Monday, November 17, 2008

IF WE HANDLED POT LIKE CIGARETTES. . . .

Paul Armentano, NORML - According to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control, fewer Americans are smoking cigarettes than at any time in modern history. "The number of U.S. adults who smoke has dropped below 20 percent for the first time on record," Reuters reported. This is less than half the percentage (42 percent) of Americans who smoked cigarettes during the 1960s.

Imagine that. In the past 40 years, tens of millions of Americans have voluntarily quit smoking a legal, yet highly addictive intoxicant. Many others have refused to initiate the habit. And they've all made this decision without ever once being threatened with criminal prosecution and arrest, imprisonment, probation, and drug testing.

By contrast, during this same period of time, state and local police have arrested some 20 million Americans for pot law violations -- primarily for violations no greater than simple possession. And yet marijuana use among the public has skyrocketed from an annual rate of 0.6 million new users in 1965 to some 2.5 million annual new users today.

There's a lesson to be learned here, of course. Tobacco, though harmful to health, is a legally regulated commodity. Sellers are licensed and held accountable by federal and state laws. Users are restricted by age. Advertising and access is limited by state and federal governments. And health warnings regarding the drug's use are based upon credible science. By contrast, marijuana remains an unregulated black market commodity. Sellers are typically criminal entrepreneurs who, for the most part, operate undetected from law enforcement and are free to sell their product to any person.

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