Marijuana advocate Mason Tvert launches petition targeting drug czar

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SAFER's Mason Tvert thinks drug czar Gil Kerlikowske has some splainin' to do.
The Obama administration's relaxed rules regarding enforcement of laws regarding medical marijuana has led to renewed optimism among weed advocates that across-the-boards legalization might be a more realistic possibility. But shortly thereafter, Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske issued a statement referring to such a move a "non-starter."

Predictably, SAFER's Mason Tvert, who last week noted a poll showing more people than ever (if still a minority of the populace) would support legalization, isn't a fan of this viewpoint, and he's hoping the masses will let Kerlikowske know that the time has come for a change. In addition to writing an open letter to the drug czar, calling the earlier remarks "utterly irresponsible, he's launched an online petition asking him to "explain why he believes regulating marijuana and treating it like alcohol would result in 'social and health care costs' similar to those associated with the use of alcohol, a far more harmful recreational drug according to all objective evidence."

Look below to read Kerlikowske's views and Tvert's response -- and then decide about signing that petition.

Office of National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske's statement:

Marijuana Legalization; A Non-Starter

The Department of Justice earlier this week issued guidelines for Federal prosecutors regarding laws authorizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes. This prompted a flurry of news reports, analysis and commentary, some arguing that the guidelines could be read as the Federal government's tacit approval of "medical" marijuana. Advocates of marijuana legalization tried to cast the guidelines as a victory, portraying them as a step toward full legalization. Neither of these analyses is correct.

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. Attorney General Holder issued very clear guidelines to U.S. Attorneys about the appropriate use of Federal resources. He did not open the door to legalization.

Regarding state ballot initiatives concerning "medical" marijuana, I believe that medical questions are best decided not by popular vote, but by science. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which studies and approves all medicines in the United States, has made very clear that the raw marijuana plant is not medicine, and any state considering medical marijuana should look very carefully at what has happened in California.

Legalization is being sold as being a cure to ending violence in Mexico, as a cure to state budget problems, as a cure to health problems. The American public should be skeptical of anyone selling one solution as a cure for every single problem. Legalized, regulated drugs are not a panacea -- pharmaceutical drugs in this country are tightly regulated and government controlled, yet we know they cause untold damage to those who abuse them.

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.

In a little over three months, my office will deliver to President Obama a National Drug Control Strategy that will strike a balance between public health and public safety, recognizing that reducing demand through a community-wide approach is critical to our success. Legalization would only thwart our efforts and increase the economic and social costs that result from greater drug acceptance and use.

Mason Tvert's response:

An Open Letter to the Drug Czar About Marijuana Legalization

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?

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