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The Monitor's View

Marijuana legalization? A White House rebuttal, finally

White House 'drug czar' Gil Kerlikowske lays out his most thorough arguments yet against marijuana legalization. They help clear up confusion over White House drug policy, and can serve as talking points for parents and officials.

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(For a previous Monitor editorial on the perils of legalizing pot, click here)

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Legalization supporters argue that no one has ever died from an overdose of this “soft” drug. But here’s what “science” has found so far: Smoking marijuana can result in dependence on the drug.

More than 30 percent of people who are 18 and over and who used marijuana in the past year are either dependent on the drug or abuse it – that is, they use it repeatedly under hazardous conditions or are imparied when they’re supposed to be interacting with others, such as at work. This is according to a 2004 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Pot is also associated with poor motor skills, cognitive impairment (i.e., affecting the ability to think, reason, and process information), and respiratory and mental illness.

The recent “Pentagon shooter,” John Patrick Bedell, was a heavy marijuana user. The disturbed young man’s psychiatrist told the Associated Press that marijuana made the symptoms of his mental illness more pronounced. Mr. Bedell’s brother, Jeffrey, told The Washington Post that marijuana made his brother’s thinking “more disordered” and that he had implored him to stop smoking pot, to no avail.

Kerlikowske also effectively knocked down the argument that regulating and taxing marijuana is a great way for states to make money in these deficit-dreary times. Indeed, NORML, the lead group in the legalization movement, is set to launch a digital ad campaign in Manhattan’s Times Square next week: “Money CAN grow on trees!”

It’s a claim that’s too good to be true, just as the exclamation point implies. Look at the nation’s experience with regulated alcohol. America collects nearly $15 billion a year in federal and state taxes from alcohol. But Kerlikowske says that covers less than 10 percent of the “social costs” related to healthcare, lost productivity, and law enforcement. And what about lost lives? Let’s not add marijuana to the mix of regulated substances.

“The costs of legalizing marijuana would outweigh any possible tax that could be levied,” Kerlikowske explains. In the United States, illegal drugs already cost an estimated $180 billion annually in social costs, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. That number would increase as marijuana became more widely and easily available.

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