyist for the California Peace Officers Association and several other law enforcement groups, scoffs at the idea that legal pot would be a moneymaker for the state.

“The hard dollars will be far more than any revenue that is brought in through any kind of spurious tax effort,” Lovell said.

Lovell referred to studies from Maryland and British Columbia that he said point to the dangers of people driving while under the influence of marijuana—a problem he said would get much worse under legalization. He also pointed to a RAND Corp. study he said that shows pot taxes would be a fraction of what proponents claim. Most of the tax penalties in current bills and initiatives, he said, amount to little more than “licensing fees.”

Another issue is the penalties for selling to minors. Many proponents have said the penalties should be similar to those for adults who procure alcohol for kids. Both the Ammiano bill and Oaksterdam initiative allow legislative leeway in determining what these penalties should be.

“These things are negotiable,” Ammiano said. “My druthers are that we do look at sentencing and determinate sentencing. There are obviously areas we can negotiate on.”

Then there’s the question of where people could buy it. Most models point to a highly-regulated distribution system, perhaps akin to the state-run liquor stores in Washington State.

There could also be major local differences. There’s already been a decade of testing on what this might look like, in the form of the medical marijuana dispensaries that have been operating since California voters passed Proposition 215 by a wide margin in 1996. Some areas, particularly Los Angeles, have reported significant problems, with a large number of dispensaries operating. The more likely model might be West Hollywood, which operates a small number of heavily-regulated but thriving operations.

“What it’s going to look like in the future will entirely depend on the locals,” said Dale Clare, executive chancellor of Oaksterdam.

Clare also said that they’re set to pass half a million signatures on their initiative by next week. Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee has been quoted saying they will be able to marshal $20 million in donations to the initiative once it lands on next year’s ballot—a figure likely to be countered by millions from group’s opposing the measure.

Clare also points to an April Field Poll that found that 56 percent of voters would approve a legalization measure. This conflicts with a Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research poll earlier this month that found likely voters opposed such a measure, 52 percent to 38 percent.

But the trend lines are clearly headed towards legalization. A February article on the popular political blog said that support for marijuana legalization nationwide had passed the 40 percent threshold. Given greater support among younger voters and greatest opposition from older ones, “legalization would achieve 60 percent support at some point in 2022 or 2023,” according to author Nate Silver.

“If it goes to the ballot and fails, we’re that much closer for 2012,” Clare said. “This is an education campaign.”

October 29, 2009 – SACRAMENTO — Marijuana legalization advocates and law enforcement officials duked it out in a three-hour legislative hearing Wednesday on whether making the drug legal under state law would be good public policy.schwarzenegger_marijuana_debate

Advocates said legalization and regulation could bring as much as $1.4 billion in state and local excise and sales tax revenue per year; control the drug’s potency; do more to keep it out of children’s hands; and end a century long double standard in which alcohol and tobacco — which they say are more harmful — are legal while marijuana isn’t, leading to a war on drugs particularly destructive to people of color.

Law enforcement officials testified the harms caused by marijuana legalization would far outweigh whatever tax revenue it might bring — more, not less, use by children; more people driving under the influence, causing more injuries and deaths; decreased worker productivity that could hurt the economy; and a still-thriving black market.

The hearing was convened by Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who earlier this year introduced a bill to legalize and tax marijuana under a system not unlike that used for alcohol. Even as several proposed ballot measures for legalization seek to qualify for next year’s ballot, Ammiano is rewriting his bill to bring it forward again in January, and Wednesday’s hearing was supposed to help him gather input for that revamp.

First up Wednesday were the Legislative Analyst’s Office, which said state and local law enforcement could save “several tens of millions of dollars each year” by no longer pursuing marijuana cases, and the Board of Equalization, which has estimated $1.4 billion in annual revenue from taxes on legalized marijuana.

Then came the lawyers. Drug Policy Alliance staff attorney Tamar Todd and American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Allen Hopper testified California is free to criminalize or not criminalize whatever it wants, and can and should chart its own course as a laboratory for new social and economic policy.

But Martin Mayer, general counsel to the California Peace Officers’ Association and the California Police Chiefs Association, underscored there would be no protection from federal law enforcement agencies arresting, charging and prosecuting Californians for violating the federal marijuana ban.

California Peace Officers’ Association President John Standish said there’s “no way marijuana legalization could protect or promote society — in fact, it radically diminishes it” by impairing educational ability, worker productivity, traffic safety and drug-related crime rates.

Ammiano asked whether police resources now used to fight marijuana would be better spent fighting harder, more harmful drugs such as methamphetamine.

“That’s like, ‘When did you stop beating your wife?’ Standish replied, calling marijuana and methamphetamine “both equally critical problems our society needs to address.”

Sara Simpson, acting assistant chief of the state Justice Department’s Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement, said much of California’s major marijuana cultivation is run by Mexican drug cartels on remote public lands, and she recited a litany of violent and deadly clashes with armed guards at such sites. Such growing operations also are environmentally devastating, she said, and produce marijuana far more potent than that used just years ago. There’s no reason to believe the cartels would adhere to state laws on cultivation, potency and taxation any more than they adhere to prohibition now, she said.

Rosalie Pacula, co-director of the Drug Policy Research Center at renowned think-tank RAND Corp., said prohibition has kept marijuana prices high, and legalization with heavy taxation that elevates marijuana’s price far above the cost of its production will lead to a thriving black market.

But Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice Executive Director Dan Macallair said arrest statistics from the past 20 years show California law enforcement is far more focused on prosecuting simple possession and use than cultivation and sales. Various counties are more or less tolerant of marijuana use, he said, a lack of consistency and continuity that could be solved by regulation.

And retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray said the state can allow and regulate marijuana without condoning its use just like alcohol and tobacco, but any legalization legislation must ban advertising lest marijuana use become glamorized. By Josh Richman. Source.

This article reprinted in full with permission from the 3 Monkeys Guide to Health. The original article can be found here:

September 15, 2009 – The politics and policies of drug prohibition are a failure primarily because they are not effective in actually prohibiting people from obtaining and using drugs, and also because the evidence NORML_Remember_Prohibition_supporting those policies are weak.

Here are a few rebuttals to the main arguments used in favor of prohibition.

Argument 1: The fact that drugs are illegal keeps many people from trying them, and out of harm’s way. Legalization now would contribute to many more people using drugs.

In the UK, as in many countries, the real clampdown on drugs started in the late 1960s, yet government statistics show that the number of heroin or cocaine addicts seen by the health service has grown ever since – from around 1000 people per year then, to 100,000 today. It is a pattern that has been repeated the world over.

Argument 2: If current policies are not successful at prohibition, stricter policies should be enacted.

A second approach to the question is to look at whether fewer people use drugs in countries with stricter drug laws. In 2008, the World Health Organization looked at 17 countries and found no such correlation. The US, despite its punitive drug policies, has one of the highest levels of drug use in the world (PLoS Medicine, vol 5, p e141).

Argument 3: A halfway approach, which would decriminalize possession of drugs, is doomed to fail since the lack of effective punishment will encourage more people to try drugs.

While dealing remains illegal in Portugal, personal use of all drugs has been decriminalised. The result? Drug use has stayed roughly constant, but ill health and deaths from drug taking have fallen. “Judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalisation framework has been a resounding success,” states a recent report by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington DC.

The Law Of Unintended Consequences comes into play as a result of prohibitionist policies. Black market items are generally very profitable, and young people may get sucked in with dreams of fast cash. Ironically, prohibition is often sold as being “for the children”.

Most drug trafficking happens through large criminal enterprises, which are also involved in murder, corruption, and kidnapping. Nearly 4,000 people have been killed this year (so far) in Mexico’s drug wars.

So what’s the alternative? There are several models for the legal provision of recreational drugs. They include prescription by doctors, consumption at licensed premises or even sale on a similar basis to alcohol and tobacco, with health warnings and age limits. If this prospect appals you, consider the fact that in the US today, many teenagers say they find it easier to buy cannabis than beer.

Accusations of evidence suppression happen everywhere, from Big Tobacco to Big Pharma, and it is rightly shocking when lives are at stake. Why are citizens willing to elect and re-elect politicians who enact policies running contrary to evidence sometimes composed by Big Government itself? Aren’t lives at stake here too?

In 1944, Mayor LaGuardia commissioned a report which was titled “The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York”. The report was written up by the New York Academy of Medicine.

This study is viewed by many experts as the best study of any drug viewed in its social, medical, and legal context. The committee covered thousands of years of the history of marijuana and also made a detailed examination of conditions In New York City. Among its conclusions: “The practice of smoking marihuana does not lead to addiction in the medical sense of the word.” And: “The use of marihuana does not lead to morphine or heroin or cocaine addiction, and no effort is made to create a market for those narcotics by stimulating the practice of marihuana smoking.” Finally: “The publicity concerning the catastrophic effects of marihuana smoking in New York City is unfounded.”

