Pubdate: Wed, 28 Nov 2001
Source: Athens Banner-Herald (GA)
Copyright: 2001 Athens Newspapers Inc
Author: Robert Sharpe


The Nov. 26 article on drug use in the Clarke County schools hinted at the 
drug war's inherent failure.

According to the article, many students find it easier to purchase 
marijuana than alcohol. That's not surprising. Unlike legitimate retailers 
that sell alcohol, illegal drug dealers do not ID for age. Sensible 
regulation is desperately needed to undermine the youth-oriented black market.

There is a big difference between condoning marijuana use and protecting 
children from drugs. Decriminalization acknowledges the social reality of 
marijuana use and frees users from the stigma of life-shattering criminal 
records. What's really needed is a regulated market with enforceable age 
controls. Right now kids have an easier time buying pot than beer.

More disturbing is the manner in which marijuana's black market status 
exposes users to sellers of hard drugs. Marijuana may be relatively 
harmless compared to legal alcohol -- the plant has never been shown to 
cause an overdose death -- but marijuana prohibition is deadly. As long as 
marijuana distribution remains in the hands of organized crime, consumers 
will continue to come into contact with hard drugs like cocaine.

A reform of counterproductive marijuana laws would eliminate the forbidden 
fruit appeal of illegal marijuana. A majority of European countries have 
decriminalized pot. Draconian drug penalties in the United States support a 
multi-billion dollar prison system with very little to show for it. Despite 
zero tolerance, lifetime use of marijuana in the United States is higher 
than any European country.

Robert Sharpe, M.P.A.

The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, program officer
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