Rutland Herald Op Ed Illustrates Common Misconceptions [Commentary]

Just in the last day, I've sent numerous emails saying literally, "I'm not an activist, but rather, a University-trained journalist (Brandeis U.) who's using web platforms to organize VT cannabis news in one place and to encourage engagement by VT citizens.  I do add pointed commentary when public officials make statements based on misinformation, but my interest is in elevating the discussion above both outdated fear-mongering, as well as marijuana activist-driven propaganda."

So, while I don't want to respond to every single op-ed that's published for/against legalization, this illustrates a few common themes which are useful to consider from an objective, and well-informed standpoint.  Below is the full text from a commentary piece that was submitted by a resident of Roxbury and published by the Rutland Herald on October 13, 2015.  The quoted and italicized sections are the original commenter, the bold writing is my response...enjoy and chime in on reddit, or via social media (twitter, IG).  Again, the italics is the original op-ed, the bold is me, anything other text is quote from other sources...

rutland herald
Marijuana legalization seems to be moving forward in Vermont with the current statements by Speaker Shap Smith and Gov. Peter Shumlin.
I personally, as a voting resident of Vermont, believe legalization to be a very bad idea. I believe the current law where under an ounce of marijuana is a traffic ticket and over an ounce is a crime should stand.
I would first like to say that the libertarian, freedom-loving conservative side of me says that using marijuana in one’s home should be legal in the pure sense of freedom. In other words, to each their own. But this idealistic viewpoint has many problems.
First, marijuana and other drug possession is not a nonviolent crime that affects no one but the person smoking the marijuana. This proposition put forth by many who desire legalization is a lie. The person smoking marijuana in Vermont may be nonviolent, but how many police officers are injured or killed every year in the southwestern United States trying to combat the smuggling of large amounts of marijuana into the U.S.? How many illegal aliens are forced into involuntary servitude to smuggle marijuana across the Mexican-U.S. border in order to get passage into the U.S.? How many innocent illegal aliens are injured or killed on the border due to drug smuggling just because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time? The end user in Vermont is just as responsible as the border smuggler for this violence. If there were no demand then there would be no supply.
supply demand

I would agree that, "If there were no demand then there would be no supply", but nobody is going to end the demand for marijuana with legislation, just like legislation didn't end demand for alcohol.  Rather, when you make it illegal for people to get something they like, and know not to be extremely harmful, you just condition people to break the drug laws, which IS actually a slippery slope into normalizing other illegal activities.  A commentary piece from an older LA Times article sums it up perfectly:

"Drug prohibition has created black markets, underground economies that generate no taxes and resort to illicit, even violent, means of handling trade disputes. The money involved is vast and is used to corrupt our politicians and police, purchase weapons for disputes and fund terrorist activity...Prohibition's primary argument, protecting our children, fails as well. Black markets mean trade takes place wherever it's most convenient or covert — no one sells alcohol on school campuses, yet illicit drugs are regularly made available there. "

Regarding your point on the crime in the southwest, a 2015 article from Time Magazine actually confirmed what many people thought, that "U.S. Legalization of Marijuana Has Hit Cartels' Cross-Border Trade".  On a more practical and experienced note, we don't get ANY of the shitty Mexican 'mota' because it's not preferred by users here and doesn't make economic sense to move all the way up to New England.

Second, what message are we sending to our children if we legalize marijuana? It will become acceptable just as cigarettes and alcohol have become acceptable. The U.S. has serious issues with both substances. Do we really need to add a third? Cancer, emphysema, liver damage, DUI, DUI fatalities and serious injuries, nicotine addiction, alcohol addiction, etc. Do we really want to say to our children, “Mommy and Daddy smoke. It’s OK for you when you get older”? I think not.

He makes a ton of good points, so I direct people to Ben Simpson's well-reasoned commentary piece published on VT Digger in April 2015, where he says, amongst other things:

vtd
"The data from states that have medical marijuana regulatory regimes do not show usage rates increase among youth. In a January 2015 Technical Report, the American Academy of Pediatrics made clear that the “data have shown that state-specific legalization of medical marijuana has not led to an increase in recreational use of marijuana by adolescents.” The preliminary data from states that have legalized and regulated the entire marijuana market also do not show an increase among young people.
If the prohibitionists were logically consistent, they would be advocating for the prohibition of alcohol, as well as marijuana. They are not.
 
