Bust the Kids, Pass the Bong

Drug legalization lobbies once spoke honorable, scholarly truths: alcohol and tobacco are America's most abused drugs; marijuana is not unduly perilous for adults and teens; criminalizing drugs does more damage than drugs do.

But no more. Pot legalizers now gush save-the-children demagogueries loonier than Nancy Reagan's.

In Nevada, for example, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is offering to sacrifice kids so that adult potheads can hit the bong with impunity. MPP is behind a November ballot initiative that would allow Nevadans 21 and older to score, stash and smoke up to three lids each while requiring the state's Legislature to "provide or maintain" criminal "penalties for . . . the possession or use of marijuana by persons who have not attained the age of 21 years."

MPP's initiative could have softened these barbarisms, but no: they plan ads trumpeting how their measure "protects children"—with handcuffs.

The ultimate lunacy is that youths aren't the drug problem in Nevada or here at home. Of Orange County's 200 drug-related deaths in 2000, 175 (88 percent) were over age 30; just five (less than a quarter of 1 percent) were under 21. Today's young people handle drugs better because they abstain altogether or stick to milder stuff, like beer or marijuana. Teenage pot smoking creates few risks, but policing it does: teens comprised half the county's 6,000 simple marijuana-possession arrests in 2000, creating legal, school and job sanctions. Prediction: these troubling realities won't be raised by anyone in Nevada's upcoming campaign histrionics.

Nevada's initiative underscores today's callous hypocrisy: the more American adults expand and abuse "adult rights," the more viciously we banish and punish youths to keep them from acting like adults. Do Nevada and American grown-ups deserve another party drug when they insist on imprisoning youths for the normal adolescent task of learning to use it?

Mike Males, a UC Irvine social ecology Ph.D., teaches sociology at UC Santa Cruz.
 
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