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Debating Marijuana Policy

Talk Back: The most common arguments against ending cannabis prohibition are as easy to refute as they are to enumerate:


1. "Marijuana makes people high."

Yes, and so do prayer and oxygen, is that bad? People get high on nature, "high on life," "high on God," high on chocolate, coffee, beer, tobacco -- even TV, exercise and meditation alter your consciousness. Watching television is the biggest escape from reality of them all. Who gave prohibitionists the power to dictate what everyone else can and cannot do for fun? Why does the bloated prison industry lobby to criminalize a harmless activity enjoyed by millions of Americans?

The core issues are personal choice and responsibility. Cannabis consumers are seeking the same respect and fundamental rights as anybody else, which is what they deserve. Neither the Constitution nor the Bible forbids cannabis use. The Bible states point blank that God gave us "every seed bearing herb" to use, and saw that it was good. The Declaration of Independence affirms our right to "the pursuit of happiness." The US Constitution Ninth Amendment states that "the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." Only interstate commerce in cannabis is under the control of the federal government (Article 1 section 8), and so homegrown cannabis does not rightfully come under federal supervision. The laws against cannabis are an attack against the gifts of God/nature and the rule of law. No matter how you feel about people "getting high," these other principles are too important to allow government to violate our personal rights.

So if you don't think people should get high, it is your right to not get high and your right to discourage others to not get high, but that does not give any person or government the right to abuse the rights of people who feel otherwise. And to wage a war on cannabis users while society promotes alcohol and tolerates tobacco is hypocritical and immoral.


2. "More people will use it if it's legal. We already have so much trouble with alcohol, tobacco and bad driving; why make things worse?"

Perhaps there will be an increase in cannabis use if it is re-legalized, as it has been throughout most of human history. Perhaps that will cause some problems, although we believe that it will make a more healthy, honest and integrated society. Nonetheless, the financial savings from ending the hunting down, arrest, prosecution and incarceration of cannabis consumers will more than offset any costs associated with its use; it costs only a fraction as much per year to give people treatment as to imprison them. That saves money and helps people who need it. And that is good for everybody.

Moreover, cannabis has hundreds of known medical uses, one of which is helping people 'step down' from dependency on alcohol and hard drugs. Given the option, some people will switch to using cannabis rather than drinking for relaxation and fun, as it doesn't cause hangovers the next day and it causes fewer behavioral problems. Adults who smoke it are generally law-abiding, peaceful, and contributing members of society. In fact, they often can be some of the nicest people you meet. The vast majority consume it on their own time in the privacy of their homes, after work or on weekends.

Alcohol often leads to aggressive behavior and reckless driving. Like tobacco, alcohol has serious, harmful health consequences. But if you think we have a drinking problem today, you should learn about the "Roaring Twenties" Prohibition Era, when competing liquor companies sent carloads of gangsters out with machine guns for drive-by shootings. Violent crime got so bad that the American people passed the 21st Amendment to end Prohibition and legitimize the underground economy. Society set an age limit and has learned to regulate and cope with alcohol use and to minimize the harms associated with it.

Advertising for pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol and tobacco pepper our newspapers, magazines and airwaves. Some 500,000 people a year die from tobacco and alcohol, from 10,000 to 100,000 per year die from legal pharmaceutical drugs; but cannabis is a different matter entirely. Not one person has ever died from smoking cannabis in medical history. Many societies have accepted cannabis use for thousands of years. Certainly, America can live with it -- in fact, it already is. Let's just recognize the reality.


3. "People will be driving under the influence."

People already drive under the influence, and we certainly don't recommend it, but nor should you drive when using common medicines like antihistamines, or if you are too tired, angry or stressed out. No one should ever drive if they are not fully alert and capable of doing so. Some people are just bad drivers, no matter how sober they are. The most efficient way to control reckless driving is through direct observation and impairment testing based on driving behavior and vehicle safety, not random searches.

The latest dictate by the Drug Czar is to outlaw "drugged driving." It is Walters' plan to criminalize people not for driving impaired or even under the influence, but for having consumed cannabis at any time (except his political cronies, or course). The tests he advocates do not determine whether someone is impaired, but they will show if someone consumed cannabis over the prior few weeks. So, it would not tell if someone is driving poorly or even if they consumed cannabis just before getting behind the wheel. This is a reckless and misguided policy that would ruin people's lives for no good reason. It is completely discriminatory and unfounded. If someone gets behind the wheel of a car, and is driving recklessly, he or she should be held accountable for that and taken off the road.

