Commerce Trumps Age Limits

January 30, 2012—A review of alcohol and drug use surveys in states where voters may legalize marijuana this November shows young people’s alcohol use is about double their marijuana use.  Why?  Alcohol is legal, widely distributed, and widely sold.  Marijuana is not.  Worse, the number of young people who initiate use at age 14 or younger is two to three times greater for alcohol than marijuana.  The National Survey on Drug Use and Health finds that children who begin using marijuana at such young ages are six times more likely to become addicted to marijuana than those who start in their 20s.

Most of the proposed legalization initiatives are designed to regulate marijuana like alcohol.  But data clearly show an age limit will not prevent underage marijuana use any more that the drinking age prevents underage alcohol use.  Most initiatives charge legislators with developing regulations to govern the production and sale of legalized marijuana.  It will be up to them to find ways to prevent a commercial marijuana industry from targeting children and adolescents as customers, like the alcohol industry does.  National Families in Action (NFIA) has proposed 12 provisions to achieve this goal.  Most are designed to force producers, distributors, and retail stores to self-regulate by imposing industry-wide penalties if any one of them gives or sells marijuana to young people.

Proponents insist that legalization will make it harder for kids to get pot.  Those who understand economics say otherwise.  RAND, for example, estimates that if California legalizes marijuana its price will fall by 80 percent and use will double.  RAND estimates that if marijuana were regulated like alcohol, California would have 8,000 marijuana retail outlets—four times the number of Starbuck’s in the state.

Legalization initiatives are working their way to the 2012 ballots in California, Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Oregon, and Washington.  Citizens who care about children should insist that state legislators include NFIA’s provisions in any regulations they write to govern legal pot.  Nine months remain to carry this message to legislators.


  • By Andrew, January 31, 2012 @ 5:10 am

    I think that it is disingenuous to have an automatic repeal limit of 5% usage for minors 12-20 since that low level has not existed for 35+ years.

  • By Ajax the Great, February 2, 2012 @ 8:16 pm

    According to the 2011 Monitoring the Future survey, cannabis is now MORE popular than cigarettes among teenagers despite the fact that cannabis is illegal and tobacco is legal for adults over 18. That is probably one of the biggest holes in the theory that legalization would inevitably increase adolescent cannabis use by a significant amount. Even if it did, it would be nowhere near as scary as the fearmongers like to claim. While it is not completely harmless (few things are), the weight of scientific evidence suggests that, by just about any objective measure, cannabis is safer than alcohol, tobacco, Tylenol, aspirin, and most prescription drugs, and it is less addictive than coffee. Thus, there is really no valid reason why cannabis should not be legalized for adults over 18.

  • By National Families in Action, February 3, 2012 @ 3:34 pm

    To Ajax the Great

    You say, “The weight of scientific evidence suggests that, by just about any objective measure, cannabis is safer than alcohol, tobacco, Tylenol, aspirin, and most prescription drugs, and it is less addictive than coffee.” Please site your evidence for this statement. The weight of scientific evidence — in a review published in Lancet — of the literature over the past 10 years — suggests that your statement is myth rather than fact. The Lancet study is summarized on our Health page.

  • By Dan Riffle, MPP, February 9, 2012 @ 9:54 pm

    To NFIA:

    I will cite evidence. Here’s a study, published in The Lancet and more recently than the one in your Health section, that ranks drugs according to the harm to the user and society at large. As you can see, it considers marijuana to be far safer than alcohol, tobacco, and many other drugs.

    As an aside, I appreciate what your organization is trying to, and I agree with most all of your policy objectives. Marijuana should be legal, but it should not be advertised and sales should be very strictly regulated. Thank you for your work.

  • By National Families in Action, February 10, 2012 @ 10:00 pm

    To Dan Riffle, MPP:

    It is true that Lancet published the study you refer to later (Drug Harms in the UK: a Multicriteria Decision Analysis,” November 2010) than the study we summarize on our Health page (“Adverse Effects of Non-Medical Cannabis Use,” October 2009). However, you cannot compare findings from the two studies because they are entirely different. “Drug Harms” is an analysis of opinions compiled by experts. “Adverse Effects” is a review of studies published over a 10-year period that found various kinds of adverse effects from marijuana use.

    We appreciate your aside and trust that you will place all of our policy objectives in any marijuana legalization ballot measures or legislation you and your organization sponsor or promote.

  • By Dan Riffle, MPP, February 13, 2012 @ 4:12 pm

    I see. I’m not sure what you mean by “you cannot compare findings from the two studies because they are entirely different.” What would be the point of comparing two studies if they were the same? The reason I cited Drug Harms is that it speaks to the point raised by Ajax – that marijuana is comparatively less harmful than alcohol, tobacco, and many other drugs. The study you reference says that marijuana is harmful – a finding I, you, Ajax, and everyone else already knows – but it does not compare those harms to alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs to see which is more harmful. That was the question raised by Ajax. The answer, according to people even you acknowledge as “experts,” is that marijuana is dramatically less harmful.

    Of course marijuana is harmful. That’s why it should be regulated so that we can control when, where, how and to whom it is sold. Under prohibition, we have absolutely no control, and have ceded control of that market to Mexican cartels, gangs, and drug dealers. In other words, we’ve given control to people who have no problems selling to children and addicts, doing so in dangerous open-air drug markets, and using those profits (artificially inflated by prohibition) to fund other criminal activities like kidnapping, extortion, and bribery. As a former prosecuting attorney, that is not an acceptable public policy position for me.

    Ideally people just wouldn’t use marijuana, just as ideally people wouldn’t use alcohol. Unfortunately, they do and they will, which is why prohibition of marijuana is a failure, just as prohibition of alcohol was a failure.

  • By National Families in Action, February 15, 2012 @ 10:56 pm

    Replying to the message Dan Riffle’s submitted February 13:

    Opinions are just that –opinions. Scientific truth comes from studies that employ rigorous scientific methods designed to eliminate opinions on the part of both researchers and study subjects. The double blind cross-over study is the gold standard. Here’s an example of how that works. Let’s say a researcher has developed a new drug that she hopes will cure lung cancer. She recruits lung cancer patients to voluntarily participate in a trial to test whether her new drug works. Someone not connected to the research randomly assigns the patients to a control group or an experimental group. Those in the experimental group get the new drug; those in the control group get a standard medication used to treat lung cancer. The pills look the same. No one can tell who is getting the experimental drug and who is getting the standard medication, not ever the researcher. Halfway through the study the medications are switched: the experimental group now gets the standard medication and the control group gets the experimental drug. Throughout the study, the researcher is keeping careful notes about the progress each patient is making. At the end of the study, the code is broken and the researcher now knows who got which drug and when. If the patients in each group got better while taking the new drug but didn’t get better while taking the standard drug, the researcher has solid objective evidence to prove that her new drug works. That objective evidence is called data, and it is presented in the article the researcher writes to tell colleagues about her new drug. She submits her article to a scientific journal (like BMJ) in the hope that the journal will publish it. Each journal has a peer review committee made up of scientists who work in similar fields and can determine whether the study’s methods were rigorous enough to merit publication.

    The article in Lancet that we summarize on our Health page is not a study in and of itself. Instead, the authors reviewed scientific studies that had been published in the peer-reviewed literature for the past decade. You cannot use opinions to refute the findings the authors report from the scientific studies they reviewed. Opinions, from a scientific point of view, have no validity. Some experts are of the opinion that global warming is occurring. Others opine that global warming is a myth. Who is right?

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