There is some evidence that young people’s perception of risk from the use of marijuana decline because of regulatory policies. But, just like other (more harmful) legal drugs, this perception can be changed by persistent and effective public communication by health authorities, schools and the government. The campaign against cigarette use among youth is an example of this. Taxes collected from legalized sales can be directed towards similar efforts with marijuana (and even better, alcohol). We know that these public messaging campaigns work; the campaign against cigarettes shows that. We also know that criminalization does not; decades of prohibition demonstrate that."
guide for parents website

I'll add that yes, there will be a brief window of time when it will be awkward for parents to explain the normalization of cannabis to kids.  They'll grow up having known something was illegal, but that it is no longer seen as a drug fiend's indulgence.  Therefore the best way to support parents, is to create meaningful and effective public education campaigns that explain that no, marijuana is not harmless, and there are side effects, and that youth are more prone to the negative impacts.  Better funded, and more accurate drug education is a positive outcome for everyone.

Third, marijuana is harmless. Really? Smoke inhalation is good for your lungs? I guess the surgeon general has been lying to all of us for decades. We will all pay the health care costs of the increased lung ailments that will occur if marijuana is legalized.
The money spent on marijuana by mothers and fathers is coming from someplace. Every dollar spent on marijuana is money that is not spent on food, clothes and shelter for children. How about just the time spent smoking the marijuana and the depressed state that comes after smoking marijuana? Will our children not lose precious time with their parents? Our children will suffer. They already suffer enough from tobacco and alcohol. Again, do we really need to add a third?

I'd also agree that inhaling combusted smoke will never be as healthy as not smoking.  I could make the point that legalization will allow for less harmful ways to intake (if people want to feel THC effects without smoking), but I won't do that here.  I'll just say that it's still less dangerous than tobacco smoke, and that keeping the prohibition laws won't make anyone healthier, while better public education about cannabis and other substances (including e-cigarettes and tobacco vaporizers) might.

damaged lungs

The other 'points' are absurd.  Legalization will drive down the price of cannabis for those parents that are consuming (but maybe shouldn't be spending their money on any personal substances, including tobacco and alcohol), but being able to purchase cannabis legally won't make 'bad' parents worse, or turn 'good' parents 'bad'.

Fourth, the tax revenue is not worth the huge bureaucracy that will necessarily be created in state government to institute and maintain state-run marijuana dispensaries. Also, does anyone really believe that Vermont will not continue to have a black market which will undercut the state-run stores?
maine bablo

Dispensaries don't have to be state run, but there will need to be extra capacity for enforcement and regulation.  In Vermont, people are already thinking carefully, and looking to other states' examples about how to most efficiently handle this issue

(Representative Tom Stevens, D-Waterbury) Stevens has a bill sitting in front of the House Government Operations Committee, H.252, that would create an Agency of Controlled Substances. The proposed law would put the Vermont State Lottery and the Department of Liquor Control under one agency and take jurisdiction over medical marijuana, which is currently regulated by the Department of Public Safety.
Stevens said the “controlled substances” model would be useful if the Legislature legalizes recreational marijuana next year. In that case, he said the state could maintain control of marijuana or create a three-tiered licensing model, similar to how non-control states started handling alcohol after Prohibition.
Lastly, the fairly simple odor detection of illegal marijuana has long been an important law enforcement tool. Searches of motor vehicles based on the odor of marijuana on Vermont’s highways have turned up some fairly substantial heroin and crack cocaine arrests. Yes, many people who smuggle and use heroin and crack cocaine also smoke marijuana. If marijuana is legalized then the odor of marijuana will suddenly mean nothing to law enforcement and it will no longer be available as a search mechanism, and many heroin and crack smugglers will move up and down our highway system undetected.

The court said in its 2011 ruling that it would be legally inconsistent to allow police to make warrantless searches after they smell burning marijuana when citizens had decided through a statewide referendum question that law enforcement should “focus their attention elsewhere.’’ (Boston Globe)

This is ridiculous on so many levels...if anyone else thinks that the odor of decriminalized marijuana is justification for pulling people over, there's already precedent stating otherwise. (Here's an even better recent article from an attorney in Worcester, MA that explains the legal angles with cops smelling pot from cars.)