A primer on the issues at play here and a must read is The Consumers Union Report on Licit and Illicit Drugs, by Edward M. Brecher and the Editors of Consumer Reports Magazine.

The recommendations in this report included:
# Stop emphasizing measures designed to keep drugs away from people.
# Stop increasing the damage done by drugs.
# Stop misclassifying drugs.
# Stop viewing the drug problem as primarily a national problem, to be solved on a national scale.
# Stop pursuing the goal of stamping out illicit drug use.
# Consumers Union recommends the immediate repeal of all federal laws governing the growing, processing, transportation, sale, possession, and use of marijuana.
# Consumers Union recommends that each of the fifty states similarly repeal its existing marijuana laws and pass new laws legalizing the cultivation, processing, and orderly marketing of marijuana-subject to appropriate regulations.
# Consumers Union recommends that state and federal taxes on marijuana be kept moderate, and that tax proceeds be devoted primarily to drug research, drug education, and other measures specifically designed to minimize the damage done by alcohol, nicotine, marijuana. heroin, and other drugs.
# Consumers Union recommends an immediate end to imprisonment as a punishment for marijuana possession and for furnishing marijuana to friends.*
# Consumers Union recommends, pending legalization of marijuana, that marijuana possession and sharing be immediately made civil violations rather than criminal acts.
# Consumers Union recommends that those now serving prison terms for possession of or sharing marijuana be set free, and that such marijuana offenses be expunged from all legal records.

There are many more major studies of drugs and drug policy like the above two available for free from the Schaffer Library of Drug Policy.

Unfortunately, the idea that banning drugs is the best way to protect vulnerable people – especially children – has acquired a strong emotional grip, one that politicians are happy to exploit. For many decades, laws and public policy have flown in the face of the evidence. Far from protecting us, this approach has made the world a much more dangerous place than it need be. Source.

August 20, 2009 – In the months leading up to the 2009 Hempfest in Seattle, Dominic Holden, one of the long-serving leaders and organizers of Picture 3the famous Seattle Hempfest, criticized what he saw as Hempfest’s narrow cultural foundation. He argues that the movement for drug policy reform needs to be much broader, and that the Hempfest could be more valuable politically if it were not exclusively a “tie-die” affair. Some leaders of Hempfest, responding to his published critique, had his VIP pass revoked and was ejected.

Aside from the personality issues involved, I think his political critique is important. (Of course, that may be because I largely agree with him.)

More than a fifteen years ago I became very concerned about the role of hemp rallies in the politics of drug policy reform. This post was started and mostly written in the early 1990s after I stopped speaking at hemp rallies.

* * * * *

In many towns around the nation, the entirety of the drug policy “debate” is either on the letters to the editor page of the local newspaper or a hemp rally on a campus or in a park. But in larger cities, within the next six weeks, there will be various hemp rally–“harvest festivals,” such as the 20th Annual Boston Freedom Rally on September 19, 2009 and the 39th Annual Great Midwest Marijuana Harvest Festival in Madison, Wisconsin, Oct. 1-4, 2009. The fall semester will probably see a resumption of campus marijuana policy protests packaged as hemp rallies.

Of course, these rallies are not a debate, at all. Even as a “political” rally or protest, the hemp rally is a hodge-podge of bands, speakers, and clouds of smoke. I am deeply troubled that for much of the public the most common face of the politics of drug policy reform is teenager smoking a pipe at a pot rally. Does it need to be said that this is profoundly counter-productive? Well-meaning and passionate, but immature strategies and tactics keep holding back our movement.

Around the nation – indeed around the world – serious analysts and commentators know that our drug policy is a counterproductive failure leading to more crime and little drug abuse prevention. The U.S. government and its political establishment are the linchpin for reform, but until a proper political campaign is executed, the status quo will remain firmly in charge. We are close to a global tipping point for reform, but our reform movement squanders the energy and political force of tens of thousands of our activists on ill-conceived events. Protests are necessary, and large, well-planned demonstrations would be a tremendous asset to the global reform movement. But the hemp rally paradigm is out of date.

Woodstock was a great cultural moment. But it is preposterous to think that two-bit re-enactments of the Woodstock vibe in parks and quads around the nation are a positive political tactic.

The drug policy reform movement has many organizational problems. In this paper I suggest that one of our reform movement’s most serious image and organizing problems are “hemp rallies.” I am using this term to describe any marijuana legalization or hemp legalization rally or festival at which marijuana is smoked, encouraged, or justified and at which persons college age or younger predominate.

Have you ever been to a hemp rally? In the early 1990s, at a string of such events – the Texas Hemp Summit, the Boston Freedom Rally, the Ann Arbor Hash Bash, the Illinois Hash Wednesday, the New York Pot Parade, the Fourth of July Marijuana Smoke-in in front of the White House, Hempstalk in upstate NY, the Harvest Festival in Madison, WI, and various similar events in California, North Carolina, Kentucky and elsewhere, I basked in more than my share of cheers and applause, as I contributed my Washington, DC political perspective. But I haven’t spoken to any in fifteen years, having concluded that they are politically pointless. In the mid-1990s, when I heard the entire drug policy reform movement described as “pro-drug” and “pro-pot,” I analyzed my hemp rally experiences and understood why those accusations could be seriously made.

But aside from any accusations, we must fully appreciate that in order to change the drug laws in Congress and the state legislatures, we need the cooperation and engagement of a broad-based coalition. We certainly need a much, much, MUCH larger coalition than we now have. And certainly, we need the support of people who feel most strongly about the drug problem and who are aware of the current approach’s failures.

Why haven’t the PTAs, the teachers unions or the Chambers of Commerce endorsed drug policy reform? Their reticence is based almost entirely on the plausible fear that teenage drug use will rise. Well, there remains a lot of teenage marijuana use – about one out of five high school seniors is a current user, which is less than it was at the start of this decade. This prevalence certainly and reasonably alarms parents and their teachers.


Let’s face one fact. Marijuana use can be harmful. Undoubtedly the harms are grossly, frequently hysterically, exaggerated by anti-marijuana crusaders — but the harms to some users are real — often subtle, but significant, none the less.

Marijuana use can be habit forming. Perhaps six to ten percent of users can be considered addicted – the users have tried to quit but quickly resumed using marijuana, and their use is interfering with their lives – their relationships, their studies, their work. One of the great psychiatrists and researchers of drug abuse, Harvard’s acclaimed Norman Zinberg, M.D., the author of the Drug, Set and Setting, and a long time friend of NORML, recognized that marijuana addiction was one of the toughest addictions to treat because it was hard for the addict to recognize the urgency of addressing it. The addict knows it is harmful but not so obviously and deeply harmful and compulsive as addictions to heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine frequently are. I suspect that most of us in drug policy reform know some persons we could fairly call marijuana addicts.

Judgment often is impaired when one is stoned. This doesn’t mean one does not deny that one can have useful, valuable insights when stoned. But people can be impulsive while stoned and engage in “risky behavior” that they might not take if sober. Marijuana does not cause the gross impairment that is common with overindulgence of alcoholic beverages. Certainly some athletes believe that cannabis improves their performance, but marijuana-caused impairment can increase the risk of accidents and injuries when bicycling, hiking, skiing, boating, swimming, etc. while stoned. Motor skills and cognitive skills are often impaired when stoned. There is no doubt that this has led to several hugely tragic accidents – usually in conjunction with alcohol use. These tragic examples of the misuse of marijuana, however, do not warrant prohibition of adult use because they are more than balanced by the pleasure millions of people obtain when they are stoned. But these tragedies must not be ignored.

The biological and developmental risks for kids from heavy marijuana use are probably greater than they are for adults, simply because kids’ bodies are still developing. Of course, most teenage users are not heavy users, but some are. In general, the risks for kids engaging in many adult behaviors such as driving cars, using firearms, and having sex – to name just a few – are also greater than the risks that adults run. But we would not think of banning adults from these behaviors to “send a message” to kids that they run risks in such activities. Prohibition is definitely not the approach to address these risks, harm reduction and education are the correct route.

It ought to be obvious that none of us are in the drug policy reform movement to increase the number of teens in trouble or the number of drug addicts. Most of us believe a system of regulation and control of drugs will lead to better control, and more credible prevention, than the out-of-control situation that exists in the prohibition structure of criminal markets, and the prohibition culture that results in a mix of secretive use and flamboyantly rebellious use.

Before we can mobilize the public to end prohibition, we need dramatic expansion of effective public health-based prevention programs to discourage people of all ages, but especially children, from using drugs in risky and inappropriate ways.

The drug policy reform movement wants to create conditions for safer, more responsible, less harmful drug use than is possible under prohibition. When we talk of harm reduction, of course, we are explicitly acknowledging the risks and dangers of drug use. But we must be more forthright in acknowledging those risks, especially about marijuana. Our political work demands that we be truthful and that we are truly working to reduce the harm from drugs. Our mission requires that we practice harm reduction in our politics.


