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Volume 70, Issue 7, Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Lies, misconceptions hinder pot debate

Lynn Meyer
Opinion Columnist

The war on drugs is a politician's dream: they can simultaneously sound tough on crime and compassionate about our children's future. It isn't a surprising phenomenon -- myths and misinformation make it an easy issue to exploit. Many Americans do not realize how much money and how many resources are being diverted to fight the "boogey man," and just how unfair the fight really is.

One third of Americans have used marijuana. It is classified as a Schedule I substance, which means in the eyes of the DEA and FDA it has a high potential for abuse, no official medicinal uses, and no safe level of use under medical supervision.

Yet prior to its criminalization, marijuana was used in 10 to 20 percent of patented medications. It was used for centuries by people in Africa, China, India and the Americas for purposes as varied as rope-making to as an anesthetic during surgery. Today, patients undergoing chemotherapy and AIDS treatments use marijuana as a pain reliever and appetite stimulant.

Unlike over-the-counter drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen or for that matter, alcohol, marijuana has never been attributed to a fatality. Even in the dawn of the United States' drug war, the New York Academy of Medicine concluded that marijuana was not addictive, violent nor did it promote the use of other drugs. Medical studies in recent years have only solidified these conclusions. In 1998 Britain's leading medical journal, The Lancet, found that in moderation marijuana does not pose a health threat.

The war on marijuana is being waged under false pretenses, and the prosecution is not much better. Whether or not an individual is punished to the full extent of the law depends largely on whom the defendant knows. A federal prosecutor has enormous power to decide how to try drug cases, and a defendant's willingness and ability to trade names for lesser sentences is typically how prosecutors decide how to proceed with their cases. It's a system that benefits the kingpins; people are punished for whom they do not know, and, conversely, others are rewarded for being on the top of the drug pyramid.

This unjust justice system has sent a quarter of a million people to jail over the past 20 years. As troubling as that is, more worrisome is who it has let out. Many states have mandatory sentencing laws for drug possession, without possibility of parole, which has led to the release of violent offenders eligible for parole in order to make room for more non-violent drug offenders.

And for what? The flow of marijuana into the United States. has not decreased. The statistics of high school students who say that it is "fairly easy" or "very easy" to obtain marijuana has not changed since the Reagan presidency, and youth recreational use has actually increased. However, in countries where marijuana has been legalized, the number of recreational users has decreased.

A moral distaste for a substance is not enough to classify it as dangerous. The truth is that cannabis is not what the law says. It has medical potential. Studies have shown that addictions to cannabis are psychological, not physical -- and it has proven to be safe in moderate amounts.

Compare that to America's favorite drug, caffeine.

Honesty is what we need in addressing the issue of marijuana in the United States, not politics.

Meyer, a columnist for The Daily Cougar, 
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