Five Myths About Legalizing Marijuana

Jun 9, 2013

With 16 states hav­ing decrim­i­nal­ized or legal­ized cannabis for non-medical use and eight more head­ing toward some kind of legal­iza­tion, fed­eral prohibition’s days seem num­bered. You might won­der what Amer­ica will look like when mar­i­juana is in the cor­ner store and at the farm­ers mar­ket. In three years spent research­ing that ques­tion, I found some ideas about the plant that just don’t hold up. 1. If pot is legal, more peo­ple will use it. As drug pol­icy under­goes big changes, I’ve been watch­ing rates of youth cannabis use with inter­est. As it is for most fathers, the well-being of my fam­ily is the most impor­tant thing in my life. Whether you like the plant or not, as with alco­hol, only adults should be allowed to par­take of intox­i­cat­ing sub­stances. But youth cannabis use is near its high­est level ever in the United States. When I spoke at a Cal­i­for­nia high school recently and asked, “Who thinks cannabis is eas­ier to obtain than alco­hol?,” nearly every hand shot up. In Por­tu­gal, by con­trast, youth rates fell from 2002 to 2006, after all drugs were legal­ized there in 2001. Sim­i­larly, a 2011 Brown University-led study of mid­dle and high school stu­dents in Rhode Island found no increases in ado­les­cent use after the state legal­ized med­ical mar­i­juana in 2006. As for adult use, the num­bers are mixed. A 2011 Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia at Berke­ley study, for exam­ple, showed a slight increase in adult use with de facto legal­iza­tion in the Nether­lands (though the rate was still lower than in the United States). Yet that study and one in 2009 found Dutch rates to be slightly lower than the Euro­pean aver­age. When the United States’ 40-year-long war on mar­i­juana ends, the coun­try is not going to turn into a Cheech and Chong movie. It is, how­ever, going to see the trans­fer of as much as 50 per­cent of car­tel prof­its to the tax­able econ­omy. 2. Law enforce­ment offi­cials oppose legal­iza­tion. It is true that many law enforce­ment lobby groups don’t want to end America’s most expen­sive war (which has cost $1 tril­lion and count­ing), but that’s because they’re the rea­son it’s so expen­sive. In 2010, two-thirds of fed­eral spend­ing on the drug war, $10 bil­lion, went toward law enforce­ment and inter­dic­tion. But law enforce­ment rank and file know the truth about the drug war’s prof­li­gate and inef­fec­tive spend­ing, says for­mer Los Ange­les deputy police chief Stephen Down­ing, one of 5,000 pub­lic safety pro­fes­sion­als who make up the group Law Enforce­ment Against Pro­hi­bi­tion. “Most law enforcers find it dif­fi­cult not to rec­og­nize the many harms caused by our cur­rent drug laws,” he wrote to me in an e-mail. Those harms include, accord­ing to a new ACLU report, marijuana-possession arrests that are skewed heav­ily toward minori­ties. Since mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion dri­ves the drug war, these huge costs would end when fed­eral cannabis law changes. Sher­iff Tom All­man in Men­do­cino County, Calif., helped per­mit, inspect and pro­tect local cannabis farm­ers in 2010 and 2011. When I asked him why, he said: “This county has prob­lems: domes­tic vio­lence, meth, poverty. Mar­i­juana isn’t even in the top 10. I want it off the front pages so I can deal with the real issues.” 