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So Little To Fear In Legalized Marijuana

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
WASHINGTON - "We have nothing to fear but fear itself" -- President Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1933

Justice John Paul Stevens recently asked in a U.S. Supreme Court opinion "whether the fear of disapproval by those in the majority is silencing opponents of the war on drugs." The answer is a resounding "yes," though it's not at all clear that a majority actually agrees with current policies regarding marijuana regulation. Fear of being called "soft on drugs" is stifling rational debate about the relative merits of prohibition vs. regulation of a substance most regard as relatively innocuous.

Virtually everyone under the age 55 knows somebody who uses or has used marijuana. Many need only look in a mirror. Yet federal and state governments continue to treat marijuana possession as a serious crime. This is a wildly disproportionate response, fueled by fear, to an activity that is widespread among all classes of society.

As part of an organization seeking to reform prohibition-oriented marijuana laws, I witness this phenomenon daily. Legislators acknowledge privately that current policies are not working, but fret that voters will not accept reform. Citizens wink and nod at marijuana use by loved ones while supporting laws that could ruin their loved ones' lives. Everybody is afraid to question current policies.

Instead of acting like Chicken Little, perhaps we should ask ourselves exactly what would happen if marijuana was regulated like alcohol. That might make for calm and rational public policy decisions.

Far too many people have tried marijuana, or know somebody who has used it, for the public to really believe in the "Reefer Madness" stories circulated by government fear-mongers. As with alcohol, some people would abuse marijuana. But, also as with alcohol, most would adjust their consumption in a responsible manner.

EVERY DAY THE PAPERS ARE FULL OF STORIES OF MISERY wrought by overindulgence in alcohol -- a substance more toxic, and far more likely to induce violence or aggression, than marijuana. Yet prohibition is not considered a serious response to alcohol abuse. And in the real world, most people don't drink themselves into oblivion daily, despite the relative ease and low expense involved in doing so.

But if we regulated marijuana like alcohol, what message would that send to our children? Good question. What message do we send when we enact laws that punish a few unlucky individuals for doing what much of the population does without punishment?

We cannot engender respect for the law by criminalizing private behavior while quietly tolerating the flouting of the law. Experience with alcohol prohibition taught us that.

But isn't marijuana a "gateway" to other drugs? Not through its biochemical effects, as the Institute of Medicine noted in its White House-funded study. The "gateway" is the suppliers -- drug dealers who peddle other drugs as well. Put an attractive product in the same market basket as hard drugs and shoppers may sample the other products. Put marijuana where it belongs, in licensed and regulated outlets as we do with alcohol, and consumers won't see the drug dealers' other wares.

Bourbon is sold by legal venues where identification is checked, and proprietors have reason to follow rules in order to preserve their liquor licenses. The fact that marijuana is illegal creates a completely unregulated market where anything goes.

I'VE BEEN LICENSED TO PRACTICE LAW IN NORTH CAROLINA for nearly 25 years. I had the privilege of serving as a Superior Court judge for seven and one half of those years. I wouldn't know where to buy marijuana if I had to. And my own experience with it is limited to the casual exposure nearly every adult under 55 has had. But I've seen many lives ruined by misguided policies that treat the consumption of marijuana as a major threat to society.

If we really believe that our friends, family and neighbors are ruining their own lives and threatening the public safety, we should turn them in immediately. The fact that most of us do not do that is testament to the fact we really don't perceive marijuana as a threat to the public order.

Properly regulating and taxing marijuana for adult use would save millions of dollars in law enforcement, court costs and correction department spending. It would also bring in millions in tax revenues for education, roads and other critical needs, and shut a "gateway" to hard drugs.

Ignoring that opportunity based on hysterical fears about a substance few view as a threat to public order is true "reefer madness."

(Ray Warren is director of State Policies for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington, D.C. He is a former member of the North Carolina House of Representatives and a former judge.)

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Source: The News & Observer
Author: Ray Warren
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Copyright: 2007, The News & Observer Publishing Company
Website: newsobserver.com | So little to fear in legal marijuana
 
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