Last Dance With Mary Jane? Not Yet Marijuana: For such a little plant, it raises some big issues. Is it a nonthreatening answer to chronic pain? Or is it a dangerous drug? Commentator Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, thinks policing marijuana needs to stop.

Last Dance With Mary Jane? Not Yet

Pot plants

Allen St. Pierre is executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of NORML hide caption

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Courtesy of NORML

Cannabis prohibition has been an abject failure as a public policy since it was created and fostered by the federal government in 1937. In a country where alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical products are lawful, controlled and taxed commerce for adult use — despite the addicting, dangerous and deadly nature of them, annually killing an approximate 25,000, 400,000 and 100,000 Americans respectively — it makes no sense to criminalize the responsible use of the nonlethal cannabis plant by adults.

Cannabis is not harmless; no drug is, including aspirin. However, with no measured "lethal dose" and no fatalities on record, cannabis, as compared to alcohol, pharmacologically speaking, is a remarkably safe and nontoxic drug.

Absurdly, the federal government's staunchest defenders of cannabis prohibition, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, when confronted by public opinion polls clearly favoring reforms, claim that they are "winning the war against marijuana." However, when asked to provide credible proof that 70 years of cannabis prohibition has yielded any stated government goals to justify the policy, they highlight eight criteria as measures of their successes.

"Success" is marked as reduced cannabis use, increased risk perception of cannabis use by high school seniors, and the decrease in availability of the drug among high school seniors, along with such markers as deterring new users, reducing the number of admissions to treatment and emergency room mentions for cannabis, a reduction in cannabis' potency, and finally an increase in the price of cannabis.

In all eight categories, according to the fed's own Office of Management and Budget, the government's stated goals have not — and can not be achieved.

How is that success?

During these recessionary economic times, shouldn't we discuss whether arresting 20 million citizens since 1965 for cannabis, 90 percent for possession only, has been an effective public policy? Does continuing the arrest of 900,000 citizens this year on cannabis charges make any sense?

Since my birth in 1965, the first year public health professionals started aggressively warning the public about the serious health concerns associated with long-term tobacco use, there's been a 50 percent reduction in tobacco use. How did the government and society achieve the laudable public health goal of a substantial reduction in the consumption of tobacco?

Did we threaten workers' employment based on invasive urine tests? Did we pass mandatory minimum sentencing? Did we deny students college loans? Did we destabilize our crucial international borders with Canada and Mexico? Did we bend the Constitution into a pretzel?

The answer is no. We achieved the important public health goal of reducing tobacco consumption in America by employing verifiable and credible health-related information to deter use — along with "progressive" taxation that has kept the black market in check — not the expensive and ineffective criminal justice system.

Counterintuitive as it may sound to some, especially to some of our elected policymakers, if government were really serious about actually reducing cannabis use in the country, it should employ society's ever-evolving mores and values for tobacco and alcohol products — not criminal sanctions and prohibition laws — as the commonsense, moral and constitutional way to move forward with a rational cannabis policy.