Thursday, July 24, 2014
The Washington Post has this interesting article which highlights some reasons why I tend to think marijuana reform movements will continue to gain steam. The article is headlined "The lonely lot of the anti-pot crusader," and here are excerpts:
Parents [against drug reforms], once heroes of the just-say-no 1980s, find themselves outgunned: The anti-marijuana movement has little funding or staff, little momentum and, it appears, little audience.
Decriminalization went into effect last week in the District, setting a $25 penalty for possession of up to an ounce of weed. Earlier in July, pro-marijuana activists scored another victory, submitting 57,000 voter signatures, more than double the number required, to bring the ballot measure, which could add the District to the vanguard of legalization along with Colorado and Washington state....
“Interestingly, whenever we have a debate on TV, we hear the producer asking, ‘Who can we get to debate against marijuana?’ ” says Tony Newman, spokesman for the reformist Drug Policy Alliance. The cable-show bookers’ “con” choices are indeed scant.
“It’s unbelievable what’s happened,” says Robert DuPont, a psychiatrist who was the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the 1970s. “You can’t find anybody to speak on the other side. . . . The leaders in both parties have completely abandoned the issue.”
DuPont, an addiction specialist, could hold his own in any debate about drugs. He and other experts point to research showing that 9 percent of marijuana users become addicted, a figure that rises to 16 percent when use begins in teen years. In various studies, weed also is linked to lower academic performance and mental illness and other health problems.
The marijuana normalization movement bats back such findings by citing the devastating results of alcohol and tobacco dependency and abuse, for example, and the palliative effects of marijuana as medicine. And they say the disproportionately higher rate of minorities’ arrests and incarceration for pot-related offenses have caused greater social harm — which became a major selling point for decriminalization in the District.
Backed by deep-pocketed funders, the legalizers deploy lobbyists, spokesmen and researchers from well-staffed organizations like the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, Americans for Safe Access and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). They even have their own business alliance: the National Cannabis Industry Association.
“These guys are in a full-court press coming at you from every angle,” says DuPont, 78, who runs the small, Rockville-based Institute for Behavior and Health. He sounds exasperated. “They have a bench 1,000 people deep. . . . We’ve got Kevin Sabet.”
Sabet, 35, first testified before the Senate against drug legalization when he was 17 and now runs an anti-pot-legalization group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM). Last year he made No. 1 on Rolling Stone’s “Legalization’s Biggest Enemies” list. “Do we want a stoned America?” asks Sabet, who has served drug czars in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. “Is that where we want to go at a time when America’s place in the world, in terms of academic and economic competitiveness, is greatly threatened? Good luck.”
Based in Cambridge, Mass., Sabet says he commits “100-plus hours a week” to raising the alarm and has help from SAM affiliates in 27 states. People who still see grass as “a harmless giggle in our basement” are ignoring the “Wall Street sharks” hoping to profit from a nationwide cannabis industry as large and powerful as the booze or tobacco businesses, he says. Sabet predicts increases in buzzed driving and health problems.
But such arguments clearly have not stopped the other side’s momentum. “Woeful Kevin” is what Allen St. Pierre, NORML’s executive director, calls Sabet. “I feel blessed by someone like Kevin,” St. Pierre says. “Since he has come on the scene we have prevailed, prevailed, prevailed. We could use 500 Kevins.”...
Promoting a message of compassion for the sick, medical marijuana advocates led the way in the 1990s to a more accepting public view toward recreational pot. The number of pro-pot groups began to surge. “It’s our fault,” Sabet admits, but he cites one mitigating factor. “They have money and we don’t.”
Still, other forces explain why reform has caught on now, including supportive baby boomer voters; a lingering recession that dampened government revenue, making the taxation of marijuana tempting; and an overwhelming public view that alcohol prohibition was a “great failed experiment,” St. Pierre says. In addition, the Obama administration decided not to challenge legalization in Washington and Colorado and to allow banks to do business with legal marijuana sellers.
“This is like gay marriage,” St. Pierre argues. “Twenty years ago if you voted for it you were a loser; now 20 years later, if you vote against it you’re a loser.” In the District, the legalizers are predicting success. Sabet’s group decided against challenging the signatures gathered for the ballot initiative: “We are picking our battles,” he says.