Low-level marijuana offenders should pay a fine, not go to prison, Kennedy said, but it's a bad idea to make pot more accessible: More people will experiment, including young people whose still-developing brains seem to be most susceptible to addiction. He said he fears the creation of a huge marijuana industry that might target teens the way the tobacco industry did.
Voters in Washington and Colorado handily passed measures on last November's ballot to legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults over 21 under state law, and to create a system of state-licensed marijuana growers, processors and retail stores. The measures could bring the states tens or hundreds of millions of dollars per year in new tax revenue, analysts have said.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and the Justice Department has not said whether it will sue to try to block the state-licensing schemes from taking effect.
Supporters of Washington's Initiative 502 raised more than $6 million. The measure was sponsored or endorsed by former top federal law enforcement officers in the state, as well as some former public health officials and a University of Washington addiction specialist.
Alison Holcomb, the drug policy director of the state's American Civil Liberties Union chapter and I-502's campaign manager, said she's as concerned as anyone else about the public-health ramifications of legal marijuana, and that's why the initiative requires new surveys of drug use among teens and earmarks money for substance abuse prevention and treatment.
And, she said, Kennedy and Sabet offer no suggestions for dealing with the dangerous black market that supplies the nation's vigorous appetite for pot.
Frum said that given the social ills caused by alcohol and tobacco use, no one should be arguing for legal marijuana.
"There are not a lot of voices saying you should smoke more tobacco, it's a cure for what ails you," Frum said. "There aren't people saying we should raise the DUI limit from 0.08 to 0.12. People who use alcohol and tobacco understand they're doing something risky. That's not the message about marijuana, and that's an unfortunate situation.
"What we should all want is to see fewer young people with criminal records and fewer young people using drugs."
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