As the big meeting between Obama’s Drug Czar (and former Seattle Police Chief) Gil Kerlikowske and the Seattle Times editorial board approaches tomorrow, the Times is hosting a live chat today at noon to debate the topic of marijuana legalization. While Ryan Blethen explained that feedback to their editorial stance has been both overwhelming and positive, they’re still very willing to have a debate about it.
To that end, they published an editorial from Patti Skelton-McGougan, the director of Youth Eastside Services. And if this is the best the prohibition-backers can come up with, they’re in worse shape than I thought:
AS we consider the legalization of marijuana, we must bear in mind the impact on our youth. Politics aside, the legalization debate is sending a confusing message that’s contributing to a rise in marijuana use among teens.
There’s absolutely no evidence supporting this assertion. Drug use rates have gone up and down periodically over the years and we’ve been having a debate over legalization for a long time. In fact, the enactment of medical marijuana laws led to decreases in teen marijuana use across the country. But at that time, we were told the same thing. We were told that medical marijuana laws send a confusing message to kids about the dangers of marijuana and that would lead to greater use. It was wrong then, and it’s still wrong today.
In the Seattle Times’ Feb. 20 editorial calling for the legalizing of marijuana and Editorial Page Editor Ryan Blethen’s Feb. 27 column, the potential impact on youth was blithely dismissed.
I thought that the Times editorial could’ve been stronger on one particular point. Legalizing and regulating marijuana will have a positive impact on the youth in this state. As has been pointed out millions of times, teenage marijuana use rates in Holland (where sales to adults have been allowed for over 30 years) are much lower than in the United States. A big reason for this is exactly the reason why Skelton-McGougan’s logic in her opening paragraph is wrong. In Holland, marijuana is far less glamorous. It’s not associated with teenage rebellion the way it is here. Claiming that marijuana is far more dangerous than it really is only taps into the teenage tendency to rebel. That’s especially true when most teenagers are smart enough to see with their own eyes that marijuana isn’t meth or heroin because they often see older siblings or other people they know using it and leading normal lives.
Beyond that, the Times editorial did provide some good points on the policy impacts for youth. Marijuana prohibition leads to increased involvement in the criminal justice system and exposure to gangs. And young people with marijuana convictions can lose out on scholarship money and other benefits that can radically alter their future prospects in life. It’s never good to see anyone under 18 using marijuana. People who start using it before they reach adulthood increase their likelihood of developing destructive habits as they get older. But cutting off someone’s access to an education, or getting them involved in criminal activity is far more detrimental.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, there’s the question of access. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University does an annual survey of teenagers and they consistently find that teenagers report that it’s easier to get marijuana than it is to get alcohol. Why? Because when you put control of an illegal commodity in the hands of criminal gangs, they generally don’t care whether or not the person buying it from them is over a certain age. If you want to reduce access to young people, a good start is by establishing a system that allows us to regulate its sale to those over 21. Currently, we have no way of doing that.
The people who are advocating for the end of marijuana prohibition are not “blithely dismissing” the impacts of such a move on our youth. They’re advocating for it because they know that it’s the best path forward for them. And there’s a mountain of evidence and even more common sense that points very clearly in that direction. I’ve probably written variations of this post a half-dozen times to various editorials and other outbursts of uninformed nonsense. And I’ll continue to do so until the baseless fear-mongering over “protecting our youth” is proven to be nothing more than uninformed attempts to prop up a failed policy that does exactly the opposite.
UPDATE: Well, that was interesting. It looked like there were a lot of participants in the discussion. Some interesting things to note:
– According to Ryan Blethen, the details of the meeting with Kerlikowske will be made public. In addition, Kerlikowske was expected to be out in Seattle anyway at this time.
– Stephen Bogan, a Therapist who was arguing to keep prohibition in place, made this interesting claim at the end of the session:
Most kids get pot and other drugs from their parents homes.
I’ve never seen any evidence that even comes close to supporting this claim, and after looking through some similar data in the CASA survey, it doesn’t even seem plausible. Has anyone heard this one before?
Bogan was quite vocal about his concerns over teenage drug use, but was never able to explain why he supports a policy that puts the distribution of marijuana in the hands of gangs and others who could care less about how young their customers are.