Marijuana use by teenagers is not a sign of enlightenment. Yes, there are certainly bright, curious kids who smoke marijuana, but their adolescent marijuana use is not a cause for celebration! Some marijuana using kids are more likely to use other drugs than kids who have never used marijuana. That’s what the data shows, and it makes sense, even though the overwhelming majority of teenage marijuana users never use another illegal drug. Statistically, marijuana is more frequently a “terminus” drug than a “gateway” drug.

The fact that marijuana experimenting teenagers are more likely to experiment with other illegal drugs than a kid who never tried marijuana is not the bogus pharmacological “stepping stone” theory that a “marijuana addict eventually needs a stronger drug to get high.” Rather, it is both a psychological truth and a legal and cultural phenomenon. Psychologically, a willingness to take risks cuts across a variety of behaviors. A risk taker might try out for a role in the school play, the varsity football team, or the debate team. A risk taker might ask someone for a date. A risk taker might take a toke when a joint is passed to him or her. Appropriate risk taking is healthy.

What we call “risky” behavior is different. “Risky” behavior is not wearing a seat belt, not wearing a condom during sex, running a yellow traffic light, shooting the rapids without a life jacket, kayaking or climbing without a helmet, etc.

Risk is to be encouraged, risky is to be discouraged.

In addition to the personal behavior and psychology, there are the cultural features of the pot smoking world. The gestalt values new experiences and adventures. It includes a music scene which is embedded with drug use. It has an ethos that mixes almost boundless individual liberty with voluntary (never compulsory) social responsibility. One of the accepted values is getting high. Experimentation with drugs is commonplace and tolerated — particularly with LSD, nitrous oxide, MDMA (Ecstasy), peyote (mescaline), psilocybin mushrooms, tobacco, and alcohol. Many pot smokers don’t use other drugs or if they do, for most, their experimentation is short-lived. But many pot smokers do try other drugs, and pot, after underage and illegal alcohol and tobacco experimentation and use, was another illegal drug – the first culturally illegal drug – they tried.

Increasing rates of teenage pot use is not a good thing. It would be a political cynicism and stupidity of the most odious sort to see expanding the cohort of teenage pot smokers as an enlargement of a political base.

Certainly it cannot be heresy in the harm reduction movement to observe that it is statistically likely that more kids will be hurt by hard drugs if the number of teenage pot smokers continues to rise. Many of these new pot smoking kids are not college kids, they are not even senior high school kids — they are usually junior high or middle school kids and sometimes younger.

It is important to ask why teenage pot use went up a decade ago. It would be simply glib to say that it is the fault of prohibition, or the flawed design and execution of D.A.R.E. programs. Like most social phenomena, it is almost certainly due to a number of factors. As public health oriented advocates, we must ask if hemp rallies have anything to do with that increase? If so, we must examine what happens at hemp rallies.


I’d like to describe the hemp rallies I attended from the perspectives of the rally organizers, the speakers, the participants, and the different groups in the viewing public.

Rally organizers — like most of us, much of the time — often have mixed motives. On one hand they want to hold a political rally. They want a forum for making political statements about marijuana and hemp. For the old Cannabis Action Network, for example, that was the principal motive. Rally organizers want the press to cover the event, and they need to draw a crowd. They may also want to cover their costs and raise money.

For the organizers of the Fourth of July Hemp Coalition’s Smoke-In at the White House, the motive was primarily politics. As a concert, the stage and sound system were practically non-existent — indeed, there is a companion concert later that afternoon. But they almost never have political literature around the marijuana issues.

For organizers of other events the primary motive seems to be to have a big party, e.g., the “Hash Bash” in Ann Arbor, the “Windy City Weed Fest” in Chicago, and the “Great Atlanta Pot Festival.” “Let’s get some great bands together and kick back in the sunshine. If we all get together and get high, won’t that be great.”

For some hemp rallies, the motives are clearly mixed. For NORML’s Fourth of July rock’n’roll party near the Lincoln Memorial, for example, politics is the motive, but fun and music is the lure. As a political event, this has repeatedly been an utter failure. No one takes it seriously as a protest. New York’s “Fifth Avenue Pot Parade” has a serious political hue — until it gets to Washington Square Park when the real business of the day begins — the party!

For the Boston Freedom Rally, the organizers have an explicit political objective, but the bands are critically important, and the vendors and fund raising is important too.

For Hempfest in Seattle, it appears that the political objective is mixed and inseparable from hosting a cultural celebration.

At one level, the hemp rally is like the $500 per person gala benefit organized by “high society” socialites to benefit the opera guild, the Childrens’ Hospital, or cancer research — “The public may think we’re wealthy, social parasites — but we’re actually doing good work for the community.” Yes, we are raising money for an important charity. But at heart, we also like hobnobbing with the local wealthy elites. This is the hempy alternative: we’re not stoners, we’re political activists!

On campus, hemp rally organizers recognize the value of associating their “spring fling” with positive political and social messages — individual freedom, equal justice for all, criminal justice reform, medicine for the sick, save the planet!

Rally organizers look for the best bands and the best speakers they can to get the biggest crowds. They target the rally publicity to the youth media. The organizers know that what really draws crowds is the promise of a good time.

The speakers come with a range of motives. Some of us look forward to getting our message out to an audience more appreciative than a right-wing talk radio show. A few of us think we present seriously developed analyses of various drug policy issues and that this is a forum for education about the issues. We bring copies of our reports, white papers and book chapters.

For other “speakers” at a hemp rally, this is a party — this is like cheerleading at an athletic event. I’ve seen speakers dressed up in costume. One earnest speaker used to make a living selling bumper stickers, “Thank you for pot smoking” — that imitated the American Cancer Society’s slogan “Thank you for not smoking.” At some rallies, there are “doobie tosses” — the throwing of marijuana cigarettes into the crowd. Functionally, at most events the speakers are on the program to fill the time as the bands who have drawn the audience move their equipment off and on stage. This is down time, perfect for rolling a joint and filling a bowl before the next set begins.

Speakers generally express outrage that the crowd shares. The ever-present shadow of arrest genuinely interferes with the peace of mind of America’s 15 or 20 million pot-smokers. Prohibition enforcement is an enormous psychic burden upon adult marijuana users — a genuine denial of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But this is a very narrow political message.

That the Federal government denies sick people legal access to marijuana which is a medicine that would help them, and interferes with state efforts to permit such legal access, is another legitimate source of outrage. But that outrage is not what draws most of the participants.

A hemp rally is rarely a call to specific political action. It is a festival of marijuana use. It is an entertainment with excitement — being an outlaw and hoping to get away with it. The job of the speakers is to entertain the crowd. Inevitably, speakers extol the pleasure of pot smoking. We hear from the stage “Let’s get high!” “Let’s party!” We rarely hear calls to “Register to vote here. Join a political campaign here.” No one is here for a reasoned analysis or education. The repetition of cliches is always dependable.

The musicians sing about the subject matter — the pleasures of getting high, the evil persecution of the drug law, the ugliness of police practices, and adoration of the hemp plant. To get a sense of this, listen to NORML’s “Hempilation” album. And of course this can be an opportunity to get exposure, get fans to sign up on email lists for club invites, and sell CDs.

Who are the participants? At the Hash Bash in Ann Arbor, for example, many of the participants are committed, heavy consumption pot-smokers. The participants are there for the excitement, the crowd, the entertainment and the music. Many are there for the self-identification: I am a pot smoker. They are there for a good time and for camaraderie. The curious are there because this is “a happening.” This is completely unlike the usual weekend of chores, homework, shopping, movies, TV, etc. This is “the place to be.”

For some participants the rally is an opportunity to get their feelings of persecution off their chest and tell society, “I’m stoned — Get over it.” “I’m gonna get high and there’s nothing anybody’s going to do about it.” At its core, the rally is essentially an affirmation of pot smoking.

But as politics, this is most definitely not about contemplating the serious work of lobbying or coalition building, or stuffing envelopes for a mailing. No one’s attention is focused enough to comprehend a target of the protest.

Others are simply curious. They heard the ads on the radio or got the Facebook post. The teenage students are forming impressions. Is this what Woodstock was like? Is this what the 60s were like? Is this like the civil rights movement, or the anti-Vietnam War “peace” movement?

At the Fourth of July White House smoke-in, there is the thrill of smoking pot in defiance of the law, the frisson of deviance when “straight” people are crowding the mall for a patriotic concert and fireworks.

But while the bands play and the speakers speak, the participants are standing around, sitting around, or walking around, smoking pot and getting stoned.

Of greatest social and political significance, however, is that for the youngest participants this may be the first time they have been so publicly encouraged to smoke pot. It is one thing to be covertly offered a joint by another kid from school or the team down in the woods, or hear a pot joke on TV. But here, everybody seems to be doing it. Look, someone on the stage is saying how great it is to get high. Look, up on the stage, someone is smoking a pipe or a joint, and everybody is cheering. Hey, someone is offering me a 6-foot bong! If I smoke a joint, won’t I be worthy of being cheered right now? Gee, everyone seems to be having such a good time, isn’t this a good place to try pot, if I haven’t before? In this sense, hemp rallies are a social menace and political disaster.

