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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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The Dutch – so often praised by marijuana advocates – have had to greatly ratchet back the number of legal marijuana outlets because of crime, nuisance, and increased pot usage among youth. Los Angeles, too, now sees the need to scale back the number of private dispensaries of medical marijuana. Many California towns have looked at L.A. and are saying “no” to dispensaries.

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The California Board of Equalization, which administers the state’s sales tax, estimates $1.4 billion of potential revenue from a marijuana tax. Found money? Its reasoning is based on either “a series of assumptions that are in some instances subject to tremendous uncertainty or in other cases not valid,” according to an independent study by the RAND Corporation.

What’s too bad about the drug czar’s speech is that it was made behind closed doors at a venue not accessible to the press, then quietly put on the administration’s website. Given the confusion over the message, the White House needs to be far more outspoken about this.

President Obama himself needs to get more involved than simply letting his drug czar reveal this critical stance below the radar. As a high-profile parent, he can help other parents who are struggling to prevent their children from going down the rabbit hole of drug use. If one message can resonate in this debate, it’s that America’s young people are most vulnerable to the threat of legalization.

They are particularly sensitive to the price of pot (and prices will come down if pot is legalized). They’re the most influenced by societal norms (and public approval is growing). And they’re the ones most heavily engaged in studying and learning – a process that pot smoking can impair.

Individuals who reach age 21 without using drugs are almost certain to never use them. But according to a study by a leading source on young people and drugs, Monitoring the Future, marijuana use among teens has increased in recent years, after a decade of decline. Teens perceive less risk in use – not surprising when states approve of it as medicine. Risk perception greatly influences drug use among young people.

The risks of marijuana – and the wisdom of knowing that joy and satisfaction are not found in a drug – are lessons that Mr. Obama could effectively teach the nation. But even so, it can’t stop there.

The momentum, for now, is with those who want to legalize marijuana. They have been generously financed by a few billionaires, including George Soros, and make strategic use of the Internet and media.

It will take clear-thinking parents, teachers, local officials, faith leaders, and law enforcement officers to convincingly articulate why the march to legalization must be stopped. They can, if they use the kinds of reasonable and fact-based arguments that the nation’s drug czar has just laid out.

(To read Gil Kerlikowske’s speech, click here.)

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