Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Reefer sanity

    On Jan. 1, Colorado became the first state to regulate marijuana from seed to sale for purely recreational use. Washing-ton will do so later in 2014. Predictions of the decline and fall of society have proven unfounded.
    “Reefer Madness,” the grainy black-and-white film produced in the 1930s, is a morality tale about how one taste of mari-juana by a group of teenagers of high-school age results in a hit and run, man-slaughter, suicide, attempted rape and descent into madness. This kind of over-the-top fright film helped fuel the outlaw-ing of marijuana, including for research, in 1937.
    The American Medical Association ad-vised against the law. No matter. Federal regulations listed marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance, the same as heroin, claiming there was “no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse.”
    In 1944, the New York Academy of Sci-ence concluded that marijuana did not lead to either serious addiction in the medical sense or to morphine, heroin or cocaine addiction. Marijuana can lead to dependence in approximately 10 percent of users, as opposed to 20 percent for cocaine, 25 percent for heroin, and 30 percent for tobacco. Cocaine, classified as a Level 2 substance, is more available for research.
    In the 1960s, a growing number of young adults discovered that smoking marijuana did not turn them into sex-crazed murderers. Beginning in the 1970s, states began to alter and then abolish marijuana laws. Twenty states and the District of Columbia regulate marijuana for medicinal use.
    Federal laws still make possession, manufacture and sale illegal, punishable by up to life in prison, but the Department of Justice has determined that it will not prosecute in states with recreational and medicinal use laws. Instead, it will focus on serious trafficking and keeping mari-juana away from children.
    “Laws don’t have to be perfect. They just have to be good enough,” wrote Sam Kamin, a law professor at the University of Denver and Joel Warner of “Slate” magazine.  
    Some will abuse marijuana and some will break the new laws. Sellers continue to be cash-only businesses, hard to regu-late and tax, because banks are reluctant to extend credit services.
    None of this makes the legalization of personal marijuana use a bad idea. Crimi-nalizing rather than regulating personal behavior that has no impact on others just doesn’t work. Prohibition should have taught us that lesson.

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