Letter
April 7, 2016

Marijuana legalization is not a “bold” or “courageous” move

By Dean Whitlock

Governor Shumlin has been parroting the Marijuana Policy Project’s emotionally charged polemics about prohibition, about being first, doing it right, having the courage. Let’s take a closer, calmer look.

Prohibition of alcohol failed politically because we cut off the country cold turkey, relied on jails, and failed to treat the national addiction. It did not fail from a public health standpoint: the illnesses, the family violence, the alcoholism rates all plummeted. Now what about marijuana?

Yes, 80,000 Vemonters report being regular users (at least monthly). That number is only about 12 percent of our total population, yet it includes every marijuana user from age 12 on up. Take out the teenagers and the number is closer to 10 percent. Under-age Vermonters will still be prohibited from using under any law we might pass, and no sensible person would do otherwise. How is that particular piece of prohibition going to stand up to legalization?

Contrary to what the governor keeps repeating, regulation will not lower marijuana use rates among youth. In Colorado, the 12-17-year-old use rate went up 20 percent in the first two years of legalization. Stores weren’t even open in the first year, and Colorado ran a failed million-dollar prevention program during the second year. Washington also saw a significant increase in youth use rates. We shouldn’t be surprised at this because alcohol–now our most popular legal drug–has always had a much higher use rate than marijuana.

S.241 would borrow money (much less than Colorado has spent) to establish a prevention program that wouldn’t be implemented until a year after legalization and only a year before stores opened. The problem is, prevention takes not only money, but time. Consider tobacco. In 1997, 36 percent of Vermont high-schoolers were using it; in 2015, the rate was down to 11 percent. With billions of dollars from the 1998 tobacco lawsuit, our nation vilified tobacco, but it still took 18 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in Vermont to drop our youth use rates by 25 percent.

What about marijuana? In 1997, 32 percent of Vermont high school students were using marijuana. In 2003, the rate was 25 percent–a healthy 7 percent decrease. In 2004, Vermont legalized medical marijuana. In 2005, the high-school use rate was still 25 percent. Today, the rate is 22 percent–11 years to drop only 3 percent.

Do you see the trend? Under “prohibition,” Vermont’s youth marijuana use rates were dropping at a steady pace. Under legalized medical marijuana, the decrease slowed to almost nothing.

Legalization of retail marijuana is not the solution. S.241, despite good intentions, is not different enough from what was tried in Colorado and Washington. Banning concentrates and home-growing merely continues those prohibitions and their sectors of the black market. Hiring more state troopers only meets the existing need to deal with the opiate epidemic. The prevention piece is too little too late. Nor do we want to be the first in our region, the only source for marijuana users from every bordering state and Canada.

Governor, that’s not “doing it right.”

We don’t need to rush. We have legal hemp and medical marijuana, and no one is going to jail for simple possession. We don’t need “the courage to do it,” we need the courage to stand against the tide of misinformation and political posturing while we wait to see what is truly right.

Dean Whitlock, of Thetford, is a freelance writer who has been researching the issues surrounding marijuana legalization for the past two-and-a-half years. A former supporter of legalization, he is now opposed. He is a member of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM-VT).

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10 Comments

  • “The more obvious the failure becomes, the more shamelessly they exhibit their genuine motives. In plain words, what moves them is the psychological aberration called sadism. They lust to inflict inconvenience, discomfort, and whenever possible, disgrace upon the persons they hate, which is to say: upon everyone who is free from their barbarous theological superstitions, and is having a better time in the world than they are.

    They cannot stop the use of alcohol, nor even appreciably diminish it, but they can badger and annoy everyone who seeks to use it decently, and they can fill the jails with men taken for purely artificial offences, and they can get satisfaction thereby for the Puritan yearning to browbeat and injure, to torture and terrorize, to punish and humiliate all who show any sign of being happy. And all this they can do with a safe line of policemen and judges in front of them; always they can do it without personal risk.”
    -Henry Louis Mencken

  • “It would take a police force of 250,000 to enforce the Prohibition Act, and another 200,000 to police the police.”

    -Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New York City

    “Czar is exactly the right name for this program and for this mentality. It’s absolutist. It’s unquestionable. It’s fanatical. And it’s corrupt.”

    -Christopher Hichens

  • “We felt the effects of herb were so dangerous that it was better to lie to the american public to save them rather than tell them the truth…”

    Partnership for a Drug Free America

    “Narcotics police are an enormous, corrupt international bureaucracy and now fund a coterie of researchers who provide them with ‘scientific support’, fanatics who distort the legitimate research of others. The anti-marijuana campaign is a cancerous tissue of lies, undermining law enforcement, aggravating the drug problem, depriving the sick of needed help, and suckering well-intentioned conservatives and countless frightened parents.”
    – William F. Buckley

  • “You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968 and the Nixon White House after that had two enemies; the anti-war left and the Black people. Understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and the Blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders. Raid their homes. Break up their meetings and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

    -John Erlichman

  • “We could have fighting and killing over cigarettes if we made it a felony to sell a cigarette or smoke one. So we legalized it. If all you do is try to find a police or military solution to the problem, a lot of people die and it doesn’t solve the problem.”

    President Bill Clinton

  • “I now have absolute proof that smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-bomb blast.”
    -Ronald Reagan

    “Permanent brain damage is one of the inevitable results of the use of marijuana.”
    -Ronald Reagan, in the Los Angeles Times.

    “Marijuana leads to homosexuality, the breakdown of the immune system, and therefore to AIDS.”
    -Carlton Turner. White House Drug Czar under Ronald Reagan.

  • “It is a human rights abomination to create crimes out of things that are not crimes, for it criminalizes the innocent and absolves the state of the burden of proof that a crime has been committed, and in so doing, dismantles the judicial system.”

    -Wayne Reiss

  • 12,000 years of human association with Cannabis with no dire consequences, 79 years of de facto prohibition with nothing but disaster. If we negated all Cannabis related legislation based on lies we’d have full legalization. The sky has not fallen and the wolf is not at the door in the free(er) states that have started relegalization. Stop the lies and relegalize. Nannies belong in the nursery not meddling in adult lives. Let us grow our own and help keep Big Biz and Big Brother out of the picture.
    The prohibition experiment has failed again.

  • This article a full of false information and is part of the reefer madness dooms day scenarios now being pushed in Vermont. There re elections come-up in a few months if politicians want to keep their jobs, they need to fulfill the will of the majority. GO VOTE disencumber useless politicians just do not comply with the will of the people. House members beware hunting season open in November!

  • I’m not surprised that a member of S.A.M. would fail to site sources when using facts to support their viewpoint. This is because they, along with the R.M.H.I.D.T.A., make them up to suit their own purposes. Arguing that prohibition was a success, in any form, should show you how intelligent Mr. Whitlock really is.

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