Why wait? Fully legalize marijuana now

  • Article by: LEONARD LICHTBLAU
  • Updated: March 7, 2014 - 6:41 PM

If health is the issue, why are alcohol and tobacco OK but marijuana isn’t?

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It’s time to get real about marijuana laws in the state of Minnesota. Passing a medical marijuana law will, in all likelihood, be the first step in total legalization of the drug for recreational use, just as it has proved to be in Colorado and Washington and soon will in California and other states.

Why not go there now? Most Americans think marijuana is a tightly controlled substance in DEA Schedule I, the most addictive class of drugs, they believe, based on good scientific and medical evidence. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Whether the use of a drug is considered abuse or not is determined by society, not by health care professionals. Why else would tobacco and alcohol use be legal in the United States when these are both known to be harmful? In fact, the World Health Organization considers alcohol to be the most dangerous drug in the world, yet it and tobacco are completely legal to use by anyone over the ages of 21 and 18, respectively. However, go to an Islamic country and you’ll find that consumption of alcohol is considered drug abuse because society has deemed it so.

From our own country’s past we have learned that prohibition as a solution to a perceived drug problem (alcoholism) didn’t work, and we had to amend the Constitution a second time (21st Amendment in 1933) to undo the damage caused by the 18th Amendment in 1919, which prohibited the manufacture or sale of alcohol within the United States. The reason was practical. We recognized that people are willing to do almost anything to get a product they want, even if it means breaking the law.

During the 14 years of Prohibition, drinking still went on and burgeoning underground illegal sources filled the need. Actual criminals became rich, while ordinary citizens became criminals. Many hundreds of millions of dollars were spent on law enforcement to fix a problem that was unfixable. For sensible reasons, the country changed its mind on Prohibition, and alcohol became a regulated and taxable product.

During this entire time, the medical hazards of alcohol had not changed one iota. What had changed was society’s attitude toward the issue.

We are at the same point again when it comes to the use of marijuana. Poll after poll shows that a majority of Americans are in favor of legalized pot.

The major argument against legalization has always been that marijuana is a gateway drug to harder, more dangerous drugs, such as cocaine and heroin. Ask any user of those drugs what illegal drug they first used and they will tell you: marijuana. But the reverse is not true. Not every user of marijuana moves on to harder drugs. Look at it another way. Every alcoholic began by drinking socially, but only a small percentage of people who drink beer or wine or who have an occasional cocktail become alcoholics.

Another argument, the one put forth by Dr. Borchardt in a Star Tribune article (“Doctors split on medical use of marijuana,” March 4) is that it is dangerous to the developing brains of young people. I agree, and I think that — as with alcohol — the retailing of marijuana should be limited to adults over age 21. However, it should be available for younger individuals for specific medical reasons, as it appears to have at least some medical utility for a number of conditions.

I know many people will disagree with me for various reasons, including the argument that we shouldn’t legalize another “dangerous” drug; what will come next, legalization of heroin and cocaine and LSD? The reality is that someday society’s views on these drugs may change as well, and they might become legal. But I suspect that is not going to happen during my lifetime.

On the other hand, how will you deal with it if society decides that caffeine is a dangerous drug, and your daily latte becomes illegal? I guarantee you’ll be looking to get your fix from some underground, completely illicit equivalent of Starbucks and making a new group of criminals even richer.

 

Leonard Lichtblau is an associate professor in the University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy. The opinions expressed here are solely his own.

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