By Josua Tuwere, Published: January 8, 2015 at 10:29

To decriminalise or not? One US expert does some mythbusting.

Our neighbours Australia and New Zealand have already discussed plans to decriminalise the use of marijuana. Fiji Police Force, on the other hand, have made their intentions clear. Zero tolerance of any form of illicit drugs, particularly marijuana. Public opinion is on their side.

In a recent article on the website PoliceOne.com San Francisco-based policeman Sergeant Keith Graves tackles the myths about cannabis decriminalisation.

The 25-year veteran of the San Francisco Police Force, much of it spent in narcotics doesn’t mince his words. Granted, the U.S may be a different context but the lessons for law enforcement are universal.

 

Myth 1: 

Marijuana is harmless and non-addictive

Marijuana in the 1980’s and early 90s averaged just four per cent THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the chemical responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. A number of samples now range more than 20 per cent THC.

Back in the 80s and 90s people usually smoked a joint, which contains .25 grams of marijuana.

Now everyone smokes a blunt (a marijuana-rolled cigar), which is averaging close to a gram of marijuana. Smoking one blunt today, at 20 percent THC, is like smoking 16 old-school joints.

As one commentator said, “Marijuana is not as addictive as drugs like tobacco or heroin, but its addiction rate of one in every eleven adults who have ever tried it — or one in six adolescents who have ever used it — should give us pause.”

 

Myth 2: 

Smoked or eaten marijuana is medicine

A recent study found the average “patient” was a 32-year-old white male with a history of drug and alcohol abuse and no history of life threatening disease.

Further studies have shown very few of those who sought a recommendation had cancer, HIV/ AIDS, glaucoma, or MS.

We’re also beginning to see a link between medical marijuana and increased drug use in some states.

The study is contained in: (O’Connell, T et al. (2007). Long-term marijuana users seeking medical cannabis in California (2001-2007).

 

Myth 3: 

Countless people are behind bars simply for smoking marijuana

According to studies by the Bureau of Justice, only one tenth of one percent of people in state prisons are serving sentences for first time marijuana possession.

Just three tenths of one percent of people in state prisons are serving time for marijuana possession.

According to leading drug policy researchers in the US, your chance of being arrested (for a marijuana related offense) is one in every 11,000 to 12,000 joints smoked.

 

Myth 4

The legality of alcohol and tobacco strengthen the case for legal marijuana

Author Kevin Sabet points out some data from a variety of sources. He found that alcohol kills 100,000 people annually and tobacco kills another 500,000 people every year.

These two legal drugs are the biggest contributors to healthcare costs in this country.

In many respects, because of its prevalence, alcohol is far worse than any of our currently illegal drugs, including crack. For example, alcohol causes much more violence and murder in our society than any other drug.

 

Myth 5: 

Legal marijuana will solve the Government’s budgetary problems

Society gains about 15 to 20 billion dollars a year from the taxes imposed on alcohol, while it loses over 200 billion dollars a year in healthcare, criminal justice and other costs directly related to alcohol use and abuse.

That’s a ratio of 10 to 1 (or higher) of costs to revenue. Tobacco is hardly better. The $25 billion collected in tobacco taxes doesn’t even come close to offsetting the more than $200 billion in lost social costs from tobacco use.

 

Myth 6: 

Portugal and Holland provide successful models of legalization

To sum up Myth 6, Holland and Portugal’s drug use is skyrocketing, while death rates and medical costs are skyrocketing right alongside increased use rates. Every country that has legalized drugs has regretted it and has started a path back to criminalization.

 

Myth 7: 

Prevention, intervention and treatment are doomed to fail — So why try?

It is estimated that for every dollar we invest in drug use prevention efforts, up to $10 is saved in treatment costs. These core principles have been identified for successful approaches to prevention:

1.) Successful prevention programs promote parental monitoring of children, bonding between parents and children, participation and success in school and extracurricular activities.

2.) These programs focus on reducing risk factors for drug abuse, including academic failure, caregivers as substance abusers, peer group deviancy, availability of drugs in the community, and policies and attitudes that promote the normalization of drug use.

3.) Effective programs are localized and community specific, and tailored to target audiences. This means that risk factors unique to each community become a focal point of education.

4.) Prevention programs need to be implemented with a consistent message in multiple settings simultaneously, which might include schools, churches, service organizations, and youth groups, such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

5.) Drug free community coalitions can help to facilitate comprehensive approaches. Communities with such coalitions have shown significant reductions in cannabis use among middle school and high school age youth.

If you’re as concerned as me about the path society is taking toward the legalization of drugs, you must educate yourself. If you give up, they will too and we all lose.

If you can use some of these talking points to show the foolishness of marijuana legalization, then you can sway public opinion and keep us on the right path.

Keith Graves has been a Police Officer in Livermore, California since 1990 and is currently a sergeant assigned to supervise their training unit. Keith is a Drug Recognition Expert Instructor (IACP #3292) and routinely teaches both the DRE course and the CNOA Drug Abuse Recognition course. Keith has also taught at the basic police academy and has developed a number of drug courses for the California Narcotics Officers Association. Keith has held assignments as a Narcotics/Vice Detective, COPPS Officer, Traffic Officer, and SWAT Team Leader. Keith has taught thousands of officers and businesses about drug use, drug trends, compliance training and drug investigations.

Feedback: josuat@fijisun.com.fj