Saturday, April 1, 2017

Interview: Paul Armentano of NORML says pot legalization's "primary hurdles remain willful ignorance and political inertia"

This is the final part of my discussion with Paul Armentano. The firstsecondthird, and fourth articles are available. 
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto

"Unfortunately, it's easy to enforce anti-marijuana laws: just arrest hundreds of thousands of Americans every year, which we do," Paul Kuhn, then serving as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws's chairman, told me in 2012, when I interviewed him for my column at The Washington Times Communities. "Do these arrests deter pot use?  No.  Marijuana use rates in states which have decriminalized possession, for example, are generally no different than in states with harsh penalties.  We have much higher rates of marijuana use in America than in countries like Holland where use is de facto legalized."


Much has changed across the fruited plains since then. Our discussion, along with virtually all other Communities articles published before January 2014, was pulled down from TWT's website; rendering it -- essentially -- lost to historical record. Marijuana, in both medicinal and recreational contexts, has been legalized in eight states. The idea of ending prohibition against pot now enjoys strong support in both major parties. 


What may account for such a radical shift?


"The health risks of marijuana are far less than those of alcohol and tobacco and more akin to those of caffeine," Kuhn explained later in our discussion. "In fact, thousands of studies show marijuana has potential health benefits in fighting diseases like Alzheimer's, Crohn's, MS and even cancer.  A recent Mayo Clinic report found marijuana offers "potentially head-to-toe therapeutic breakthroughs."

"Most hard drug addicts start with tobacco and alcohol, not marijuana. I have friends who consider marijuana 'the exit drug' because it helped them recover from dependence on alcohol and other addictive, deadly substances."


Lock, stock, and barrel reform of marijuana laws in our country is, at core, not a political issue, but one of personal health. That it has become politicized is a testament to how no shortage of 'civic servants' seek to manipulate a quintessentially private matter for public gain. I do not regard driving the criminalization of marijuana into the back pages of history as anything relative to politics, but rather culture; at both the personal and group levels.


Recently, I spoke with Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, about where cannabis stands in the American story. Some of our conversation is listed below.


****

Joseph Ford Cotto: In a societal context, what is the biggest hurdle which remains for marijuana legalization from coast to coast?


Paul Armentano: As is the case when fighting for any sort of political or cultural change, our primary hurdles remain willful ignorance and political inertia – two of the more difficult obstacles to overcome.

Marijuana legalization is not inevitable. These sort of societal and legal changes only occur when advocates are passionate and vigilant. Those who opine in favor of the status quo remain powerful enemies. In this past election cycle, special interests representing the prison industry, the alcohol and beverage industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and legalized gambling donated millions of dollars in efforts to defeat statewide cannabis legalization measures.

Politicians at the state and federal level still largely remain lined up against the forces of change. According to the findings of NORML’s 2016 Congressional and Gubernatorial Scorecards, while some 60 percent of Americans espouse that the adult use of marijuana “should be legal,” only four percent of federally elected officials and only four percent of US governors endorse a similar position. The public must demand better and insist that their lawmakers legislate on behalf of policies that more closely comport with marijuana’s rapidly changing legal and cultural status.

****

Editor's note: As I mentioned earlier, Paul Kuhn and I discussed marijuana legalization back during 2012. Some of this conversation is included below, specifically so folks can see just how much the national dialogue over cannabis has changed in less than a decade.

Cotto: Marijuana legalization is a concept with which most of us are familiar. Needless to say, many support a strict ban on pot. Why do you believe it should be decriminalized?

Paul Kuhn: Actually, there has never been greater public support for ending marijuana prohibition.  A recent nationwide poll by Rasmussen Reports found that 56% of Americans support "legalizing marijuana and regulating it like alcohol or cigarettes" with only 34% who oppose the idea. Every age group, including 65 and older, favored legalization. Separate nationwide polls by Gallup and Angus Reid report similar voter sentiment.

Most voters recognize that marijuana arrests waste law enforcement resources, tie up courts, ruin lives and encourage individuals to use more dangerous drugs like alcohol and tobacco. Lawmakers are waking up to the reality that supporting cannabis law reform isn't just the right thing to do, but that it also makes for good politics.

Cotto: This fall, marijuana legalization initiatives are going to be on the ballot in three states: Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Do you believe that these decriminalization efforts will ultimately prove to be successful?

Kuhn: I am confident legalization is coming whether or not the different versions of legalization pass in these three states this fall.

Cotto:
Over the next few decades, do you think that marijuana will likely be legalized from coast to coast?

Kuhn: Yes.  According to the Gallop Poll, support for legalization has grown from 12% in 1970, to 25% in the mid-90s to 50% last year and as I mentioned earlier, Rasmussen tags current support at 56%.  The trend and the facts are clearly in our favor.

Cotto: For those of us who have never consumed marijuana, and have no interest in doing so, what solid reason can you give for supporting decriminalization?

Kuhn: Current laws are based on ignorance and racism, are selectively enforced, divert law enforcement resources from fighting real crime, disrupt hundreds of thousands of lives every year, engender disrespect for the law, deny citizens the choice of a safer alternative to alcohol and tobacco and prohibit the medical community from exploring the unique health properties of marijuana.

Cotto: A great deal say that marijuana should remain illegal due to its health risks, as well as the fact that it might serve as a gateway to harder drugs. What is your opinion on this?

Kuhn: The health risks of marijuana are far less than those of alcohol and tobacco and more akin to those of caffeine.  In fact, thousands of studies show marijuana has potential health benefits in fighting diseases like Alzheimer's, Crohn's, MS and even cancer.  A recent Mayo Clinic report found marijuana offers "potentially head-to-toe therapeutic breakthroughs."

Most hard drug addicts start with tobacco and alcohol, not marijuana. I have friends who consider marijuana "the exit drug" because it helped them recover from dependence on alcohol and other addictive, deadly substances.





No comments:

Post a Comment