Get marijuana out of black market

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As the former Spokane Regional Health director, I appreciate the concern over the current medical marijuana mess (“Treat medical marijuana like all prescriptions,” Union-Bulletin editorial Aug. 27). However, I do not believe rescheduling the marijuana plant will solve many problems.

The overwhelming majority of marijuana use is for pleasure, not therapeutic relief.

During alcohol Prohibition, whiskey became medicinal. Today “medical” marijuana offers some legal cover for adults who do not wish to be arrested and jailed for their recreational marijuana use. The question is whether cracking down and making more arrests is an effective way to address marijuana use.

Decades of experience with marijuana prohibition prove that hardening our approach is not effective. Even though marijuana arrests have skyrocketed from less than a third of all illegal drug arrests to more than half, its use has not gone down. We should not expect different results from tightening up medical marijuana laws.

I am careful about my use of the term “gateway drug.” The scientific literature indicates that early use of any forbidden substance, including alcohol and tobacco, is a red flag for later problems.

The correlation has more to do with young people experiencing life problems without adequate social support and coping skills than pharmacological properties.

When it comes to marijuana, there is also the confounding problem that its prohibition makes it available only from sellers who may offer other harder drugs.

As explained by the Institute of Medicine report “Marijuana and Medicine: Assessing the Science Base” (2003), the gateway drug theory is properly understood as a social theory; it “does not suggest that the pharmacological qualities of marijuana make it a risk factor for progression to other drug use. Instead, the legal status of marijuana makes it a gateway drug.”

We know what works to prevent and delay marijuana use by young people: Public education and evidence-based prevention programs. Such programs exist but are underfunded.

According to the state Office of Financial Management, bringing marijuana out of the black market and under regulatory control, as Initiative 502 proposes, could generate as much as $1.9 billion in new tax revenue over the next five years. Over $100 million would go to public health education and youth drug prevention strategies each year.

Kim Marie Thorburn

Cosponsor of Initiative 502

Spokane

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