Mason Tvert is the Executive director of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation
On the afternoon of Friday, October 23, Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske (aka the Drug Czar) issued a statement declaring the issue of marijuana legalization is a "non-starter" not even worthy of discussion in the Obama administration. In response, Safer Alternative For Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) issued the following open letter to the Drug Czar and launched a petition drive calling on him to base our nation's drug policies on evidence and reason rather than ideology and mythology.
On the afternoon of Friday, October 23, at a time when government bureaucrats make announcements they hope will not be picked up by the media, you issued a statement boldly declaring:
“Marijuana legalization, for any purpose, remains a non-starter in the Obama Administration. It is not something that the President and I discuss; it isn't even on the agenda.”
As the individual most directly responsible for marijuana policy in this country, this seems utterly irresponsible. Worse, your decision does not appear to be based on reason or evidence.
Let's begin with one glaringly obvious omission in your statement. You failed to cite a single societal or health-related harm caused by the use of marijuana. Not one! Instead, you offered up some weak guilt-by-association scare tactics.
“To test the idea of legalizing and taxing marijuana, we only need to look at already legal drugs -- alcohol and tobacco. We know that the taxes collected on these substances pale in comparison to the social and health care costs related to their widespread use.”
Apparently, you believe that marijuana users should be punished and perhaps even jailed because alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical drugs are so harmful to users and society.
Sorry, Mr. Kerlikowske, but that just doesn't cut it. If you are going to remain closed-minded in your approach to marijuana, you are going to need to step it up. Unfortunately, you know as well as we do that you don't have a whole lot going for you, which explains your flaccid, evidence-free statement. Sadly, we have come to expect this kind of nonsensical garbage from our nation's drug czars. (After all, you have Kevin Sabet, a Bush Administration holdover and former speechwriter for his drug czar, John Walters, feeding you the same old lines.) But what makes your position on marijuana legalization even more shameful is your background as a law enforcement officer on the streets.
You know – and maybe at some point during your tenure you will have the guts to admit – that alcohol is really the drug in our society that causes the greatest amount of harm. This isn't an attempt to demonize alcohol, mind you; it's simply based on alcohol's close association with serious health problems and violent crime, as documented by scientific research and government statistics. The use of marijuana, on the other hand, does not have serious health consequences and is not associated with violent behavior.
Again, you know this from your time on the streets. If you've forgotten, just recall the alcohol-fueled Seattle Mardi Gras riot that occurred on your watch. Or ask you're predecessor, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who called alcohol "the most dangerous drug in America today," during a 1999 ONDCP press conference.
So just why is it that you want to punish people who use marijuana, when you know the likely result is that many of these people will simply turn to using alcohol instead? Ya know, because it's "legal."
We don't want to hear that alcohol does not fall under the mission of ONDCP. You, sir, raised the subject by asserting – contrary to everything known about the two substances – that we should look at our experience with alcohol if we want to get a sense of the potential social and health care costs associated with more widespread marijuana use. Moreover, given that the two substances are so popular in our society, you simply cannot discuss the prohibition of marijuana without considering its impact on alcohol usage rates.
You hold a great deal of power in your hands. You can help determine whether we continue to steer adults toward using alcohol – which you know produces serious societal harms – or whether we instead allow them to make the rational choice to use a safer substance: marijuana.
Come on. Show us that it is possible to be the drug czar and be thoughtful, open-minded, and accepting of scientific evidence at the same time. Or, at the very least, why don't you find some actual statistics to back up your bluster?