Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Marijuana Safer Than Alcohol

Smoking pot is safer than drinking alcohol

Posted: 11/01/2009 01:00:00 AM MST
Updated: 11/01/2009 06:01:54 AM MST

Editor's note: This is the first installment of "Sunday Sitdown," a new,
periodic feature where we sit down with newsmakers to get the buzz
behind today's headlines.

Medical marijuana dispensaries are popping up across Denver as an
average of 400 people each day apply for permits to legally smoke pot.
With state lawmakers talking about approving further regulations on the
mushrooming industry, Denver Post Editorial Page Editor Dan Haley sat
down last week with Mason Tvert, the state's leading advocate for the
legalization of marijuana.

Tvert is executive director of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable
Recreation (SAFER), a group that has passed two pro-pot measures in
Denver since 2006. He also is a co-author, along with Steve Fox and Paul
Armentano, of "Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Do We Drive People to Drink?"
(Chelsea Green Publishing, August 2009).

Dan Haley: How did the legalization of pot become your mission in life?

Mason Tvert: My senior year in high school, I went to a country music
festival and drank to the point where I nearly died. I woke up and was
handed a bill and told, "Hey, you crazy kid, get on out of here." No
police officer was there saying, "Who served you enough beer to kill
you?" (Yet) as a freshman in college, I was scrutinized by a
multi-jurisdictiona l drug task force for allegedly using marijuana —
not even allegedly selling it. We're making alcohol use more acceptable
when it's more harmful.

DH: Last week, the Obama administration said it won't prosecute medical
marijuana cases in states where the practice is legal, leaving it up to
states and municipalities to regulate its use. How should Colorado
handle it?

MT: Colorado already has a system of regulations in place. We have
limited the amount (of marijuana) they can possess. We've forced them to
get a license and update their licenses every year. Just like with
alcohol, if localities have "community standards" on where they allow
businesses to operate ... they can say we'll only have medical marijuana
dispensaries on these streets. But are they restricting access for
people who are guaranteed under the state constitution the use of this
medicine? In Greeley, they've banned dispensaries outright. If you live
in Greeley . . . where do you go?

DH: Why shouldn't government regulate medical marijuana much like it
regulates alcohol and pharmaceuticals?

MT: They should. All marijuana being grown for medical purposes, if
they're following state law, is being grown in Colorado by a licensed
caregiver. Every person is registering with the state of Colorado —
that's regulation. Every patient is getting a license.

We don't even require people who use Oxycontin on a daily basis to get a
license with the state. These are people whose kids could get that
Oxycontin and die.

Opponents will say so many young men are using medical marijuana. That's
not a negative consequence of medical marijuana. That's an aspect of it.
Do they care how many young men are being prescribed narcotics for pain
issues? Colorado is one of a handful of states where prescription drugs
outweigh traffic accidents as the No. 1 cause of accidental deaths. Why
isn't [Attorney General] John Suthers concerned about that?

DH: Do you really think everyone who has a medical marijuana permit
actually has a chronic illness or debilitating disease?

MT: They do according to a licensed physician. When voters approved
this, they said if a licensed physician believes that marijuana will
improve your quality of life in dealing with one of these conditions,
you are entitled to use it, and he's entitled to recommend it to you. In
every circumstance I'm aware of, a physician has recommended it.

DH: But isn't there a chance that some doctors believe in legalizing
marijuana and are just using this law as an end-run toward legalization?

MT: There are doctors who believe in marijuana being legal because
they're aware of the physical effects of it and the science surrounding
it. Whether they perceive this as an end-around, I disagree. They don't
have a vested interest in legalizing it because in theory, if you have
doctors specializing in medical marijuana recommendations, those only
exist when it's medical. There are these news stories that
sensationalize that X percent [of permits] are written by these five
doctors. If a doctor says "I don't want to" [give you medical
marijuana], where do you go? To a physician that you know agrees that
this could be beneficial to you. So it's not that strange.

DH: Why is public sentiment shifting toward legalization?

MT: People are becoming more aware that marijuana is far safer than
alcohol and poses very little if any serious consequences for our
society and those who use it.

