Dear Dr. Wes and Katie: With the recent passage of laws legalizing recreational marijuana in some states, do you think this is a good idea and do you think it’s going to spread to other states (like maybe ours!)?
Katie: Since Election Day, news columns have been doused with comparisons between current marijuana laws and 1920’s prohibition.
The similarities are too palpable to ignore: bans on alcohol and marijuana have never succeeded in this country. Just as prohibition didn’t sober up the American public, U.S. drug policies haven’t stopped teens and adults alike from getting “potted up,” as Steve Doocy from “Fox & Friends” calls it.
I’ve been overhearing stories of so-and-so’s weed weekend since seventh grade. According to a 2011 survey from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 22.6 percent of high school seniors reported using marijuana in the month preceding the survey, and 6.6 percent said they used it daily.
Another disturbing product of anti-marijuana policies is organized crime — which, not incidentally, also rose during Prohibition. Legalizing marijuana will likely cut down on drug-related crime, and we can only hope that regulating sellers might make it more difficult for underage users to get their hands on the drug.
The victims of legalization are, however, the current and future marijuana addicts. Legalizing any substance shifts the responsibility to the users’ self-control, and moderation isn’t generally America’s strong suit. Ideally, I’d like to see states take it upon themselves to initiate treatment programs and educate people about safe marijuana use.
For states, legalization is shaping up to be a boon: not only will they make money off of taxation, but they’ll also curb wasted resources chasing down and imprisoning users for possession of a drug that’s cited as no more dangerous than alcohol.
Whether more states follow Colorado and Washington’s lead depends on federalism now because the state referendums contradict federal law. In either case, given the traditional coalitions in our home state of Kansas, I doubt we’ll have to worry about changing drug laws anytime soon.
In the meantime, our neighbors in the Rockies might be seeing a hike in tourism in a few months.
Dr. Wes: Well, that question didn’t take long to show up in the inbox.
Katie’s pro-legalization perspective is on par with most of the teens and young adults I know, including those who don’t smoke (much). And yes, as any fan of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” or Ken Burns’ “Prohibition” knows, the Volstead Act was a disaster.
But people forget that this bad idea came about for a reason. That’s why Burns named his first episode “A Nation of Drunkards.”
But that’s not how young (and lots of not-so-young) people look at marijuana use today. Those stats Katie cites? They’re all self-reported and undoubtedly underestimate the real use among teens.
It is, in fact, a rare teen who thinks only 22 percent of the peer group smoked last month. Ask yours and see.
Yet most of the under-25 crowd don’t look around and see “A Nation of Potheads.” They see a wonderful herb, just waiting to become a normal part of our legal economy and social life. They accept that pot use has gone from a recreational drug to a fact of daily life.
In fact, they tout the virtues of marijuana over other “bad drugs” and argue that it is a wrongly oppressed source of great good. As with most social and political movements, the pro-weed fervor goes way over the top.
Last week on NPR’s Fresh Air, Newsweek journalist Tony Dokoupil offered a fairly balanced perspective — though he got a little carried away comparing a Colorado marijuana farm to “a Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of pot.” But he posited what we all know — decriminalization is coming.
He also offered the position I have chosen to take today: “Sure, marijuana is less harmful than Jack Daniels, but that’s not the same thing as safe or helpful in the home or workplace, or good.”
Legalization is the right move simply because what we’re doing with this drug right now isn’t just failing; it’s absurd for all the reasons Katie cites.
Yet Dokoupil offers one truly sobering note (pun intended): Americans currently use marijuana at THREE TIMES the global average. With legalization and the accompanying marketing efforts of big corporations, that use will increase THREE FOLD again.
While all those taxes rock my world, I’d remind lawmakers to direct about half straight into substance abuse treatment programs. We already need them, and we’re going to need them even more.