Sunday, June 09, 2013

5 Myths about legalizing marijuana in The Washington Post

Every Sunday, the Washington Post publishes 5 Myths about some topic in the Outlook section. On June 9, it published Doug Fine's "5 Myths about legalizing marijuana." Unfortunately Fine's first two "myths" are not myths at all, and he states an absurdity that could become the basis of a new myth. I am quite surprised that the editors of the Outlook section printed this.

Fine's first non-myth is that "If pot is legal, more people will use it." Economics and logic both suggest that if pot is legal, more people will use it. Fine notes that California high school students recently reported that cannabis is easier for them to obtain than alcohol. That probably is true for California high school students. But this is not true for tens of millions of adults who currently have no contacts to obtain marijuana.

Even for those adults who have friends who use marijuana, the current illegality is a powerful deterrent to ask them to help you obtain marijuana. You are asking them to aid and abet the commission of a felony -- the distribution of marijuana. You are asking them to go to the trouble of either becoming your dealer or introducing you to their dealer. While some pot dealers may welcome new recommended customers, others are necessarily going to be suspicious and hesitant about exposing their felonious behavior to another potential witness against them. For millions of adults, the introduction of legal marijuana is going to make it easier for them to obtain and to use.

Of course for millions of thoughtful and cautious adults, the consequences of a marijuana arrest -- even if a remote possibility -- are a significant deterrent from use. For starters, the embarrassment in front one's children, spouse, family and friends is a real deterrent. The implication of being something of a dope, even if the arrest is a simple matter of being unlucky, is another. These are every bit as consequential as the risk of missing days at work or losing a job. There are, of course, the inevitable costs of an attorney or perhaps bail, or the hassle of seeking services of the public defender. There is the real likelihood of probation or a conviction.  These thoughts are, for thoughtful and cautious adults, a constant accompaniment to the experience of using marijuana, and a deterrent to use. It suppresses the number of "users" in the past month to be sure, even if use is once or a few times a year. Once legal, the use of marijuana will not have those obstacles,  and adult use is sure to rise.

Fine's use of statistics regarding Portugal and the Netherlands is not really helpful. Drug use is not simply dependent upon statutes, but upon other cultural factors. Regarding Portugal, he surprisingly has confused and misstated the legal status of marijuana as "legal" when it was actually "decriminalized." There is no legal distribution of marijuana there. There situation there is not applicable.

I very much doubt that America will turn into a Cheech and Chong movie, but I think it is absurd to insist that there will be no increase is use if marijuana is legal.

Of course the price is going to come down, and that is almost certain to lead to increased use as well.

Second, Fine says it is a myth that law enforcement officials oppose legalization. Fine quotes my friend from LEAP, Stephen Downing, "Most law enforcers find it difficult not to recognize the many harms caused by our current drug laws."  Steve is correct that they recognize the harms, but that does not mean they endorse legalization.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials who publicly express an opinion about marijuana legalization still oppose it. I recently testified before the Judiciary Committee of the Maryland House of Delegates regarding marijuana decriminalization. No current law enforcement officer testified in favor, but there were two panels of law enforcement officials (Chiefs of Police, elected Sheriffs, state police commanders, etc.) who testified ardently against decriminalization or legalization. LEAP is an extremely important voice for law enforcement officials, but most of its spokespersons are retired. Only a handful are currently employed in law enforcement. Fine's assertion is simply wrong.

Finally Fine says there are "100 million cannabis aficionados (17 million regular partakers)." On the order of 100 million Americans have tried marijuana at least once. But for many of those who tried marijuana they are not "aficionados," they don't use marijuana and have not for years. This assertion is absurd.

Sphere: Related Content


Anonymous said...

The stuff is very intriguing.

Micheal Hussey said...