Tuesday, February 2, 2010

D.A.R.E. generation wants marijuana legalized

D.A.R.E. America Chairman Skip Miller writes in his Jan. 28 Times Op-Ed
article, "Don't legalize marijuana," that his organization has been
successful in its efforts to reduce illegal drug use in the U.S. by
educating schoolchildren. Indeed, protecting young people has long been
used to justify marijuana prohibition. But in reality, our drug laws
have failed to stop marijuana use among American youth but have
succeeded in punishing them with damning criminal records, loss of
financial aid for college and removal from after-school activities. As a
graduate of D.A.R.E., I know all too well about the shortcomings of this
program and of America's war on marijuana.

The simple truth is that prohibition doesn't work, and regulation and
education do. Most young people will tell you that marijuana is easy to
buy despite nearly a century of prohibition that has cost billions of
tax dollars and put thousands of people behind bars.

Anti-drug groups such as D.A.R.E. refuse to acknowledge that today's
marijuana prohibition causes the same problems as alcohol prohibition
did in the 1920s. It's no wonder, then, that D.A.R.E. has been called
ineffective by the National Academy of Sciences and, in 2001, was placed
under the category of "ineffective programs" by the U.S. surgeon
general. The Government Accountability Office reported in 2003 that
there are "no significant differences in illicit drug use between
students who received D.A.R.E. . . . and students who did not."

The fact is that legalizing, taxing and regulating substances reduces
the harm caused by those drugs. A University of Florida study provided
statistically overwhelming evidence that raising taxes on alcohol
reduces consumption.

The Tax and Regulate initiative on California's November ballot would
levy a tax of $50 per ounce on marijuana; the money raised would help
fund drug-abuse and prevention programs.

Nicotine is one of the most addictive drugs on the planet, yet thanks to
aggressive taxation in many areas and education efforts, cigarette use
in the U.S. has declined sharply over the last few decades. We didn't
have to arrest, incarcerate or impose prohibition to achieve those
results; we merely had to tell the truth to young people about the very
real harms caused by cigarette addiction while imposing taxes and age
restrictions. The most recent Monitoring the Future Survey, which asks
students about their drug use, shows that more 10th graders now use
marijuana than cigarettes.

Legalizing and taxing marijuana won't cure California's chronic budget
woes. But should we really be cutting from education while spending all
the money it takes to enforce our failed prohibition policies?
Furthermore, the Tax and Regulate initiative would not allow the use of
marijuana by people under 21. I certainly don't want more young people
smoking marijuana. But some of the teens I helped as a substance-abuse
counselor told me that it was easier to purchase marijuana inside their
own schools than it was to buy beer or cigarettes from a convenience
store. This is not what a successful policy looks like.

Many Americans are coming around to this view. Depending on the poll,
either a majority or near-majority of Americans say that marijuana
should be taxed and legalized. Even the American Medical Assn. has
called for the federal government to review its absurd classification of
marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, which puts cannabis right alongside
heroin and PCP.

D.A.R.E. can warn people all day about the harm associated with
marijuana use. What it refuses to acknowledge is that these arguments
only support ending prohibition. If marijuana is so dangerous, D.A.R.E.
and its allies ought to support efforts to remove control over
distribution from black-market drug dealers.

It's time for D.A.R.E. to take a back seat to evidence-based drug
prevention programs that don't use scare tactics. It's time to legalize

Jonathan Perri is the Western regional director of Students for Sensible
Drug Policy.

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