For conscientious reporters, there is significant challenge in reporting this event. In Madison, Wisconsin they actually reported the speeches. But that was atypical. Is the content the “news?” Do they report the gestalt, the “flavor” of the event, as the Seattle Post Intelligencer does with photographs and no news story? The sideshow character of the event is often much more interesting than what the speakers said (for no matter how loud they were, the messages were pretty lame). Some reporters wonder how to report the event without condoning drug use? If they actually quote a speaker, for balance, should they interview some of the stoned kids, and some critics of the event? Standing back and looking at the event overall, isn’t this event, first, about getting stoned, and second, celebrating getting stoned? It must be conceded that some reporters cover the politics but do not report on the event itself.

For many of the police the rally engenders anger and disgust. For officers who have seen car crashes resulting from irresponsible drug and alcohol use, this is outrageous. For those who teach in D.A.R.E. programs, to see stoned kids at this “pro-pot” rally is maddening. For those who bust drug dealers — at some personal danger to themselves — this is infuriating. “Not in a million years would we take the policy proposals of the organizers of this event seriously — we don’t even take their phone calls!”

True, the kids are not rioting like drunken college students after a championship ball game — which has plagued Ann Arbor during March Madness. But the drunks at the ball game riot are celebrating the values of “winning,” of “sportsmanship,” of “the competition that makes America great,” etc. And drinking is legal, something that cops certainly do a lot of, and they understand drunks. At the hemp rally, so much that “ordinary” Americans ostensibly value — family values, respect for the flag, patriotism, rule of law, cleanliness, modesty, chastity, heterosexuality etc. — is being flouted wantonly and indiscriminately.

For teachers and parents who are concerned about drug abuse among their children, this rally is a sickening sight. No matter what caveats about the problems of drug use that might be uttered by a few “serious” speakers, and despite the political literature being distributed (too often crudely produced drivel), a legitimate overall impression is that this is a “do drugs” rally. They accurately hear speakers praising pot and getting high. They see an audience filled with young people using pot. They see kids who are more interested in finding drugs than in finding the literature. They see kids more interested in smoking a joint than in listening to the speakers.


About sixteen or seventeen years ago, I was a featured speaker at some hemp rallies. I even had my name silk-screened on a rally T-shirt. I’ve made my share of passionate hemp rally speeches, and – woo-hoo – a handful of people have later asked for my autograph. I found the “rock star” treatment of being a hemp rally headliner very seductive!

But I have been a serious advocate of drug policy reform for a much longer time. As part of a comprehensive policy reform, for example, I think marijuana ought to be legally sold to adults under the explicit condition that it be used carefully, with controls in place to minimize misuse, with restrictions on juvenile access, with appropriate taxation, and with appropriate penalties for dangerous conduct while under the influence.

Overall, the many hemp rallies I’ve attended have been political duds, and I’m ashamed that I didn’t speak out against them sooner or more forcefully. I distributed an outline of a system for regulating marijuana for adults only, along the lines of a state hunting license, but the audience simply did not care. I regret that my exuberant participation at hemp rallies more than 15 years ago may have been seen as legitimizing teenage drug use by some in the audience.

I fear that overall, hemp rallies are bad for the kids who attend, bad for the country, and very bad for our movement. I gave too much weight to my hope that I was recruiting idealistic college students to a fulfilling political activism. I didn’t pay close enough attention to the event as experienced by the audience.

As constructive political activity, these rallies are not simply a failure, they are a catastrophe. What is the number one obstacle to drug policy reform? The public’s fear that kids will use drugs. Hemp rallies fully legitimize those fears.


Let’s face it, hemp rallies are not only a fraud as serious political events go, they are worse — they are advertisements of irresponsible drug use. Prohibitionists are on the mark when they describe hemp rallies as “pro-drug” events. We do not know that they contribute to the increase in juvenile drug use, but we do not know that they don’t.. Do those of us in drug policy reform who are committed to public health perhaps have a responsibility to change the character of these events, or to boycott and help end them?

In America today, there are no other political protests like a hemp rally. Does any other political cause have such superficial preparation and indifference to the message and to organization? Hemp rallies are the antithesis of serious political protest. Would any serious political figure outside of the drug policy reform movement, who knows anything about a hemp rally, consider participating?


The drug policy reform movement claims that it has a better solution to the drug problem than prohibition. We say to those genuinely concerned about the tragedy of drug use, join us for we have a better solution. How do we demonstrate our sincerity in trying to curb drug abuse and its related social disorder?

We condemn the prohibitionists as obtuse who can’t see the fallacy in their arguments. Have we been equally obtuse in not seeing that our movement’s most common “political” events contradict our standards and our analysis? I argue that there is such a thing as responsible drug use — but I regret that I have spoken at pot rallies where there has been uncontrolled drug use, drug use by kids, and the extolling of drug use. That was obtuse — I certainly didn’t model responsible political behavior. I apologize for having undermined the work of so many in this movement by having participated in these events.

I call upon serious drug policy reformers to reform hemp rallies or end them. To associate our movement with hemp rallies makes our movement repellent to the most important constituencies we claim we are trying to reach.

The drug policy reform movement must expand beyond those who are energized by concerts and festivals of pot smoking, and by their own sense of personal persecution. We must get beyond the abstract discussions of policy and into detailed proposals. We must reach those who are deeply concerned about the drug problem among our youth. We must be in a real coalition with parents and teachers to resist teen drug use. We can’t effectively be in such coalitions if we are participating in hemp rallies, hash bashes and doobie tosses.


We pay a terrible price for allowing our political face to be hemp rallies. Ultimately we teach our politically inspired students the wrong lesson, that public politics is a casual, almost trivial affair. We teach that a political action should be an occasion for feeling good, partying, talking to the converted, cheering, hanging out, uttering banalities, and then going home. This “politics” is as empty as the self-esteem voodoo that passes for preventing teenage drug use.

It doesn’t matter how articulate or compelling the speakers have been about writing well-written letters to the legislators — almost no one is sending those letters. It doesn’t matter that participants are encouraged to sign petitions — few sign, and fewer are delivered. It doesn’t matter that we circulate sign-up lists — few follow up to organize the signers. This is not politics, this is a party — that is the medium, and that is the message.

We squander the energy of our activists by arranging pot rallies and encouraging them to drive hundreds of miles to engage in pointless events.

Compare our events to the newsreel footage of political rallies of the 1930s and 40s. When serious political organizations staged an event, the male participants came in neckties; women wore dresses. People came to listen and to make a point with their presence. Drinking was unthinkable. The events were organized. People trained to be political organizers — not wannabe show business producers.

During the civil rights era, it was inconceivable that people would drink at a march or at a rally. The Civil Rights Marches were undertaken with sober reflection — they were led by preachers and were undertaken prayerfully. Look at the photographs of the 1963 great civil rights march on Washington.

How do we expect the allies we must have to take our “movement” seriously when we don’t take our own political events seriously? Do we take seriously as “supporters” and “members” upon whom we can rely, the majority of the youth who attend hemp rallies?

What kind of politics is it that takes the rock concert as its paradigm of political protest?

How can anyone take seriously a rally that purports to be for medical marijuana when 99.9% of the marijuana smoked is done so recreationally, and with indifference to use by children?

How can anyone take seriously a rally promoting hemp to protect the environment when 99% of the hemp present is there to be smoked or ingested to get someone high?

How can we make a serious claim to be advocates of harm reduction and of legitimate alternative forms of drug control if we participate in hemp rallies in which drug use, particularly by the young, is flagrantly uncontrolled?


Can we develop standards or best practices of what our movement considers an appropriate and effective marijuana reform rally or event? Can we set criteria regarding the kinds of events we will participate in? Or do we simply speak wherever there is a crowd? Should we denounce irresponsible drug use, especially when it is undertaken in the name of drug policy reform? Can we organize true protest rallies?

Isn’t it a reasonable rule of our politics that there be no pot smoking, no drug use and no drinking at public drug policy events, unless it is Gandhian nonviolent civil disobedience? If we want to build our movement, shouldn’t the days of pot rallies and casual smoke-ins be declared over?

If there is to be marijuana use at a political event, it can only be in the context of a carefully planned civil disobedience action with the intention of generating arrests as a moral witness against the evils of the drug war.

Those who organize fundraising concerts and parties to support drug policy reform (and those who attend) will need guidance about responsible drug use behavior. I commend MPP and DPA for leaving behind the rock concert model as the paradigm for drug policy reform fundraisers.

Don’t we have an obligation to show by example what responsible drug use in a post-prohibition world might look like. Don’t we have an obligation to reduce the number of future victims of the drug war by doing our political work well? Doesn’t this obligate our movement to “clean up our act.”

