Chronic debate - Page 3

THE DRUG ISSUE: Marijuana decriminalization moves forward on several fronts

"The marijuana problem is increasingly becoming a mechanism for social control of young black and brown men in California."

"We feel that money is definitely a fine consideration," he continued. "But even if reguutf8g marijuana didn't produce a dime, these punitive, wasteful laws must end."

Gutwillig's group has estimated that legalization would save California's state and local governments $259.7 million annually in court and incarceration costs alone, a figure DPA researcher Betty Lo Dolce said is very conservative.

"I don't know if folks have a secondary offenses, so I don't know if marijuana was legalized, if they wouldn't be in state prison," Lo Dolce said. "Or conversely, if they may not have been arrested for drug-related crimes, but then those charges got dropped and they ended up inside because of secondary drug-related offense."

Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, believes that advocates of California's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) should have to justify that the program does some good.

"The idea that enforcing prohibition and seizing 5.5 million plants last year would be less costly than legalizing is crazy," he said.

But what about the public health costs?

UCLA pulmonologist Dr. Donald Tashkin said that the state added marijuana smoke to its Prop. 65 list, based on finding carcinogens in that smoke. "But you cannot translate chemistry into chemical risk because you have to take into account potential opposing effects," Tashkin said.

His research has found no association between heavy marijuana use and increased risk of lung cancer and pulmonary disease. Conversely, he and Dr. Donald Abrams, a cancer researcher at UCSF, have found that THC, marijuana's main psychoactive ingredient, has an anti-tumor effect.

"The bottom line is that you cannot use pulmonary risk as a justification for not legalizing it," Tashkin said.

Dr. Igor Grant, director of medical cannabis research at UC San Diego, said the question around marijuana smoke is quantity. "It's not like cigarettes," he said. "Most people don't smoke 20 joints a day for 20 years. But even if it was declared safe for patients, you wouldn't want parents filling the room with smoke."

James Gray, an Orange County judge and a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, believes marijuana is here to stay. "Instead of moralizing and punishing people for failing on moral chastity grounds, let's manage its use," Gray said. "If people are using it, they should be able to know what's in it."

The most harmful thing about marijuana, Gray contends, is jail. "The remedy is far more dangerous than the disease itself," he said. "There are thousands of people in prison because they did nothing but smoke pot, and a dirty drug test was a violation of their parole.... But I understand that some people in law enforcement stand to lose a great deal, and that the Mexican cartels are going to invest a lot of money in Madison Avenue advertising."

Lee, too, acknowledges the opposition, but remains hopeful. "People are coming out of the closet," he said. "That's what caused the gay rights movement to take off. It's starting to happen around marijuana use."