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The Marijuana Double Standard

Russ Belville

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In the campaigns to legalize marijuana in American states, we often hear the tagline “treat marijuana like alcohol.” But the successful proposals to legalize marijuana have come nowhere close to equalization with alcohol, even though marijuana is demonstrably and objectively far safer than alcohol. Let’s consider all the ways in which even in legal states, marijuana consumers are treated as second-class citizens to beer drinkers:

Impaired Driving: Colorado and Washington have established a ridiculously low standard of five nanograms of marijuana per milliliter (5ng/mL) of blood to establish impairment. The idea was to have a fixed number analogous to the 0.08 blood-alcohol standard for determining drunk driving, but the problem is that marijuana isn’t alcohol. There is no scientifically accurate way to determine marijuana impairment in blood tests—even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says, “It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone.”

Recently, Trooper Josh Lewis of the Colorado State Patrol said regarding marijuana consumption and driving, “Typically, to have that full impairment out, eight hours would be a good recommendation,” Lewis said. “That would be a minimum.” As a 240-lb man, I could drink three shots in an hour and get behind the wheel facing only a .07 blood alcohol content (BAC). But if I, a daily marijuana consumer, get behind the wheel in Washington or Colorado after a full night’s sleep, I’m likely to already be above their stoned driving standard.

Visibility: Here’s a simple test. Turn on your TV or walk through your downtown area and hold your breath until you see a drug. Unless you’re watching Disney or living in rural Utah, there’s a good chance you won’t pass out anytime soon. To hear the phrase “Drug-Free America” while being barraged by alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical ads and the venues that sell them increases your risk of explosive cognitive dissonance by a factor of six Nancy Graces.

But marijuana is treated like homosexuality in the 1950s: It’s the drug that dare not speak its name. Legal states condemn the public view of marijuana consumption and don’t allow for vapor lounges or pot bars. Legal stores are subject to incredibly strict advertising requirements (In Washington, your pot shop can have one 1600-square-inch plain-lettered no-pot-leafs sign, period) and zoned to be far from children’s gaze, even if there are strip clubs, pawn shops, taverns, pharmacies, and liquor stores nearer to their schools.

Possession Limits: If there is a state that limits how much alcohol a person can purchase and possess, I can’t find it. Numerous states have within them “dry counties” where no alcohol sales are allowed, but even there possession of alcohol is allowed and some have “wet cities” within the county where alcohol is sold. Since 2013, in all 50 states it is legal for two people to home brew up to 200 gallons of beer (over 355 six-packs).

But with legal marijuana in Washington, Colorado, Alaska (as of Feb. 24), and Oregon (Jul. 1), you may purchase and possess (in public) one ounce of marijuana. Washington doesn’t allow for home cultivation; Colorado allows six plants per person, Alaska will allow three mature plants, and Oregon will allow four plants.

Civil Rights: Go ahead, have another glass of wine and pop your Viagra pill, it’s the weekend! The kids are asleep and you deserve some “me time”. Enjoy yourself, take a break, relax from all your stress, and know that come Monday, you can go into work without any fear of the random drug test. You can pick your kids up from school without fearing that the school resource officer and a child protective services worker aren’t waiting for you because your kid mentioned you enjoy wine on the weekends. You can go in for your medical appointment knowing that you’ll still be on the organ transplant list for that kidney you need.

But if you smoked a joint in Denver or Seattle last week on vacation, you could lose your job, your child custody, and a shot at that new kidney.

“Treat marijuana like alcohol is a nice slogan,” but we have a long way to go before it is true.

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