Marijuana Lines Drawn

Legalization of marijuana is on the march again, with a ballot issue in November for Nevada voters and a committee of Canada's Senate recommending pot-without-punishment in that country.

The arguments for legalization are essentially the same in both settings – that it's a relatively mild drug and that laws penalizing possession clog courts and prisons.

In Canada, the senators recommend legalizing sales to people 16 and older and government licensing of dealers. Nevada's proposal would allow adults 21 and up to possess and use – in private – as much as three ounces of the drug. The state would grow the marijuana and dispense it through licensed outlets.

It would be just like the regulated sale of alcoholic beverages and tobacco, say proponents. They add that marijuana is less harmful than either of those substances.

But do those arguments really justify legal changes that would make another addictive drug easily available to more people at cheaper prices?

Research indicates that 34 percent of Americans 12 and older already say they have tried marijuana. Legalization would doubtless expand that figure, with more children exposed to pot use by parents. Law enforcement officials worry about increased hazards on highways from people high on the drug. Longtime health effects also have to be understood and weighed.

Without question, attitudes are changing about the use of this illicit drug. More people see it as a health issue, rather than just a criminal problem. Nine states allow so-called "medical marijuana" as a painkiller. A number of states have reduced penalties for possession and use of marijuana. Overseas, Britain recently "decriminalized" its use by reclassifying marijuana as a low-risk drug.

But outright legalization is an unwise step beyond those measures. Making marijuana available courtesy of governments – which would reap considerable revenue through licensing and sales taxes – has a pungent odor of moral and social irresponsibility. May voters and legislators keep the line drawn against legalization.

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