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June 12, 2005 - Detroit News and Free Press (MI)

Column: End Marijuana Hypocrisy To Save Nation Billions

By Nolan Finley, editorial page editor of The News

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Faced with two bad choices, I'd druther kids celebrate their 21st birthdays with a bag of pot than by pouring 21 shots of cheap liquor down their gullets.

Again, both are poor choices. But a poor choice made with alcohol is far more lethal than one made with marijuana.

Binge drinking, drunken driving and booze-induced recklessness continue to leave empty seats in college and high school classrooms.

Marijuana has its own set of negatives, but it is rarely directly connected to a teen death.

And yet we treat marijuana as public enemy No. 1 when it comes to children. At the same time, we welcome a stream of beer commercials into our homes and don't blink when liquor companies sponsor spring break blowouts.

Parents who roll their eyes and giggle when young Johnny stumbles home tipsy go into complete despair when they find a baggie in a dresser drawer.

It's a very expensive hypocrisy. State and federal governments spend $8 billion a year on the war on marijuana.

The latest education campaign will spend another $125 million to convince children that pot will rot their brains.

We should save our money. Teen pot use is as cyclical as the auto industry. Some decades it goes up, some it goes down, with no correlation to spending on anti-drug programs.

Nearly 40 percent of teens say they've tried marijuana, the same percentage as the general population. While hopefully teens understand that pot isn't good for them, they know first-hand that it is no more harmful -- and perhaps less so -- than loading up on vodka.

Trying to convince them otherwise will just make them ignore warnings about the more dangerous drugs.

Before dismissing me as a leftover '60s pothead, let me say I have no interest in marijuana, even if it were legal.

But I am a taxpayer who expects a return on his investment. The drug war is delivering none.

Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman joined 500 respected economists last week in endorsing a Harvard University study that said federal and state governments could realize a $14 billion gain by regulating and taxing marijuana as a legal product.

There is a growing acceptance that this war is not only unwinnable, it is irrational.

Despite spending $35 billion a year to battle illegal narcotics, drug use here is about the same as in the European countries with more liberal drug laws.

But still we fight on. Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed a major victory to drug warriors by declaring federal authorities can prosecute those who grow and use marijuana for medical purposes.

The ruling fits the national ideology that in the name of the drug war, the Constitution can be tossed on the garbage heap.

But nothing will keep desperate people from seeking relief, or teens from experimenting.

The war against pot is lost.

Surrendering isn't a defeat. It simply ends our national hypocrisy and leaves more money for more pressing battles.

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