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Why the Drug Czar Is Right about Marijuana “Legalization”

by Steve Fox

From the Chelsea Green community blog.

At the end of last week, Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske issued a public statement firmly declaring, “Marijuana legalization, for any purpose, remains a non-starter in the Obama Administration.” Earlier this year, he confessed to a certain lack of verbal acuity by admitting that the word “legalization” was not in his vocabulary.

Well, let me officially state here today – as the director of state campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project, the nation’s largest organization dedicated to reforming our marijuana laws – that I agree with the Drug Czar. It is time for us to take marijuana “legalization” off the table.

Instead, we should join together in an effort to enact marijuana “regulation.”

“Legalization” is a term used by opponents of reform to overstate the goals of pro-reform organizations. It is intended to convey an image of wide open markets and widespread marijuana use by people of all ages.

People like me do not envision marijuana being “legalized” like pumpkins, which, as many of us observe this time of year, can be purchased from any farmer who tends to a patch and makes his pre-jack-o-lanterns available on his land before Halloween. Rather, we are fighting for a regulated market for marijuana, so that sellers and suppliers are licensed by the state and their product is subject to strict production and labeling requirements.

As my co-authors and I explain in the final chapter of Marijuana is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink?, a regulated marijuana market would limit where and when marijuana could be sold. And, of course, it would limit who could purchase the drug. Specifically, as with alcohol, there would be an age limit so that people under a certain age could not buy it.

Currently, none of these regulations exist. Anybody – including teens – can purchase marijuana whenever they want. In fact, it is probably easier for a teen to find and buy marijuana than an adult. And the strength and quality of the marijuana purchased is basically unknown. These are problems associated with an unregulated market – and it is what people like the Drug Czar are defending.

So in the spirit with which I have joined the Drug Czar in taking marijuana legalization off the table, I hope that he will join me in taking an unregulated marijuana market off the table.

The time to regulate marijuana is now. We should all be able to agree on that.

Steve Fox is the Director of State Campaigns for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the nation’s largest organization dedicated to reforming marijuana laws. From 2002–2005, he lobbied Congress as MPP’s Director of Government Relations. He cofounded Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER) in 2005 and has helped guide its operations since its inception. He is a graduate of Tufts University and Boston College Law School and currently lives in Maryland with his wife and two daughters.

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