The drug policy reform movement is not a “pro-drug” movement, it is a drug control movement. It is pro-control. Can it ever succeed as long as it can be fairly charged that it is a “pro-drug” movement? Isn’t it time that the leaders of the movement act in concert to end the association with a “politics” that is “pro-drug?” By Eric Sterling. Source.

July 31, 2009 – Jamaica – In the desperate US economy, some argue that legalising and taxing marijuana could plug multibillion-dollar holes in US 20090730T190000-0500_156422_OBS_A_CURE_FOR_THE_US__MARIJUANA_TAXES__1government coffers.

Daniel Stein says the salvation of US taxpayers could be marijuana.

As Washington breaks the bank on Wall Street bailouts, President Barack Obama’s stimulus package and other spend-now, pay-later measures, most observers agree that politicians will eventually need to increase revenue or cut spending to cover the federal government’s debts.

Stein believes Washington could begin to balance its books now if politicians would take a serious look at his industry.

The owner of two retail outlets that he claims generate US$1 million in revenue annually, Stein says he pays around US$80,000 a year in sales taxes to the state of California. But the federal government, which does not acknowledge Stein’s sales as legitimate commerce, gets nothing from his business.

Sound odd? Not if you know that Stein sells marijuana.
In fact, because US federal authorities have spent time trying to close his and other medical-marijuana clubs, Washington is losing money on him.

Cannabis is good for the economy

Imagine how much the feds would save if they stopped cracking down on sellers, Stein says.

“Cannabis is good for the economy,” he said. “It’s been here the whole time, but it’s had a bad rap the entire time.”

As more people begin to see the merits in Stein’s logic, that bad rap is changing. While legalisation, decriminalisation and the medical use of marijuana continue to be debated in terms of public health, lawmakers and policy analysts are increasingly touting the economic benefits of regulating and taxing weed, which the Office of National Drug Control Policy says is the most popular illegal drug in the US.

Critics of legalising marijuana say the potential economic benefits of regulating and taxing the drug would obscure the less-tangible, long-term downsides of making it more prevalent in society.

“The argument wholly ignores the issue of the connection between marijuana and criminal activity and also the larger picture of substance abuse,” said David Capeless, the district attorney of Berkshire County in Massachusetts and the president of the state’s district attorneys’ association. “It simply sends a bad message to kids about substance abuse in general, which is a wrong message, that it’s not a big deal.”

A 2004 report by the drug policy office said drugs cost Americans more than US$180 billion related to health care, lost productivity and crime in 2002. That study lumped the effects of marijuana in with more-dangerous drugs, such as cocaine and heroin.

But marijuana advocates say history is on their side. They muster arguments similar to those that led to repealing Prohibition during the Great Depression.

“In the early 1930s, one of the reasons that alcohol was brought back was because government revenue was plummeting,” Harvard economist Jeff Miron said. “There are some parallels to that now.”

Definitive figures on the size of the untapped marijuana market don’t exist. It’s a grey market, after all. But there are plenty of studies indicating we are not talking about chump change.

American marijuana trade valued at US$113 billion annually

In a 2007 study, Jon Gettman, a senior fellow at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy, valued the American marijuana trade at US$113 billion annually. Between drug enforcement and potential taxes, the federal government and the states were losing almost US$42 billion a year by keeping marijuana illegal, the study indicated. Gettman is a former staff member of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a US non-profit that lobbies on Capitol Hill for marijuana legalisation.

“It’s a very large, significant economic phenomenon, and it is diverting an incredible amount of money from the taxable economy,” Gettman said.

Miron says he is interested in the topic as a libertarian who believes the government shouldn’t ban any drugs. He offers more-conservative numbers, estimating that federal and state treasuries would gain more than US$6 billion annually if marijuana were taxed like alcohol or tobacco. At the same time, relaxing laws against use of marijuana would save nearly $8 billion in legal costs, he says.

The Obama administration seems to be inching toward a more permissive stance on marijuana. Last month, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced he would end raids on clubs like Stein’s, fulfilling a pledge Obama had made on the campaign trail.

“It’s a major break from the ‘just say no’ mentality,” said Allen St Pierre, the executive director of NORML, referring to Holder’s announcement.

Stein is somewhat relieved. The raids had been wreaking havoc on California’s budding marijuana industry, he says. Two years ago he was forced to move one of his clubs, The Higher Path, to a new location on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, after the Drug Enforcement Administration sent his landlord a letter saying agents could seize the building.

Medical marijuana

“Medical marijuana is very, very satisfying, but it’s very nerve-racking and dangerous,” Stein said.

St Pierre says 13 states have adopted laws to allow medical marijuana, while an additional handful have decriminalised possession, meaning the penalties associated with marijuana are negligible.

Of course, critics of decriminalisation are also vocal. Calvina Fay, the executive director of the Drug Free America Foundation, says Gettman, Miron and others fail to account for marijuana’s adverse side effects, from lethargy to impaired driving to tendencies among weed smokers to try more-serious drugs. “Those who are using drugs are less productive than those who aren’t,” Fay said.

A spokesman for the drug policy office declined to comment, saying the office wanted to wait until the Senate has confirmed Obama’s drug czar nominee, Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske.

But according to the FBI’s most recent data, approximately 870,000 people in the US were arrested on marijuana violations in 2007. Nearly 15 million Americans use marijuana on a monthly basis, according to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The same study found that more than 100 million Americans had tried marijuana at least once in their lives. Advocates of decriminalisation say those statistics argue against the vision of mass lassitude put forward by their opponents.

“Most people either did the drug themselves or their friends did,” Miron said. “They know those extremes are not right.”

California has come closest to outright legalisation of the marijuana industry. Sacramento already collects around $18 million in sales taxes a year from $200 million worth of medical-marijuana purchases, according to data supplied by California’s State Board of Equalization. Now Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat, is sponsoring new legislation that would legalise marijuana completely – and tax it. The state estimates the proposal could generate $1.3 billion a year.

“The war on drugs has failed,” Ammiano said. “It seems to me there is across both aisles that assessment, and California is in an egregious economic abyss. The economic situation makes (legalisation) viable.”

The pro-marijuana lobby argues that US agriculture could expand significantly if farmers were allowed to openly cultivate weed. In a 2006 study, Gettman calculated that marijuana was one of the biggest cash crops in the US, with 56 million plants worth almost $36 million.

In the United Kingdom, where restrictions on marijuana research are less onerous than in the US, companies such as GW Pharmaceuticals are moving quickly to develop other drugs from the plant. In the company’s 2008 annual report, GW executives said they had received approval to market Sativex, a cannabis-derived painkiller, in Canada. The report said the company is seeking approval of the drug from European regulators and is working with the US Food and Drug Administration as well.

A spokesman for the company, John Dineen of the London public-relations firm Financial Dynamics, says executives would prefer not to be quoted in a story about the economic consequences of marijuana legalisation. By John Dyer. Source.

July 27, 2009 – Last week I posted an article reflecting the potential health benefits of marijuana. That article resulted in several posted comments as well as other marijuana-leaf(4)informal observations from readers regarding the issue of the drug’s legalization and its potential taxation. In this article, I will discuss the pros and cons of marijuana legalization and taxation.

The Top 10 List – (not necessarily in the order of their priority)

Most popular arguments against legalization:

1. Marijuana use often leads to stronger drugs such as cocaine and heroin (the Gateway Theory).
2. Driving under the influence will lead to more highway deaths and injuries.
3. Heavy marijuana smoking will cause serious physical as well as psychological damage to its users.
4. Legalization would increase the chance of the drug becoming available to minors.
5. Use of marijuana is morally wrong.
6. Secondhand smoke will cause harm to innocent bystanders.
7. Arresting marijuana users will keep those people most likely to commit more serious crimes off the streets.
8. The easy availability of drugs would create new consumers rather than rescuing current ones.
9. Legalization will send a message to children that drug use is acceptable.
10. Legalization could led to neglect of children by drug-addicted parents.

Most popular arguments in favor of legalization:

1. If used in moderation, marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco.
2. If marijuana is legalized, the FDA or other state agencies could regulate its quality and safety.
3. Drug dealers and other dangerous folks would lose a big slice of their business.
4. Legalization will reduce crime by reducing drug disputes while allowing police and court resources to be freed up for more serious crimes.
5. For some people marijuana (like alcohol, cigarettes or sex) is one of life’s pleasures and limiting the use of the drug intrudes on personal freedom.
6. Unlike tobacco and alcohol, there are many documented positive medical benefits associated with marijuana use.
7. Legalizing tobacco and alcohol, while criminalizing the use of marijuana, sends a confusing message to young people who view the inconsistencies as hypocritical and leads to a general disrespect for the law.
8. Legalization can lead to taxation as well as other economic benefits for states in desperate need of additional revenue.
9. By inhaling marijuana vapor rather than smoking it as a cigarette (joint), adverse health risks can be greatly limited.
10. Legalization can lead to the legal cultivation of the hemp plant which can provide a variety of “green” products such as fabrics, paper and other useful applications.

