Sep 072009
 
Authors: Seth Anthony

It’s been a while since I’ve written about our state’s marijuana policies on these pages. Since I’m not a marijuana user, and never have been, I face no real risk of arrest for buying, possessing or consuming this illegal drug, and it’s not often on my mind./

However, even though I don’t touch pot, I’ve been known to kick back with a few beers now and then, and I’ve seen people do far stupider and more dangerous things under the influence of alcohol than I’ve even heard of people doing while high from smoking pot. So it would be wildly hypocritical of me, at the least, to argue that marijuana should be illegal for recreational use./

As evidenced by the strong support on this campus for the 2006 ballot measure to legalize the possession of a small amount of marijuana in Colorado, many of you probably agree with me that what you put into your body is your own choice and your own responsibility so long as you don’t harm others.

However, getting to an honest system where marijuana is safely and legally available for those who choose to use it has proved elusive thus far.

Clearly we don’t have such a system now. When thousands of peaceful marijuana users are ticketed, fined, arrested and jailed merely for smoking a plant, when trade in marijuana helps to fund violence and corruption, when police swat teams enter homes and break up families because of a victimless crime, when billions of dollars are spent to make no real progress in the War on Drugs, clearly something is amiss.

Although Colorado’s 2006 legalization measure failed, we did take a step forward in 2000, when Colorado voters passed Amendment 20. This measure permitted marijuana possession and use with a doctor’s prescription. It’s easier to have sympathy for those suffering from chronic pain, for whom marijuana —- although woefully understudied as a potential medicine — seems to be remarkably effective./

However, it seems that legitimate patients aren’t the only ones taking advantage of this system. The/Denver Post/reported several weeks ago that 75 percent of the approximately 10,000 medical marijuana patients in Colorado were prescribed marijuana by one of only 15 doctors. Let’s be honest: Who can say with a straight face that all of these users are legitimate? I have no problem with the marijuana use, but I do have a problem when it’s enabled by medical malpractice.

But that’s our present system: recreational marijuana for those have a medical condition or who are willing to lie and commit fraud in order to get it.

One obvious response would be to pass a measure fully legalizing marijuana. California lawmakers have considered such a proposal, which could raise $1 billion per year for the cash-strapped state. “Tax and regulate” has become the cry of the mainstream marijuana legalization movement./

But what would that mean? While I don’t have a crystal ball, I do know that regulation in a market tends to increases prices and decrease the number of available choices.

Add on that marijuana, still stigmatized by most politicians and an easy scapegoat, would likely be subject to egregious “sin taxes” like those on cigarettes. Some states might even choose to replicate their alcohol policies in the marijuana market and create state-run monopolies on marijuana distribution and sales. And I don’t even want to imagine the possibility of a marijuana industry as deceptive and vile as the tobacco industry.

I’m fortunate that my favorite vices aren’t subject to this dilemma. But when we’re faced with three unpleasant choices — higher prices and less choice in a taxed and regulated market, fraud and malpractice under a medical marijuana system, or needless arrests in a system of outright marijuana prohibition — it’s clear that we’re far from a reasonable solution to the pot dilemma, and that it’s time for a robust debate at all levels of government and society about marijuana policy.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry graduate student. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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