Finally, a regulated system of cannabis legalization, complete with rules regarding who can legally provide and consume marijuana and at what age these activities are allowed, will make it easier, not harder, for parents, educators and members of the law enforcement community to rationally and persuasively discuss this subject with young people. Parents who may have tried cannabis during their youth (or who continue to use it occasionally) will no longer perceive societal pressures to lie to their children about their own behaviors. Rather, just as many parents and educators presently speak to young people objectively about the use of alcohol — instructing them that booze may be appropriate for adults in moderation, but that it remains inappropriate for young people — legalization will unburden adults and allow them to similarly speak rationally to adolescents about cannabis.
Need further proof that regulation works? Just look at our contemporary experience with tobacco — a legally marketed but deadly recreational drug. Teen use of cigarettes has recently fallen to its lowest levels in decades. Conversely, young people’s self-reported use of cannabis is rising and has now surpassed the number of teens consuming tobacco. Why the disparate trends? Simple. In short, it’s legalization, regulation and public education — coupled with the enforcement of age restrictions — that most effectively keeps mind-altering substances out of the hands of children.
Despite more than 70 years of federal prohibition and regardless of the fear-mongering of pundits like Charles Stimson, marijuana is here to stay. Let’s acknowledge this reality, cease ceding control of the marijuana market to untaxed criminal enterprises and put forward common-sense regulations governing cannabis’ use and production.
Paul Armentano is the deputy director for NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and is the co-author of the book, “Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?” (Chelsea Green, 2009).