Now, if you come down on the side of legalization, the next question is whether it should it be taxed and, if so, how much new revenue would it generate?

Lets look at the potential revenue that may become available to the nearly bankrupted state of California if marijuana is made legal and is taxed. A bill by San Francisco assemblyman Tom Ammiano, would legalize the cultivation, possession and sale of marijuana by people 21 and older. It would charge growers and wholesalers a $5,000 initial franchise fee and a $2,500 annual renewal fee while assessing a levy of $50 per ounce fee on retailers.

According to a February report from a marijuana advocacy group (NORML), marijuana legalization could yield California taxpayers over $1.2 billion per year and provide additional spin-off benefits up to $12 – $18 billion annually. Those spin-off benefits include industries such as coffeehouses, tourism and industrial hemp.

I invite the reader to proffer their comments and opinions regarding the legalization and taxation of marijuana. Also, if I have missed any reasonable argument either for or against legalization please let me know via your posted comments. Let the debate begin.

Other informative web-sites:

U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency
NORML – Working to reform marijuana laws
Hemp Facts
Why we say yes to drugs – Salon
Other arguments pro and con


July 21, 2009 – IT was as if she woke up one day and decades of her life had disappeared.

Joyce, 52 and a writer in Manhattan, started smoking pot when she was 15, and for 19pot395.1years it was a pleasant escape, a calming protective cloud. Then it became an obsession, something she needed to get through the day. She found herself hiding her addiction from her family, friends and co-workers.

“I would come home from work, close my door, have my bong, my food, my music and my dog, and I wouldn’t see another person until I went to work the next day,” said Joyce, who like most others in this article asked that her full name not be published, because she does not want people to know about her past drug use.

“What kind of life is that? I did that for 20 years.”

She tried to stop, but was anxious, irritable, sleepless and lost. At one point, to soothe her cravings, she took morphine that she found at her dying father’s bedside. She almost overdosed.

Two years ago, she checked into the Caron Foundation, a treatment center in Wernersville, Pa. Even there, she said, some other addicts — cocaine and heroin users or alcoholics — downplayed her dependence on marijuana.

“The reality is, I was as sick as them,” said Joyce, who recently married.

Smoking pot, she said, “was a slow form of suicide.”

Marijuana, the country’s most widely used illicit drug, is typically not thought to destroy lives. Like alcohol, pot has been romanticized by writers and musicians, from Louis Armstrong to Bob Dylan, and it has been depicted as harmless or silly in movies like “Harold and Kumar.” And addiction experts agree, marijuana does not pose as serious a public health problem as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. The drug cannot lead to fatal overdose and its hazards pale in comparison with those of alcohol. But at the same time, marijuana can be up to five times more potent than the cannabis of the 1970s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

And this new more-potent pot and the growing support for legalization has led to an often angry debate over marijuana addiction. Many public health officials worry that this stronger marijuana has increased addiction rates and is potentially more dangerous to teenagers, whose brains are still developing. And officials say the movement to legalize marijuana — now available by prescription in 13 states — plays down the dangers of habitual use.

“We need to be very mindful of what we are unleashing out of a Pandora’s Box here,” said Dr. Richard N. Rosenthal, chairman of psychiatry at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan and professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. “The people who become chronic users don’t have the same lives and the same achievements as people who don’t use chronically.”

More adults are now admitted to treatment centers for primary marijuana and hashish addictions than for primary addictions to heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, according to the latest government data, a 2007 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Even though alcohol and opiates (which includes painkillers and heroin) are the two leading primary addictions, the percentage of those seeking treatment for marijuana addiction, compared with 10 years ago, has increased significantly to 16 percent in 2007 from 12 percent in 1997. The percentages of those seeking treatment for cocaine (13 percent of admissions in 2007) and alcohol addiction (22 percent in 2007) declined slightly.

Advocates for legalizing marijuana and some addiction specialists say these concerns are overwrought. The admissions data, they say, is deceiving because it was collected by government agencies that oppose legalization; 57 percent of those admitted for marijuana addiction treatment were ordered to do so by law enforcement. (The percentage of those ordered into treatment was lower for other drugs, except for methamphetamine. For alcohol abuse, 42 percent were ordered into treatment.)

Advocates and even some addiction specialists say cannabis is an effective treatment for medical and emotional problems, and can even help some battling addictions to harder drugs.

The risk of addiction, they say, is less problematic than for alcohol and other drugs. For instance, of the people who had used marijuana, only 9 percent became addicted, according to a 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, a nonprofit research organization on science and health. Of those who drank alcohol, 15 percent became addicted. For cocaine, the figure was 17 percent, and heroin, 23 percent. (These are the latest figures from the institute; advocates and addiction experts said there were no more recent data available.)

“The word addiction is so fungible in our society, and cannabis just doesn’t fit that tidy definition, though it can be abused,” said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, a legalization advocacy group. “Science really has proven, if anything, that cannabis is likely one of the safest substances we can interact with.”

Many people can smoke marijuana every day without ill effects, advocates say, just as many casually drink wine in the evening.

These marijuana users do not meet the clinical definition of addiction, which includes an inability to stop using the drug, an uncontrollable obsession with it and increased tolerance. Javier V., a 24-year-old supervisor in an industrial park in Miami, said he has smoked pot regularly, without a problem, since he was 14. “After a busy day at work,” he said, “I come home, roll up a J and — I mean, it’s stress relief.”

Then there are people like Milo, 60, who recently attended his first Marijuana Anonymous meeting in Los Angeles. He said he started smoking pot at 13, and has struggled to quit.

He is also an alcoholic, he said, but has not had a drink since the early 1980s.

“I’m a pothead, a marijuana addict, a stoner, we call ourselves a million things,” he said. He is trying to quit, he said, because his girlfriend is threatening to leave him. Besides, the drug no longer alleviates his depression and anxiety.

“I’m losing things and people,” Milo said after the meeting. “I’m estranged from my children. I’ve lost two houses, and I’m living in my R.V., basically homeless.”

He added, “There are a whole lot of pieces, and I can’t get them together.”

Many addiction experts would say marijuana abuse has, at the very least, added to Milo’s problems. And the drug’s new potency has made the likelihood of addiction that much greater, public health officials say.

“It’s like drinking beer versus drinking whiskey,” said Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a government agency and a strong opponent of legalizing marijuana. “If you only have access to whiskey, your risk is going to be higher for addiction. Now that people have access to very high potency marijuana, the game is different.”

A 2004 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that the stronger cannabis is contributing to higher addiction rates. The study, conducted for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, compared marijuana use in 2001 and 2002 with use a decade earlier.

While the percent of the population using the drug remained stable during that time, dependence or abuse on the drug increased significantly, particularly among black and Hispanic men. Higher concentrations of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, the study said, was the likely reason for the growing dependency.

Dr. Volkow, who spearheaded federal research into treatment for marijuana withdrawal, had studied cocaine in the 1970s and early 1980s. Back then, she said, she was unsuccessful in winning grants to study cocaine addiction.

“People thought cocaine was a very benign drug,” she said.

Government statistics show the number of emergency room visits linked to the use of marijuana, which can lead to psychotic episodes and was cited in other medical emergencies, has risen significantly.

With marijuana, “it’s going to take some real fatalities for people to pay attention,” Dr. Volkow said. “Unfortunately that’s the way it goes.”

Only after the basketball player Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose in 1986, and the crack epidemic began, did the government start a campaign to warn of cocaine’s dangers.

Like any addiction, quitting pot can be daunting. Jonathan R. has been a member of Marijuana Anonymous in Los Angeles since the early ’90s, shortly after the 12-step program was founded. He has seen many members in meetings say they would rip up their medical marijuana cards, available in California and used to fill prescriptions for problems ranging from severe pain and discomfort from cancer, to headaches and insomnia.

But then, inevitably, he said, they secure another one, much like “an alcoholic who pours booze down the drain and then goes out to get another bottle.”

The difficulty in quitting has spurred psychologists and psychiatrists to debate whether “Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome” should be in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Yet, marijuana withdrawal is not nearly as severe as withdrawal from most other drugs. Giving up drinking can cause fatal seizures. Heroin users vomit and sweat for days; sudden withdrawal can be fatal.

In fact, some doctors specializing in treating addicts would rather prescribe marijuana for anxiety and insomnia than sleeping pills or Valium and Xanax, which are highly addictive.

“I see people every day dying from alcohol, stimulants and opiates,” said Dr. Matthew A. Torrington, an addiction specialist and clinical researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Marijuana may be an up and comer, it may be transforming into something that will become a bigger problem in the future, but at the moment I don’t see that.”

Still, even one of Dr. Torrington’s patients, Jonathan James, has concerns about his own marijuana use. Mr. James, 50, a former choreographer, has been a regular pot smoker for 35 years.

He said smoking marijuana helped inspire some of his most original ideas. But Mr. James is afraid to stop smoking, even after kicking heroin and cocaine. When he stopped the harder drugs, he stayed off pot for six months. When he started again, he planned to smoke only a few times a week.