People have learned through public education campaigns that drinking and driving don't mix. While studies show that people who consume cannabis and drive do not pose a substantial risk for accidents (people tend to be more cautious and drive more slowly after they smoke), they also need to be aware of the fact that drinking alcohol plus smoking cannabis does not improve driving. In fact, people should not drink, smoke and drive, as smoking cannabis does not mitigate the effects of alcohol.


4. "Ending marijuana prohibition would 'send the wrong message' &emdash; that we condone drug use."

The Drug War is not about sending messages: It's about sending people to prison. And prison cannot "rehabilitate" patriotic Americans who believe that marijuana prohibition is both unconstitutional and immoral: all it can do is abuse and alienate them. Society might place some reasonable regulations and restrictions on its use, as we do for alcohol and tobacco. However, it is criminal for politicians to lock people away for it. In a free country, the message should be to wait until adulthood, use common sense, take responsibility for your actions, and respect the personal freedom and privacy of others, not locks and bars for those who disagree.

A better message for young people would be that there are things in life that require a certain degree of maturity and responsibility before engaging in them. While driving, sex, marriage, voting, drinking alcohol, and serving in the military (to name a few) are not appropriate for minors, they will have the opportunity to choose to engage in these activities or not when they reach a certain age, as a matter of personal choice. Further, people learn that there are appropriate circumstances when use is condoned, and times that are inappropriate. The same message could be applied to using cannabis.


5. "Some people can't cope with marijuana use."

That is true; about 10% of Americans have addictive personalities or contra-indications and so they might want to avoid it. But what about the rest of us? Why should we be punished? Cannabis is not for everybody. Some people don't like its effects. Very few claim that their use is problematic. Making it legal will help us to identify these people and reach out to them. They should have the social support they need to stop using it and have treatment available to them if they are having problems stopping.

Everyone has the right to say "no" to marijuana: But the 90% of adults who can control their appetites also have a fundamental right to say "yes," if they so desire. The vast majority of consumers use cannabis in an appropriate, responsible manner that enhances their lives. They should have the same rights and held to the same standards in society as their alcohol and tobacco-consuming peers.


6. Marijuana smokers lack motivation.

Blaming pot is a cop out. The Beatles wrote many of their finest tunes while being quite open about smoking pot. Vice president Al Gore used cannabis when he was in college, as did lots of our elected officials, and they turned out fine. Millions of successful professionals and working people use cannabis and lead fulfilling lives.

Most people prefer to smoke cannabis for relaxation or creative inspiration during leisure hours &emdash; not when they have work to do. When a person loses motivation, there are many factors to consider. They need understanding and help. Arresting them and putting them in prison only makes matters worse. Most cannabis smokers are highly motivated and productive citizens. Let's not ruin lives with hysterical laws that do nothing to solve the real problems facing society.

If it were not for microscopic traces of cannabis in our systems, nobody could tell cannabis consumers from the rest of society. They are good, hard workers -- until they get fired over a positive drug test. Then they are stripped of our jobs, families, homes, driver's licenses, reputations, educational and career opportunities, and face fines and lengthy prison terms. And you have the nerve to blame that on cannabis? No, it is the result of anti-cannabis bigotry and bad laws.

Just look at the people who are out of the closet; some are great achievers, but most of us are just regular people, like the rest of society. They do their jobs, pay their taxes, join the PTA, watch TV, go to church and shop at the local stores like everybody else. It is important for society to know that what most pot smokers want is to be taxed, regulated and left alone to make their contributions to society, like everyone else.


7. "Marijuana is so much stronger than it used to be."

That's not true, as explained below. But even were it so, that is a positive benefit rather than a negative. Many people prefer stronger cannabis, so they can smoke less of it to achieve a desired effect. Some people prefer weaker cannabis for a milder effect. A legal, regulated market in cannabis will offer consumers choices of grades and quality of marijuana, so they will choose the kind they prefer. The nice thing about smoking or vaporizing cannabis is that you can stop at whatever level you feel is appropriate. Potency is just a factor in how much you consume to achieve that effect.

