Thursday, March 27, 2008

We need to get smart about marijuana

http://www.eatdrinketc.com/amsterdam/photos/rad5FDFF.jpg

RICK STEVES
GUEST COLUMNIST

As a parent helping two children navigate their teen years, and as a travel writer who has seen firsthand how Europe deals with its drug problem, I've thought a lot about U.S. drug policy -- particularly our criminalization of marijuana.

Europe, like the U.S., is dealing with a persistent drug-abuse problem. But unlike us, Europe, which treats drug abuse primarily as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue, measures the success of its drug policy in terms of pragmatic harm reduction.

Europeans seek a cure that isn't more costly than the problem. While the U.S. spends its tax dollars on police, courts and prisons, Europe fights drug abuse by funding doctors, counselors and clinics. European Union policymakers estimate that for each euro invested in drug education and counseling, they save 15 euros in police and health costs. Similar estimates have been made for U.S. health-based approaches by the Rand Corp. and others.

While Europeans are as firmly opposed to hard drugs as we are, the difference in how they approach marijuana is striking. Take the Netherlands, with its famously liberal marijuana laws. On my last trip to Amsterdam, I visited a "coffee shop" -- a cafe that openly and legally sells marijuana to people over 18. I sat and observed the very local, almost quaint scene: Neighbors were chatting. An older couple (who apparently didn't enjoy the trendy ambience) parked their bikes and dropped in for a baggie to go. An underage customer was shooed away. Then a police officer showed up -- but only to post a warning about the latest danger from chemical drugs on the streets.

Some concerned U.S. parents are comforted by the illusion of control created by our complete prohibition of marijuana. But the policy seems to be backfiring: Their kids say it's easier to buy marijuana than tobacco or alcohol. (You don't get carded when you buy something illegally.) Meanwhile, Dutch parents say their approach not only protects their younger children, but also helps insulate teens over 18 from street pushers trying to get them hooked on more addictive (and profitable) hard drugs.

After a decade of regulating marijuana, Dutch anti-drug abuse professionals agree there has been no significant increase in pot smoking among young people, and that overall cannabis use has increased only slightly. European and U.S. government statistics show per-capita consumption of marijuana for most of Europe (including the Netherlands) is about half that of the U.S., despite the criminal consequences facing American pot smokers.

When it comes to marijuana, European leaders understand that a society must choose: Tolerate alternative lifestyles or build more prisons. They've made their choice. We're still building more prisons.

According to Forbes magazine, 25 million Americans currently use marijuana (federal statistics indicate that one in three Americans has used marijuana at some point), which makes it a $113 billion untaxed industry in our country. The FBI reports that about 40 percent of the roughly 1.8 million annual drug arrests in the U.S. are for marijuana -- the majority (89 percent) for simple possession.

Rather than act as a deterrent, criminalization of marijuana drains precious resources, clogs our legal system and distracts law enforcement attention from more pressing safety concerns.

But things are changing. For example, in Seattle, Initiative 75, which makes adult marijuana use the lowest law enforcement priority for local cops, was recently reviewed after four years in action. The results clearly show that during that period, marijuana use didn't measurably increase, and street crime associated with drugs actually went down.

More and more U.S. parents, lawyers, police, judges and even travel writers feel it's time for a change. Obviously, like Europeans, we don't want anyone to harm themselves or others by misusing marijuana. We simply believe that regulating and taxing what many consider a harmless vice is smarter than outlawing it.

Like my European friends, I believe we can adopt a pragmatic policy toward marijuana, with a focus on harm reduction and public health, rather than tough-talking but counterproductive criminalization. The time has come to have an honest discussion about our marijuana laws and their effectiveness. We need to find a policy that is neither "hard on drugs" nor "soft on drugs" -- but smart on drugs.

Rick Steves is a travel writer based in Edmonds.
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/opinion/356397_marijuana26.html

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Calling B.S. on the Idea of 'Marijuana Addiction'

By Paul Armentano, AlterNet. Posted March 22, 2008.

http://wings.buffalo.edu/aru/MarijuanaAddiction.jpg
It's laughable that the Feds are pushing the concept of pot addiction when science shows that withdrawal symptoms from caffeine are far worse.

The U.S. government believes that America is going to pot -- literally.

Earlier this month, the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse announced plans to spend $4 million to establish the nation's first-ever "Center on Cannabis Addiction," which will be based in La Jolla, Calif. The goal of the center, according to NIDA's press release, is to "develop novel approaches to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of marijuana addiction."

Not familiar with the notion of "marijuana addiction"? You're not alone. In fact, aside from the handful of researchers who have discovered that there are gobs of federal grant money to be had hunting for the government's latest pot boogeyman, there's little consensus that such a syndrome is clinically relevant -- if it even exists at all.