After a month or so, “I started smoking it more,” he said. “Two months later, I was smoking it in the morning, and four months later I was smoking all day.”

He said he would be more successful without pot.

“It keeps me back — from engaging in the dreams and aspirations I have,” he said. “I would like to feel I don’t need to take anything to feel better.”


Correction: July 21, 2009

A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that Alcoholics Anonymous meetings are also open to drug addicts.

July 13, 2009 – Marcy Duda, a former home health aide with four children and two granddaughters, never dreamed she’d be publicly touting the medical benefits of “pot.’’

But marijuana, says the 48-year-old Ware resident, is the only thing that even begins to tfs_mm_hollywoodogcontrol the migraine headaches that plague her nine days a month, which she describes as feeling like “hot, hot ice picks in the left side of my head.’’

Duda has always had migraines. But they got much worse 10 years ago after two operations to remove life-threatening aneurysms, weak areas in the blood vessels in her brain. None of the standard drugs her doctors prescribe help much with her post-surgical symptoms, which include nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and pain on her left side “as if my body were cut in half.’’

With marijuana, however, “I can at least leave the dark room,’’ she says, “and it makes me eat a lot of food.’’

The culture wars over marijuana, for recreational and medical use, have been simmering for decades, with marijuana (cannabis) still classified (like heroin) as a Schedule I controlled substance by the US government, meaning it has no approved medical use. (There is a government-approved synthetic form of marijuana called Marinol available as a prescription pill for treating nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite, though advocates of the natural stuff say it is not as effective as smoked pot.)

Some, like David Evans, special adviser to the nonprofit Drug Free America Foundation of St. Petersburg, Fla., applaud the government’s view, saying marijuana has not gone through a rigorous US Food and Drug Administration approval process.

But that skepticism frustrates leading marijuana researchers like Dr. Donald Abrams, a cancer specialist at San Francisco General Hospital.

“Every day I see people with nausea secondary to chemotherapy, depression, trouble sleeping, pain,’’ he says. “I can recommend one drug [marijuana] for all those things, as opposed to writing five different prescriptions.’’

The tide seems to be turning in favor of wider medical use of marijuana. The Obama administration announced in March that it will end the Bush administration’s practice of frequently raiding distributors of medical marijuana. Thirteen states, including Vermont, Rhode Island, and Maine, now allow medical use of marijuana, according to Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates legalization of pot. Last week, however, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch vetoed legislation that would have legalized medical marijuana in that state.

Research on medical marijuana is hampered by federal regulations that tightly restrict supplies for studies. But there is a growing body of studies, much of it supportive of the drug’s medical usage, though some of it cautionary. Given the intense politics involved, it’s true, as Abrams puts it, that “you can find anything you want in the medical literature about what marijuana does and doesn’t do.’’

With that in mind, here’s an overview of what the research says about the safety and effectiveness of using marijuana to treat various ailments.

Pain: Marijuana has been shown effective against various forms of severe, chronic pain. Some research suggests it helps with migraines, cluster headaches, and the pain from fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome because these problems can be triggered by an underlying deficiency in the brain of naturally-occurring cannabinoids, ingredients in marijuana. Smoked pot also proved better than placebo cigarettes at relieving nerve pain in HIV patients, according to two recent studies by California researchers. Marijuana also seems to be effective against nerve pain that is resistant to opiates.

Cancer: The active ingredients in cannabis have been shown to combat pain, nausea, and loss of appetite in cancer patients, as well as block tumor growth in lab animals, according to a review article in the journal Nature in October 2003. But there’s vigorous debate about whether smoking marijuana increases cancer risk.

Some studies that have looked for a link between cancer risk and marijuana have failed to find one, including a key paper from the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of Southern California published in 2006. “We had hypothesized, based on prior laboratory evidence, including animal studies, that long-term heavy use of marijuana would increase the risk of lung and head and neck cancers,’’ said Hal Morgenstern, a coauthor and an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. “But we didn’t get any evidence of that, once we controlled for confounding factors, especially cigarette smoking.’’

Research published by a French group this year and by Kaiser Permanente, a California-based HMO, in 1997 came to a similar conclusion.

But a state health agency in California, the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use in 1996, recently declared pot smoke (though not the plant itself) a carcinogen because it has some of the same harmful substances as tobacco smoke. The active ingredient in marijuana can increase the risk for Kaposi’s sarcoma, a common cancer in HIV/AIDS patients, Harvard researchers reported in the journal Cancer Research in August 2007. And British researchers reported in May 2009 in Chemical Research in Toxicology that laboratory experiments showed that pot smoke can damage DNA, suggesting it might cause cancer.

The federal government’s National Institute on Drug Abuse says that it is “not yet determined’’ whether marijuana increases the risk for lung and other cancers.

Respiratory problems: Smoking one marijuana joint has similar adverse effects on lung function as 2.5 to 5 cigarettes, according to a New Zealand study published in Thorax in July 2007. A small Australian study published in Respirology in January 2008 showed that pot smoking can lead to one type of lung disease 20 years earlier than tobacco smoking.

Addictive potential: The National Institute on Drug Abuse says “repeated use could lead to addiction,’’ adding that some heavy users experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and sleep loss if they stop suddenly.

Mental effects: Cannabis may increase the risk of psychotic disorders, according to a 2002 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology. And the national drug abuse agency warns that “heavy or daily use of marijuana affects the parts of the brain that control memory, attention, and learning.’’ A study of 15 heavy pot smokers published in June 2008 in the Archives of General Psychiatry showed loss of tissue in two areas of the brain, the hippocampus and amygdala, regions that are rich in receptors for marijuana and that are important for memory and emotion, respectively.

Vaporizing vs. smoking: The push now among proponents of medical marijuana is toward inhaling the vapor, not smoking. Vaporizing is a safe and effective way of getting THC, the active ingredient, into the bloodstream and does not result in inhalation of toxic carbon monoxide, as smoking does, according to a study by Abrams published in 2007 in Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

Bottom line: From a purely medical, not political, point of view, my take is that if I had medical problems that other medications did not help and that marijuana might, I’d try it – in vaporized form.

Just as Marcy Duda does. “You use it as you need it. You can be normal. You can function,’’ she says. “I don’t get high. I get by.’’

By Judy Foreman | Source.

July 6, 2009 – Have you ever looked at our marijuana policy? I mean, really looked at it?

WHEN WE THINK of the drug war, it’s the heavy-duty narcotics like Decrim-300x250.300wide.250highheroin and cocaine that get most of the attention. And why not? That’s where the action is. It’s not marijuana that is sustaining the Taliban in Afghanistan, after all. When Crips and Bloods descend into gun battles in the streets of Los Angeles, they’re not usually fighting over pot. The junkie who breaks into your house and steals your Blu-ray player isn’t doing it so he can score a couple of spliffs.

No, the marijuana trade is more genteel than that. At least, I used to think it was. Then, like a lot of people, I started reading about the open warfare that has erupted among the narcotraffickers in Mexico and is now spilling across the American border. Stories of drugs coming north and arsenals of guns going south. Thousands of people brutally murdered. Entire towns terrorized. And this was a war not just over cocaine and meth, but marijuana as well.

And I began to wonder: Maybe the war against pot is about to get a lot uglier. After all, in the 1920s, Prohibition gave us Al Capone and the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and that was over plain old whiskey and rum. Are we about to start paying the same price for marijuana?

If so, it might eventually start to affect me, too. Indirectly, sure, but that’s more than it ever has before. I’ve never smoked a joint in my life. I’ve only seen one once, and that was 30 years ago. I barely drink, I don’t smoke, and I don’t like coffee. When it comes to mood altering substances, I live the life of a monk. I never really cared much if marijuana was legal or not.

But if a war is breaking out over the stuff, I figured maybe I should start looking at the evidence on whether marijuana prohibition is worth it. Not the spin from the drug czar at one end or the hemp hucksters at the other. Just the facts, as best as I could figure them out. So I did. Here’s what I found.

In 1972, the report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse urged that possession of marijuana for personal use be decriminalized. A small wave of states followed this recommendation, but most refused; in Washington, President Carter called for eliminating penalties for small-time possession, but Congress stonewalled. And that’s the way things have stayed since the late ’70s. Some states have decriminalized, most haven’t, and possession is still a criminal offense under federal law. So how has that worked out?

I won’t give away the ending just yet, but one thing to know is this: On virtually every subject related to cannabis (an inclusive term that refers to both the sativa and indica varieties of the marijuana plant, as well as hashish, bhang, and other derivatives), the evidence is ambiguous. Sometimes even mysterious. So let’s start with the obvious question.

DOES DECRIMINALIZING CANNABIS HAVE ANY EFFECT AT ALL? It’s remarkably hard to tell—in part because drug use is faddish. Cannabis use among teens in the United States, for example, went down sharply in the ’80s, bounced back in the early ’90s, and has declined moderately since. Nobody really knows why.

