Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Criminalize Alcohol and Tobacco Now

Very important research for corrections sentencing policy out of a 12-year U of Pittsburgh study finding that marijuana is not a "gateway" drug. As this article says, the report calls "into question the long-held belief that has shaped prevention efforts and governmental policy for six decades and caused many a parent to panic upon discovering a bag of pot in their child's bedroom." Basically, the study finds that alcohol and/or tobacco are just as likely to lead to marijuana and later stronger drug use as the reverse. The key factors in starting harder drug use were poor physical neighborhood environments, more exposure to drugs in that neighborhod, and less parental involvement as youngsters. Also important was "a general inclination for deviance from sanctioned behaviors, which can become evident early in childhood . . . ." I liked this--"if it's easier for a teen to get his hands on marijuana than beer, then he'll be more likely to smoke pot."

File under "Duh."

The authors say that "The emphasis on the drugs themselves, rather than other, more important factors that shape a person's behavior, has been detrimental to drug policy and prevention programs." Specifically, they recommend more attention to behavior modification interventions, more guidance to parents to improve their behavior, and early identification of and interventions with kids exhibiting anti-social behavior.

Okay. Let's consider the ramifications here. If alcohol and/or tobacco are just as likely to lead to marijuana as the reverse, then, if we insist that marijuana needs its harsh penalties because it leads to worse drugs, then shouldn’t we be outlawing alcohol and tobacco under the same logic? If you say we can’t, that we tried it once and it was so hard and costly to implement that we quit, and that it would just fill up our prisons and jails with people who are otherwise law-abiding and enrich a bunch of underworld thugs, the likely response will be “huhnnn?”

We’re talking three substances that have major social costs right now. The two most costly are legal, although committing crimes while using one of them can get you in trouble; the third’s major social cost results from it being illegal and it even has proven medical benefits that the other two don’t. (Yes, I know the “alcohol in moderation has health benefits” argument, but the anti-marijuana people deny marijuana could ever be used in moderation so we’ll say alcohol can’t be either and be just as rational. All three, if used to excess, can really screw you up.)

The only “scientific” justification for making the no-worse-than-alcohol-or-tobacco drug illegal has been that it causes people to go on to more demonstrably dangerous drugs. This study says “wrong,” verifying experience of anyone who paid attention in the 60s. If we decide to maintain our punitive policies against marijuana possessors but not alcohol or tobacco possessors, are we saying that marijuana policy is about who we’re punishing, not why? Are we going after people who aren’t “like us,” the hippies, the musicians, the white trash, the snotty, intellectual college kids and their professors (especially their professors!!)? In the face of studies like this, do we have it in us to admit error and own up to sunk costs and forgone opportunity costs in our marijuana policy?

Again, you may not believe it since I'm 53, but no first-hand smoke of any kind has ever passed my lips so I'm not a NORML type. If folks vote to outlaw all three substances, I’ll shake my head at the cost, but it’s a democracy. You get what you deserve. But it's important that we be consistent and not hypocritical. The perceived legitimacy of the law is important for its effectiveness. This study cuts the legs out from under the only “legitimate” reason to have the penalties and costs that we do and threatens to reveal the “let’s get people we don’t like” core of the policy.

Prove me wrong. If some drugs are equal, treat them equally. Criminalize alcohol and tobacco. Come out in favor. Let's not pretend the status quo is in any way just or warranted.


ben said...

From your lips to God's ears. The hypocrisy of the current agenda is so obvious, so why is it ignored? Why can't we get answers to these questions?

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mediainc said...

I agree..one of the gateways are cigarette smoking prior to taste Marijuana smoking.
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