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420: Time To Legalize Pot

Sometimes dire necessity can overcome political inertia. That is why I think there is a chance federal laws against marijuana use by adults may finally be relaxed or repealed.

In response to severe financial pressures, some state governments, most notably California’s, are interested in legalizing and taxing pot. This will force a re-examination of federal drug laws, and it is high time. The classification of cannabis (marijuana and hashish) as a federal Schedule 1 drug is both a lie and a travesty.

It is a lie because, in order to be classified as a Schedule 1 drug, a substance must have “no currently accepted medical use in the United States,” but 13 states already support medical use of marijuana. (Such use still contravenes federal law even in those states.) It is a travesty because marijuana use has been common for decades, and the past three presidents have all essentially admitted to experimenting with the drug themselves.

The enforcement of anti-marijuana laws is arbitrary and random, to the point that it breeds both casual corruption — the police officer who uses pot himself or extends “professional courtesy” when a suspect turns out to be a relative of another cop — and contempt for the law. Take a walk through New York’s East Village and you can see smoking paraphernalia openly displayed in nearly every shop window.

This is not to say that recreational use of marijuana or other drugs is a good thing. For starters, the health consequences of ingesting smoke (albeit from tobacco) are well documented. I can’t see a good reason to do it, personally. I never used pot even though it was readily available when I was in high school and college in the 1970s.

Most people I know did at least try it. Some used it regularly when they were young and later stopped, while others probably still use it on occasion. A few ended up with problems, which I suspect would also have existed in the absence of marijuana. But, of course, most people did not develop any problems. In other words, while it did them no good, pot did most people who used it little harm. Certainly nothing that would justify harsher treatment under the law than alcohol or tobacco.

The unwarranted legal status of pot has been debated for years. In fact, before the federal Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970, a commission appointed by President Nixon called for the decriminalization of pot. The recommendation was ignored.

Legalization would allow authorities to monitor and regulate the content of marijuana, making it safer for consumers. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a government agency, today’s marijuana can be as much as five times more potent than the marijuana of the 1970s. Because of this, the Institute says, addiction rates have increased.

“It’s like drinking beer versus drinking whiskey,” Dr. Nora D. Volkow, the director of the Institute and an opponent of marijuana legalization, told The New York Times. “If you only have access to whiskey, your risk is going to be higher for addiction. Now that people have access to very high potency marijuana, the game is different.”

But, if marijuana were legalized, monitored and accurately labeled, people would have the option of getting beer and knowing it was beer, to continue Dr. Volkow’s metaphor. Moreover, controls and regulation could eliminate the dangers caused by impurities.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business."

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