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Compass: Marijuana prohibition has failed; it's time for a new approach

In her June 11 opinion piece, prohibitionist Deborah Williams presented readers with a number of inaccurate and misleading arguments on the topic of marijuana legalization. Ms. Williams and her group opposing Ballot Measure 2 are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

Marijuana is safer than alcohol by any objective standard, yet Ms. Williams and her organization want to maintain our current policy of forcing responsible, law abiding adults to choose the more dangerous substance to relax at the end of a hard day. Additionally, they believe that criminals should continue to control the very large underground marijuana market that exists in Alaska, as opposed to the tightly regulated business community that would have to operate in the open, be good neighbors, hire Alaskans, card minors, and pay taxes. We will respectfully agree to disagree with them on those two fundamental points.

Ms. Williams' very premise is a not-so-veiled attempt at tying the concept of the legal marijuana industry to "Big Tobacco" in order to make marijuana sound more dangerous than it actually is. Such a comparison is fundamentally flawed because 1) tobacco use is directly linked to hundreds of thousands of deaths per year in the U.S. alone, whereas even chronic, long-term marijuana use has not been linked to a single overdose fatality in over 5,000 years of recorded medical history; and 2) tobacco companies used shady advertising and dangerous additives, whereas the law proposed by Ballot Measure 2 would allow both of those things to be barred in Alaska.

In response to accusations of fear mongering, the opposition is refusing to backtrack, and instead is doing what prohibitionists have always done: doubling down on efforts to scare and confuse Alaskans. For instance, Ms. Williams' organization has repeatedly (and absurdly) compared marijuana concentrates to "crack cocaine," one of the most dangerous and infamous drugs in American history. Irrational claims such as these are not backed up by the realities of modern science. No one has ever died from an overdose by ingesting too much marijuana, concentrate or otherwise, whereas alcohol and hard drugs like crack cocaine have led to countless deaths and devastated entire communities.

It's always exasperating to argue against erroneous statements someone else has made, but on the other hand, you can't just ignore them. Unfortunately, newspaper columns such as these serve poorly as forums for detailed analysis of the issues surrounding marijuana regulation. So rather than arguing with Ms. Williams about specifics, let me outline some of the reasons why the majority of Alaskans favor a system that taxes and regulates marijuana like alcohol over the failed policies of marijuana prohibition.

Simply put, marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol for the consumer and for society. Most people agree that alcohol prohibition was a failed public policy. It was costly and ineffective, creating more problems than it solved. The recent surge in support for making marijuana legal suggests that Alaskans are increasingly coming to recognize that marijuana prohibition has been just as counterproductive.

We should all be able to agree that marijuana isn't going away in Alaska. We have the highest rates of use in the country, and that is not expected to stop anytime soon. Whether we regulate it or not, it will be available in Alaska from somebody. Currently, marijuana sales are entirely controlled by criminal enterprises operating in the underground market. Ballot Measure 2 will replace the underground market with a responsibly regulated marijuana industry. Sales will benefit licensed, taxpaying businesses and our private sector economy, which means new, good paying jobs for Alaskans and much needed tax revenue for the state.

To prohibit marijuana use while deadly substances like alcohol are tolerated conflicts with Alaskans' sense of justice. Marijuana prohibition was born of lies (as in "Reefer Madness") and racism. Our society's understanding of these issues has matured. By taxing and regulating marijuana like alcohol, we will help restore a more appropriate balance between our freedoms and the risks they pose.

Chris Rempert lives in Anchorage and serves as political director for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the main group supporting the passage of Ballot Measure 2.



BY CHRIS REMPERT