3. Get­ting high would be the top rev­enue gen­er­a­tor for the cannabis plant. I called both of my U.S. sen­a­tors’ offices to sup­port insert­ing a pro­vi­sion into this year’s farm bill to legal­ize hemp for domes­tic cul­ti­va­tion. Based on my research on indus­trial cannabis, com­monly called hemp, I’m stag­gered by the poten­tial of this plant, which is not the vari­ety you smoke. In Canada, where 90 per­cent of the crop is bought by U.S. con­sumers, the gov­ern­ment researches the best vari­eties for its hemp farm­ers, rather than refus­ing to issue them per­mits, as the United States tends to do. In a research facil­ity in Man­i­toba, I saw a trac­tor whose body was made entirely of hemp fiber and bind­ing. BMW and Dodgeuse hemp fibers in their door pan­els, and homes whose insu­la­tion and wall pan­el­ing are made par­tially of hemp rep­re­sent a fast-growing trend in the Euro­pean con­struc­tion indus­try. Jack Noël, who co-authored a 2012 indus­trial hemp task force report for the New Mex­ico Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, says that “within 10 years of the end of the war on drugs, we’ll see a $50 bil­lion domes­tic hemp indus­try.” That’s big­ger than the $40 bil­lion some econ­o­mists pre­dict smoked cannabis would bring in. Foods such as cereal and salad dress­ing are the biggest U.S. mar­kets for hemp today, but indus­trial cannabis has the bright­est future in the energy sec­tor, where a Ken­tucky util­ity is plan­ning to grow hemp for bio­mass energy. 4. Big Tobacco and Big Alco­hol would con­trol the legal cannabis indus­try. In 1978, the Carter admin­is­tra­tion changed alco­hol reg­u­la­tions to allow for micro­brew­eries. Today the craft-beer mar­ket is worth $10.2 bil­lion annu­ally. The top-shelf cannabis farm­ers in California’s Emer­ald Tri­an­gle real­ize this poten­tial. “We’re cre­at­ing an inter­na­tional brand, like cham­pagne and Parmi­giano cheese,” says Tomas Balogh, co-founder of the Emer­ald Grow­ers Asso­ci­a­tion in Hum­boldt, Calif. Get ready for the bud and break­fast. When America’s 100 mil­lion cannabis afi­ciona­dos (17 mil­lion reg­u­lar par­tak­ers) are freed from deal­ers, some are going to pick up a six-pack of joints at the cor­ner store before head­ing to a bar­be­cue, and oth­ers are going to seek out organ­i­cally grown heir­loom strains for their veg­etable dip. As Balogh puts it: “When peo­ple ask me if the small farmer or the big cor­po­ra­tion will ben­e­fit from the end of pro­hi­bi­tion, I say, ‘Both.’ The cannabis indus­try is already decen­tral­ized and farmer-owned. It’s up to con­sumers to keep it that way.” So Big Alco­hol might con­trol the cor­ner store, but not the fine-wine shop or the farm­ers’ mar­ket. 5. In the heart­land, legal­iza­tion is a polit­i­cal non­starter. Pres­i­dent Obama, in an inter­view last Decem­ber, for the first time took seri­ously a ques­tion about the legal­iza­tion of cannabis. He said that he didn’t yet sup­port it but that he had “big­ger fish to fry” than harass­ing Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton. In Col­orado in 2012, 40 per­cent of Repub­li­can vot­ers chose to legal­ize cannabis, and a greater share of Col­oradans voted for legal­iza­tion than voted for Obama. In Ari­zona, a pretty con­ser­v­a­tive and sil­ver state, 56 per­cent of those in a poll last month sup­ported reg­u­lat­ing cannabis for per­sonal use. Maybe fis­cal con­ser­v­a­tives know about the $35 bil­lion in annual nation­wide tax sav­ings that end­ing pro­hi­bi­tion would bring. In Illi­nois, 63 per­cent of vot­ers sup­port med­i­c­i­nal mar­i­juana, and they’re likely to get it. Even 60 per­cent of Ken­tuck­ians favor med­ical cannabis. I’m not sur­prised. I live in a con­ser­v­a­tive val­ley in New Mex­ico. Yet as a woman in line at the post office recently told me: “It’s pills that killed my cousin. Fightin’ pot just keeps those dang car­tels in busi­ness.” Doug Fine is the author of “Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Eco­nomic Rev­o­lu­tion,” in which he fol­lowed one legal med­i­c­i­nal cannabis plant from farm to patient. Source: Wash­ing­ton Post (DC) Author: Doug Fine Pub­lished: June 7, 2013 Copy­right: 2013 Wash­ing­ton Post Com­pany Con­tact: letters@​washpost.​com

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Five Myths About Legal­iz­ing Marijuana

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