Marijuana Legalization on the CA Ballot: Separating Fact from Fiction

With a historic marijuana legalization initiative certified for November’s general election, California is ground zero for a growing national debate. No matter what you think about regulating marijuana for adult consumption, brace yourself for a blast of alarmist hot air from the drug war status quo, a nine-month onslaught of distortions, half-truths and real whoppers. Marijuana offenses account for over half of all drug arrests nationwide. No wonder the law enforcement lobby is furiously digging in its heels at the prospect of “losing marijuana.” Here are three commonsense reasons to dump decades of failed marijuana prohibition. (Spoiler alert: Billions of dollars in new state revenue isn’t one of them. That’s just gravy.)

1. Regulation will help bring marijuana distribution under the rule of law.

Proponents for maintaining the marijuana ban claim that legalization would aid criminal markets. But it’s prohibition that has ceded control to the black market; legalization and regulation would mean the opposite. Ending marijuana prohibition means ending the current state of chaos and implementing real controls on who has access to marijuana when and where.

Whether we like it or not, marijuana is a mainstream recreational drug and famously California’s largest cash crop. Prohibiting a commodity that popular has simply fueled a massive, increasingly brutal underground economy. Criminal syndicates in Mexico reportedly derive at least 60% of their profits from marijuana sales alone. The horrifying carnage that’s claimed 15,000 Mexican lives in three years isn’t about drugs, of course, but the drug profits guaranteed by prohibition. While regulating marijuana in California won’t single-handedly solve the problem, bringing the market for marijuana into the open will undermine the Al Capones and Pablo Escobars of today by ending the monopoly they currently enjoy over their most lucrative product.

2. Marijuana use has little to do with marijuana laws.

Drug warriors paint a dire picture of skyrocketing marijuana consumption, especially among young people, if the prohibition on adult use ended. But marijuana use isn’t primarily impacted by criminal penalties. The U.S. has the highest rates of marijuana consumption in the Western world despite by far the most severe penalties. Among a stack of international studies of this question, the 2004 findings of the American Journal of Public Health “do not support claims that criminalization reduces cannabis use and that decriminalization increases cannabis use.”

Adults consume marijuana in huge numbers regardless of its illegality, and American high school students consistently report marijuana is actually easier to buy than alcohol or tobacco. Nearly three times as many American teens under 15 have tried marijuana as teens in the Netherlands, where marijuana is openly sold to adults in coffee shops. Marijuana regulation lowers youth access, separates marijuana from harder drugs, and helps “make marijuana boring” to kids.

3. Regulation will make marijuana safer than ever.

Get ready for “Reefer Madness” 2.0 as drug warriors try to confuse an increasingly savvy electorate about the harms of marijuana. Since it’s now so widely consumed, many people understand that marijuana is safer than alcohol or cigarettes and are increasingly skeptical of laws that treat them so differently. Science backs them up. Marijuana is far less addictive and typically consumed in much smaller amounts. It’s impossible to die of a marijuana overdose. Crucially, marijuana lacks alcohol’s noxious association with violence, accidents and reckless sexual behavior.

Reports that today’s marijuana is more potent are often wildly exaggerated, and potency isn’t even related to addiction or other health impacts. Nevertheless, the issue of what’s in marijuana argues for regulation not against. Marijuana is consumed by nearly one in ten Californians annually. What they’re consuming is of widely varying quality and may contain pesticides, contaminants, and unsafe adulterants. Regulation would provide a framework to control potency, provide for labeling and prohibit dangerous additives. Not only does prohibition provide no such protections, it drives consumers underground where the buyer must truly beware.

Advocates of a mythical “drug free” world may want to put the genie back in the bottle, but we simply can’t pretend, ignore or arrest our way out of today’s realities. As this country learned by banning alcohol sales in the 1920s and ’30s, prohibition of a widely popular commodity will never work. Marijuana prohibition causes more social harm than good in the form of mass arrests, wasted criminal justice resources, out-of-control youth access, and unregulated products consumed by millions. It’s time to regulate adult use of marijuana once and for all.

Stephen Gutwillig is the California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance.

– Article from Alternet.