We do, however, have studies that compare rates of cannabis use in states that have decriminalized vs. states that haven’t. And the somewhat surprising conclusion, in the words of Robert MacCoun, a professor of law and public policy at the University of California-Berkeley, is simple: “Most of the evidence suggests that decriminalization has no effect.”

But decriminalization is not legalization. In places that have decriminalized, simple possession is still illegal; it’s just treated as an administrative offense, like a traffic ticket. And production and distribution remain felonies. What would happen if cannabis use were fully legalized?

No country has ever done this, so we don’t know. The closest example is the Netherlands, where possession and sale of small amounts of marijuana is de facto legal in the famous coffeehouses. MacCoun and a colleague, Peter Reuter of the University of Maryland, have studied the Dutch experience and concluded that while legalization at first had little effect, once the coffeehouses began advertising and promoting themselves more aggressively in the 1980s, cannabis use more than doubled in a decade. Then again, cannabis use in Europe has gone up and down in waves, and some of the Dutch increase (as well as a later decrease, which followed a tightening of the coffeehouse laws in the mid-’90s) may have simply been part of those larger waves.

The most likely conclusion from the overall data is that if you fully legalized cannabis, use would almost certainly go up, but probably not enormously. MacCoun guesses that it might rise by half—say, from around 15 percent of the population to a little more than 20 percent. “It’s not going to triple,” he says. “Most people who want to use marijuana are already finding a way to use marijuana.”

Still, there would be a cost. For one thing, a much higher increase isn’t out of the question if companies like Philip Morris or R.J. Reynolds set their finest minds on the promotion of dope. And much of the increase would likely come among the heaviest users. “One person smoking eight joints a day is worth more to the industry than fifty people each smoking a joint a week,” says Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at UCLA. “If the cannabis industry were to expand greatly, it couldn’t do so by increasing the number of casual users. It would have to create and maintain more chronic zonkers.” And that’s a problem. Chronic use can lead to dependence and even long-term cognitive impairment. Heavy cannabis users are more likely to be in auto accidents. There have been scattered reports of respiratory and fetal development problems. Still, sensible regulation can limit the commercialization of pot, and compared to other illicit drugs (and alcohol), its health effects are fairly mild. Even a 50 percent increase in cannabis use might be a net benefit if it led to lower rates of use of other drugs.

SO WOULD PEOPLE JUST SMOKE MORE AND DRINK LESS? Maybe. The generic term for this effect in the economics literature is “substitute goods,” and it simply means that some things replace other things. If the total demand for transportation is generally steady, an increase in sales of SUVs will lead to a decrease in the sales of sedans. Likewise, if the total demand for intoxicants is steady, an increase in the use of one drug should lead to a decrease in others.

Several years ago, John DiNardo, an economist now at the University of Michigan, found a clever way to test this via a natural experiment. Back in the 1980s, the Reagan administration pushed states to raise the drinking age to 21. Some states did this early in the decade, some later, and this gave DiNardo the idea of comparing data from the various states to see if the Reagan policy worked.

He found that raising the drinking age did lead to lower alcohol consumption; the effect was modest but real. But then DiNardo hit on another analysis—comparing cannabis use in states that raised the drinking age early with those that did it later. And he found that indeed, there seemed to be a substitution effect. On average, among high school seniors, a 4.5 percent decrease in drinking produced a 2.4 percent increase in getting high.

But what we really want to know is whether the effect works in the other direction: Would increased marijuana use lead to less drinking? “What goes up should go down,” DiNardo told me cheerfully, but he admits that in the absence of empirical evidence this hypothesis depends on your faith in basic economic models.

Some other studies are less encouraging than DiNardo’s, but even if the substitute goods effect is smaller than his research suggests—if, say, a 30 percent increase in cannabis use led to a 5 or 10 percent drop in drinking—it would still be a strong argument in favor of legalization. After all, excessive drinking causes nearly 80,000 deaths per year in the United States, compared to virtually none for pot. Trading alcohol consumption for cannabis use might be a pretty attractive deal.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE GATEWAY EFFECT? This has been a perennial bogeyman of the drug warriors. Kids who use pot, the TV ads tell us, will graduate to ecstasy, then coke, then meth, and then—who knows? Maybe even talk radio.

Is there anything to this? There are two plausible pathways for the gateway theory. The first is that drug use of any kind creates an affinity for increasingly intense narcotic experiences. The second is that when cannabis is illegal, the only place to get it is from dealers who also sell other stuff.

The evidence for the first pathway is mixed. Research in New Zealand, for example, suggests that regular cannabis use is correlated with higher rates of other illicit drug use, especially in teenagers. A Norwegian study comes to similar conclusions, but only for a small segment of “troubled” teenagers. Other research, however, suggests that these correlations aren’t caused by gateway effects at all, but by the simple fact that kids who like drugs do drugs. All kinds of drugs.

The second pathway was deliberately targeted by the Dutch when they began their coffeehouse experiment in the ’70s in part to sever the connection of cannabis with the illicit drug market. The evidence suggests that it worked: Even with cannabis freely available, Dutch cannabis use is currently about average among developed countries and use of other illicit drugs is about average, too. Easy access to marijuana, outside the dealer network for harder drugs, doesn’t seem to have led to greater use of cocaine or heroin.

So, to recap: Decriminalization of simple possession appears to have little effect on cannabis consumption. Full legalization would likely increase use only moderately as long as heavy commercialization is prohibited, although the effect on chronic users might be more substantial. It would increase heroin and cocaine use only slightly if at all, and it might decrease alcohol consumption by a small amount. Which leads to the question:

CAN WE STILL AFFORD PROHIBITION? The consequences of legalization, after all, must be compared to the cost of the status quo. Unsurprisingly, this too is hard to quantify. The worst effects of the drug war, including property crime and gang warfare, are mostly associated with cocaine, heroin, and meth. Likewise, most drug-law enforcement is aimed at harder drugs, not cannabis; contrary to conventional wisdom, only about 44,000 people are currently serving prison time on cannabis charges—and most of those are there for dealing and distribution, not possession.

Still, the University of Maryland’s Reuter points out that about 800,000 people are arrested for cannabis possession every year in the United States. And even though very few end up being sentenced to prison, a study of three counties in Maryland following a recent marijuana crackdown suggests that a third spend at least one pretrial night in jail and a sixth spend more than ten days. That takes a substantial human toll. Overall, Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates the cost of cannabis prohibition in the United States at $13 billion annually and the lost tax revenue at nearly $7 billion.

SO WHAT ARE THE ODDS OF LEGALIZATION? Slim. For starters, the United States, along with virtually every other country in the world, is a signatory to the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (and its 1988 successor), which flatly prohibits legalization of cannabis. The only way around this is to unilaterally withdraw from the treaties or to withdraw and then reenter with reservations. That’s not going to happen.

At the federal level, there’s virtually no appetite for legalizing cannabis either. Though public opinion has made steady strides, increasing from around 20 percent favoring marijuana legalization in the Reagan era to nearly 40 percent favoring it today, the only policy change in Washington has been Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement in March that the Obama administration planned to end raids on distributors of medical marijuana. (Applications for pot dispensaries promptly surged in Los Angeles County.)

The real action in cannabis legalization is at the state level. More than a dozen states now have effective medical marijuana laws, most notably California. Medical marijuana dispensaries are dotted all over the state, and it’s common knowledge that the “medical” part is in many cases a thin fiction. Like the Dutch coffeehouses, California’s dispensaries are now a de facto legal distribution network that severs the link between cannabis and other illicit drugs for a significant number of adults (albeit still only a fraction of total users). And the result? Nothing. “We’ve had this experiment for a decade and the sky hasn’t fallen,” says Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. California Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has even introduced a bill that would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana; it has gained the endorsement of the head of the state’s tax collection agency, which informally estimates it could collect $1.3 billion a year from cannabis sales. Still, the legislation hasn’t found a single cosponsor, and isn’t scheduled for so much as a hearing.

Which is too bad. Going into this assignment, I didn’t care much personally about cannabis legalization. I just had a vague sense that if other people wanted to do it, why not let them? But the evidence suggests pretty clearly that we ought to significantly soften our laws on marijuana. Too many lives have been ruined and too much money spent for a social benefit that, if not zero, certainly isn’t very high.

And it may actually happen. If attitudes continue to soften; if the Obama administration turns down the volume on anti-pot propaganda; if medical dispensaries avoid heavy commercialization; if drug use remains stable; and if emergency rooms don’t start filling up with drug-related traumas while all this is happening, California’s experience could go a long way toward destigmatizing cannabis use. That’s a lot of ifs.

Still, things are changing. Even GOP icon Arnold Schwarzenegger now says, “I think it’s time for a debate.” That doesn’t mean he’s in favor of legalizing pot right this minute, but it might mean we’re getting close to a tipping point. Ten years from now, as the flower power generation enters its 70s, you might finally be able to smoke a fully legal, taxed, and regulated joint. By Kevin Drum. Source.

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