Now, let's get technical. Cannabis is mostly made up of cellulose, like any other plant. Only a tiny molecule found in the resin secreted in the flowering tips and upper leaves of certain plants has the ability to make people high, and that is THC. The smaller the portion of the plant that is tested, the higher the percentage of THC can be; for example, one tetra-hydro-cannabinol molecule is 100%THC. Therefore any figure can be proposed, if the sample is small enough and properly cleaned of other matter. That is what the above claim attempts to do. THC was identified in the 1960s, but it was not tracked until the 1980s, when some stored, old marijuana was tested and found to still contain about 1% THC in the flowers after many years. But it deteriorates with age, so the percentage was misleading. Studies on fresh cannabis began in the mid-1980s. Marijuana has averaged about 3% THC for the past 15 years, according to government reports published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). More potent cannabis contained between 5% to 10% THC in the flowers, averaging 7.5%. The average potency today is still around 3%, with on the high end at 10% at most.

Until recently, cannabis was only used in concentrated forms -- hashish, kif, and charas -- rather than smoked as a dried herb. So in reality, it has traditionally been as strong or stronger than the stronger varieties of cannabis that the government claims. Cannabis is not a man made drug: It's a natural herb. Some people like it, others don't. Different kinds of plants have different effects. There has always been very strong cannabis around. Hashish resin is five times more potent than regular cannabis, and people have smoked it for thousands of years with no problems. Prohibition has encouraged domestic growers to cultivate stronger strains that bring in higher prices for their efforts. The net effect is that the potency of the consumed dose is still about the same as it always has been throughout history; the minor deviations are balanced by the consumers' tolerance of its effects.


8. "What about the children?"

A very legitimate concern. Prohibition glamorizes drugs and encourages children to experiment with them, as shown by recent statistics on adolescent drug use. The "forbidden fruit" phenomenon makes some activities attractive to young people who are testing their limits. There are higher use rates among adolescents in the US where it is completely prohibited than in the Netherlands where there is legal access for people 18 years and older.

What kind of world are we making for our children: One full of prisons, secret police and repressive laws that tell them to spy on their own parents and family. Instead, let's build them a world that respects each individual while it teaches them to work together for the common good in the exercise of freedom.

We need to change. Our youth must learn about personal responsibility. For society to send the right message about drug use, we must have practical and consistent drug policies supported by honest educational programs. They need to have the facts based on truth, not hysteria and fear, in order to make responsible choices in their lives. We must set a reasonable age of consent for cannabis with respect for adult rights. When they are old enough, they will have the right to choose to use cannabis or not.

Children should not be drug tested in order to participate in school activities. Drug testing is antithetical to developing a sense of trust and personal responsibility. They should be encouraged to participate in their schools and communities. If they are having problems with substance abuse, let's help them -- not stigmatize and ban them. Alienation will do more towards ensuring failure than bringing them into the fold.

Young people say that they can get marijuana easier than alcohol where they must show ID to buy it. An unregulated, black market does not prevent access to marijuana for young people. It enables them to obtain it unimpeded from people motivated to sell it for profit to anyone who wants it. We must bring the growers and vendors into the open so they can operate within the scope of the law under realistic terms of compliance, to put the black market out of business. Legitimate sellers of alcohol can lose their licenses or otherwise be penalized if they sell to underage people. The same would apply to sellers of cannabis in a regulated and controlled market.

Industrial hemp will help provide children with a healthy environment and a prosperous economy to live in. Throughout history, hemp has been a help to our human society. Now it is time once again to give hemp a chance.


9. But Walters, McCaffrey, Ashcroft and other Drug Warriors say that marijuana is bad, so they must have a reason.

They don't know what they're talking about. These characters are generally unfamiliar with the government's own research -- or else they are simply lying because the facts show that what they say about cannabis is untrue. You can decide whether their intentions are good or bad, but the consequences of their lies are bad, indeed.

These men have never smoked marijuana, and they do not associate with cannabis consumers. We know people who use it, and we know that they are by and large good people who live peaceful and productive lives. The distorted image and hysteria that marijuana prohibitionists present to society are a disgrace. The fact that they try to overturn the will of voters in regard to medical marijuana is un-American and anti-democratic. Those who twist the facts achieve twisted ends. That's why you need to get involved in stopping the madness and ending the war on cannabis users.

Click here to identify and contact your US Congressional Representative using the Write Your Representative feature on the House Web site.


10. "Where can we get the facts about cannabis?"

For more information, contact the Family Council on Drug Awareness, PO Box 1716, El Cerrito CA 94530.

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