But don't try telling that to the mainstream press -- which recently published headlines worldwide alleging, "Marijuana withdrawal rivals that of nicotine." The alleged "study" behind the headlines involved all of 12 participants, each of whom were longtime users of pot and tobacco, and assessed the self-reported moods of folks after they were randomly chosen to abstain from both substances. Big surprise: they weren't happy.

And don't try telling Big Pharma -- which hopes to cash in on the much-hyped "pot and addiction" craze by touting psychoactive prescription drugs like Lithium to help hardcore smokers kick the marijuana habit.

And certainly don't try telling the drug "treatment" industry, whose spokespeople are quick to warn that marijuana "treatment" admissions have risen dramatically in recent years, but neglect to explain that this increase is due entirely to the advent of drug courts sentencing minor pot offenders to rehab in lieu of jail. According to state and national statistics, up to 70 percent of all individuals in drug treatment for marijuana are placed there by the criminal justice system. Of those in treatment, some 36 percent had not even used marijuana in the 30 days prior to their admission. These are the "addicts"?

Indeed, the concept of pot addiction is big business -- even if the evidence in support of the pseudosyndrome is flimsy at best.

And what does the science say? Well, according to the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine -- which published a multiyear, million-dollar federal study assessing marijuana and health in 1999 -- "millions of Americans have tried marijuana, but most are not regular users [and] few marijuana users become dependent on it." The investigator added, "[A]though [some] marijuana users develop dependence, they appear to be less likely to do so than users of other drugs (including alcohol and nicotine), and marijuana dependence appears to be less severe than dependence on other drugs."

Just how less likely? According to the Institute of Medicine's 267-page report, fewer than 10 percent of those who try cannabis ever meet the clinical criteria for a diagnosis of "drug dependence" (based on DSM-III-R criteria). By contrast, the IOM reported that 32 percent of tobacco users, 23 percent of heroin users, 17 percent of cocaine users and 15 percent of alcohol users meet the criteria for "drug dependence."

In short, it's the legal drugs that have Americans hooked -- not pot.

But what about the claims that ceasing marijuana smoking can trigger withdrawal symptoms similar to those associated with quitting tobacco? Once again, it's a matter of degree. According to the Institute of Medicine, pot's withdrawal symptoms, when identified, are "mild and subtle" compared with the profound physical syndromes associated with ceasing chronic alcohol use -- which can be fatal -- or those abstinence symptoms associated with daily tobacco use, which are typically severe enough to persuade individuals to reinitiate their drug-taking behavior.

The IOM report further explained, "[U]nder normal cannabis use, the long half-life and slow elimination from the body of THC prevent[s] substantial abstinence symptoms" from occurring. As a result, cannabis' withdrawal symptoms are typically limited to feelings of mild anxiety, irritability, agitation and insomnia.

Most importantly, unlike the withdrawal symptoms associated with the cessation of most other intoxicants, pot's mild after-effects do not appear to be either severe or long-lasting enough to perpetuate marijuana use in individuals who have decided to quit. This is why most marijuana smokers report voluntarily ceasing their cannabis use by age 30 with little physical or psychological difficulty. By comparison, many cigarette smokers who pick up the habit early in life continue to smoke for the rest of their lives, despite making numerous efforts to quit.

So let's review.

Marijuana is widely accepted by the National Academy of Sciences, the Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and others to lack the severe physical and psychological dependence liability associated with most other intoxicants, including alcohol and tobacco. Further, pot lacks the profound abstinence symptoms associated with most legal intoxicants, including caffeine.

That's not to say that some marijuana smokers don't find quitting difficult. Naturally, a handful of folks do, though this subpopulation is hardly large enough to warrant pot's legal classification (along with heroin) as an illicit substance with a "high potential for abuse." Nor does this fact justify the continued arrest of more than 800,000 Americans annually for pot violations any more than such concerns would warrant the criminalization of booze or nicotine.

Now if I can only get NIDA to fork me over that $4 million check.

http://www.alternet.org/drugreporter/80408/?page=2

post by way of: http://www.strike-the-root.com/

2 comments:

  1. Hi, Great review of the differences between some countries and their attitudes towards Cannabis! The general populace does need the right information about the different options which certain countries have taken! Just wrote a piece about an experiment on a woman by the BBC where she has to live in A'dam for a month.

    http://gelatindreams.blogspot.com

    Check it out, as it definitely illustrates a few abnormal (over)reactions to the issue!
    Thanks and take care,
    Dietz

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi everyone, wishing goodluck one and all of this community, have a nice day, thank u
    ===================================
    charles
    http://www.marijuanaaddictiontreatment.com

    ReplyDelete