DH: You mean it has nothing to do with pot-smoking baby boomers coming
of age and having children and changing social norms?

MT: There's been more public discussion of late than ever before.
There's more medical research into marijuana than any other substance in
the world. We know the effect it has on the lungs and we know the effect
it has on the brain. The only area where there's still some uncertainty
is the effect it has on a young person's developing brain. There's no
conclusive evidence that it could be harmful. It could be, but we do
know it doesn't have long-term effects on the adult brain or lungs.

DH: It doesn't seem like a good idea to inhale anything into your lungs,
so why not put marijuana into a pill form or a brownie?

MT: Anytime you consume marijuana orally or as an edible, you don't know
when it's going to take effect. If you smoke it, it's immediately in
your blood stream. You can tell how much you've had, whether you need
more or if you've done too much. If you eat it, it takes hours to feel
the effects and at that point it might be too much.

The future is vaporization. You basically heat marijuana to the point
where it releases the chemicals and you inhale vapors. It never combusts
so there's no smoke. There's never been a documented case of a
marijuana- only smoker acquiring lung cancer as a result. Never. Not

DH: With the growing number of dispensaries, do you worry about people
getting low-quality marijuana?

MT: We have PBR [Pabst Blue Ribbon] drinkers and scotch drinkers.

DH: Yeah, but people choose that.

MT: Just like with alcohol, there's beer, there's wine, there's spirits,
there's different types of beer from low quality to high quality. With
marijuana, there's all sorts of different varieties.

DH: Do people in dispensaries know what they're doing?

MT: They want to help out the people who are coming there. One way to do
that is self regulation and quality control. These people are doing
their own research. They ask patients, "How did this make you feel? Did
this help your condition? Did this help with nausea?" They document this
so when someone new comes in, they can give them something that has
worked for someone else.

DH: Do you have a medical marijuana permit?

MT: I am not a medical marijuana patient. [But] I don't think I should
have to have a doctor's recommendation to saddle up to a bar to get a
beer. I don't think as an adult I should have to have a recommendation
to use marijuana.

If I can legally purchase a case of beer, there's no reason I shouldn't
be able to use a less harmful substance to relax and recreate.

DH: What do your parents think of your job?

MT: They're incredibly supportive. My mother, much like many parents,
would rather I used marijuana as a college student than binge drink. My
parents had my grade school DARE essay about the dangers of drug use
framed for me after legalizing marijuana in Denver.

DH: Are Denver cops following that law, which makes marijuana use a low
priority arrest?

MT: Yes and no. We did see a drop in marijuana citations in 2008, but
the fact is one is too many. The people of this city have made it
abundantly clear adults should not face penalties for using a substance
that's safer than alcohol.

DH: What would you tell your own kid about marijuana use?

MT: I will say you're not allowed to have sex yet, you're not allowed to
drink yet or to sign contracts. You are my child and I'm being honest,
this is not a substance you should be using. It could harm development
of your brain. It could result in you doing worse in school should you
start abusing it. But I will also say this substance is safer than
alcohol and if you drink too much, it will kill you. You can't go wrong
with the facts, and that's not what's going on right now.

DH: Would legalization help the economy?

MT: Absolutely. Alcohol is a $131 billion industry and marijuana is
projected at $113 billion, which I think is conservative. Just like with
alcohol, we would need people to produce the raw product, we would need
truck drivers to drive it from one place to another. There are so many
jobs. I'm starting to get calls from all of these lobbyist sharks.
They're seeing it's a business.

DH: Are you going to run for office?

MT: Who knows? We'll see.

DH: Do you drink?

MT: Absolutely. I drink recreationally. For the most part, small amounts
at a time. People think we're against alcohol because we talk about the
dangers of it.

DH: Do you smoke pot often?

MT: "Often"? You jumped to "often" instead of "do I smoke at all"? I
think it's ridiculous that I'm allowed to consume alcohol and unable to
use a far safer substance. That's all I'll say about it.

DH: We'll just assume you do it anyway ... .

MT: A lot of people think I don't. I never talk about it. I'm not one to
stand in front of the Capitol smoking joints and think I'm doing
something for the cause.

http://www.denverpo st.com/commented /ci_13671900

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