Video of the hearing can be seen here.
Coverage of marijuana in the traditional media has certainly improved in the past few years (with some exceptions, of course). Reporters recognize that the massive chorus of voices demanding that we change our drug laws is far more than just people who want to get high. Groups like Law Enforcement Against Prohibition have driven home this point about as well as anyone.
That said, I wanted to make a few comments about the columns linked above. Starting in the WSJ:
Still, there is deep opposition to legalizing marijuana in Washington state from law-enforcement groups and chemical-dependency organizations, many of which argue it would make the drug even more accessible to teenagers than it is currently. Also many argue that marijuana is a “gateway drug,” meaning it will lead those using it to moveon to other drugs.
“What message does legalizing marijuana send to the youth of Washington?” asked Riley Harrison, a ninth-grade student, before a packed committee hearing this week in Olympia. “That you’re willing to gamble our future for a little tax revenue?”
The central claim being made by these groups is that legalization would make marijuana more accessible to teenagers than it is currently. Not surprisingly, they found a student who was willing to miss a day of school to help them reinforce that notion. Yet the Journal fails to point out that this claim makes no sense. The system we have now makes marijuana extremely accessible to teenagers. Moving marijuana sales out of schools and into the state’s liquor stores, where an individual will have to produce ID in order to buy it, will make it much less accessible to teenagers than it is currently.
The PI also lets a very similar claim stand unchallenged:
Opponents said any loosening up of the laws would be harmful to children.
“If you believe that it is OK for kids in school to use marijuana and be high, then you should pass either one or both of these,” said Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
This is complete nonsense, but Rachel La Corte at the AP fails to point that out, or to present the other side. One of the primary reasons for passing the legalization bill is precisely because it’s not OK for kids in school to use marijuana and be high, and therefore we should take the distribution out of the schools and move it to a place where people under 21 can be prevented from buying it. The effectiveness of this approach can be verified by looking at the Netherlands, where tolerating marijuana distribution to adults in coffeeshops has led to reductions in teen use rates over the past few decades, and fewer adult marijuana users than even the rest of Europe, which itself has fewer marijuana users (by percentage) than the United States.
One can argue that La Corte is just presenting both sides of an argument, but it’s certainly incumbent upon a reporter to point out when one side’s arguments don’t make any sense. Even worse, both the Wall Street Journal and the PI fail to point out that there’s even a challenge to this argument from the other side, let alone that the argument itself has no basis in reality. I don’t think La Corte – or Nick Wingfield and Justin Scheck in the Journal – do this maliciously, I just think that these debates are new and reporters who cover a large number of different topics aren’t as familiar with drug law reform as they should be. But as long as that’s the case, propagandists like Don Pierce will continue to get away with making ridiculous statements that go unchallenged.