Marijuana laws don't work

Posted: Friday, October 29, 2004

As a drug abuse researcher and a mom, I support Ballot Measure 2 to protect families from the destructive consequences of current marijuana laws, to create better ways of keeping marijuana out of the hands of kids, to make marijuana available for medicinal use and because of a moral obligation to protect our right to privacy.

As a mother, I want my child to know the difference between marijuana and hard drugs, and I believe Measure 2 makes this distinction. As an Alaskan, I want to feel safe in the privacy of my own home as guaranteed by our state constitution. Measure 2 reaffirms this right and will stop police raids on family homes.

As a biomedical scientist, I am committed to making the most effective medicines available to those who need it. Measure 2 will send a message to our legislators that we want marijuana available for those who need it for medical reasons.

Current laws do not keep marijuana away from our children. Evidence from state and national surveys suggests that marijuana is easily available to high school students. Teenagers in the Fairbanks North Star Borough say it is easier to obtain marijuana than either beer or cigarettes, which are legally regulated. Regulating marijuana use and distribution for adults will eliminate the illicit market that currently lets children have equal access.

In the Netherlands, where marijuana use by or distribution to adults is legally regulated and completely separated from the hard drug trade, half as many high school students report using marijuana as in the United States. Rates of hard drug use are far lower as well.

Our marijuana laws put our children and adults in contact with dealers of hard drugs and fail to distinguish risks associated with marijuana from much greater risks posed by drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, inhalants or ecstasy (MDMA). By taking marijuana out of the hands of drug dealers, Measure 2 can reduce the use of hard drugs in Alaska by allowing adults who use marijuana to obtain it from regulated establishments instead of having to resort to the criminal market.

Current marijuana laws pose much greater risks than marijuana use. As a scientist with 13 years experience in drug abuse research and 11 peer reviewed scientific publications in this area, I know that the legal consequences of marijuana cultivation and distribution far outweigh the medical and social consequences of marijuana use. Marijuana, while not harmless, is in many ways less dangerous than alcohol. It is a moral obligation to bring marijuana laws in line with the real risks of marijuana use.

In our own community of Fairbanks, we have witnessed families devastated by our current marijuana laws. Government agents raid homes with automatic weapons, assets are confiscated without due process and parents are separated from their children for years to decades at a time. Parents in prison cannot be parents.

Medical marijuana is not available for patients. Although a medical marijuana initiative passed in 1998 with 59 percent approval by Alaska voters, subsequent legislation was written that severely limits medical use. Our legislators ignored the people of Alaska when they failed to provide a legal source of medical marijuana.

As a result, many patients have abandoned the system of registration, which invades their privacy and fails to offer them the medicine their doctors recommend. Measure 2 will send a message to our legislators that we want marijuana made available for the seriously ill.

Alaska has a unique opportunity to lead the nation in reform of marijuana laws, but it will take a concerted effort on the part of independent-thinking Alaskans who value their privacy. Measure 2 will stop the arrests, and our legislators will decide how marijuana will be regulated.

Measure 2 is an important step to reform marijuana laws and protect the privacy of Alaskans one that I urge all Alaskans to support. Together, we can make a difference and protect our families, our kids, and our communities.

Kelly L. Drew, Ph.D., Alaska Basic Neuroscience Program, University of Alaska Fairbanks

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