3 views on whether states should legalize marijuana

This November, voters in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington will consider ballot measures to legalize and regulate marijuana, much as alcohol and tobacco are taxed and regulated. In this first in a series of "one minute debates" for election 2012, three writers give their brief take on the issue.

The 'yes' case is argued by Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). The 'no' position is offered by David G. Evans, a special adviser to the Drug Free America Foundation. And a middle path is suggested by Kevin A. Sabet, who has worked on drug policy under three presidents of both parties.

1. Yes: Follow the model of tobacco regulation. Its use is at a historic low.

Mike Blake/Reuters/file
A sticker to support Proposition 19, a 2010 ballot measure to legalize marijuana in California, is seen on a power pole in San Francisco. Californians defeated that measure. But three other states will try again this year.

A majority of voters support ending America's nearly century-long, failed experiment with cannabis prohibition and replacing it with a system of limited legalization and regulation. A recent Rasmussen poll found 56 percent of voters support "legalizing marijuana and regulating it like alcohol or cigarettes" versus only 36 percent who oppose the idea. No wonder voters in several states – Washington, Oregon, and Colorado – will face the issue on the ballot this fall.

Many Americans have grown justifiably weary of the federal government's war on cannabis. Since 1970, more than 21 million US citizens have been cited or arrested for violating marijuana laws. Yet more than 100 million Americans – including the president – acknowledge having consumed cannabis. One in 10 people older than age 11 admits to having used it in the last year.

Marijuana prohibition hasn't dissuaded the general public from experimenting with cannabis or hindered its availability, especially among young people.

Consuming cannabis may temporarily alter mood and pose other risks. However, such concerns are hardly persuasive arguments for maintaining the plant's illegality. Numerous adverse health consequences are associated with alcohol, tobacco, and prescription pharmaceuticals – all of which are far more dangerous and costly to society. That's why these products are legally regulated and their use is restricted.

A pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for limited, licensed production and sale of cannabis to adults, but restricts use among young people, would best reduce risks associated with its use or abuse.

Society already imposes similar regulations for tobacco, a legally marketed yet deadly recreational drug. Doing so has reduced consumption to historic lows. Why would we not apply these same proven principles to cannabis?

Paul Armentano is deputy director for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and is the coauthor of "Marijuana is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?"

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