How To Cut Danger Of Teen Drinking? Legalize Pot, Australian Expert Says

An Australian sociologist has come up with a novel way to cut down on dangerous teenage drinking: legalizing marijuana.
By @katierucke |
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    (Photo/Michael Scalet via Flickr)

    (Photo/Michael Scalet via Flickr)

    An Australian sociologist and expert on drugs and alcohol has come up with a novel way to cut down on dangerous teenage drinking — legalizing marijuana.

    Robin Room, director of the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research in Melbourne, told the Australian news organization the Herald Sun that in an ideal world, teenagers would not smoke marijuana or drink excess amounts of alcohol. But since teenagers are going to use mind-altering substances, safer alternatives to alcohol and tobacco should be available to the public.

    “I think we need to have the discussion and it makes a lot of sense in terms of, among others, cutting down government costs to have a fairly highly controlled legal (cannabis) market and, while we are at it, tighten up the legal market of alcohol in the same way we tightened up the market of tobacco.”

    Since Room is the head of the country’s largest alcohol research group, he acknowledges that many people would probably be surprised about his pro-legalization stance on marijuana. But he insisted that the statistics back him up.

    Although “cannabis is not without harm,” Room says marijuana causes “substantially less” social harm than alcohol and tobacco.

    Just like in the U.S., each state in Australia has different laws when it comes to marijuana use and possession, with some states decriminalizing small quantities of the drug. Those who are found to be in possession are issued warnings or sent to drug education programs instead of prison.

    Among those in jail in Australia, more than 60 percent of men and 49 percent of women admit they have used marijuana in the six months before they were put behind bars. Among incarcerated juveniles, 94 percent said they had used marijuana, with 84 percent saying they had used it in the last six months. Many of the juveniles — about 75 percent — said that they were under the influence of marijuana when they were arrested.

    Despite the fact that many government and law enforcement officials say marijuana is a dangerous, highly addictive drug, many legalization advocates in the U.S. say adults should be free to use marijuana much like they use alcohol — with friends at a dinner party, in a romantic setting or when going to a concert.

    That’s largely how advocates in Washington and Colorado marketed their plan to legalize recreational use of marijuana. And it worked — both states voted to legalize marijuana last November and are now working to implement the new laws.

    Marijuana advocacy groups such as Safer Choice often point out on their websites that according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 37,000 deaths every year are caused by alcohol alone.

    The CDC does not track deaths from marijuana, but if it did, the number would likely be zero as marijuana is one of the least toxic drugs available.

    Alcohol, on the other hand, is one of the most toxic drugs. Robert Gable, a professor emeritus of psychology at Claremont Graduate University, speculated in a piece in the American Scientist that despite the fact that 75 percent of Americans consume alcohol, its high toxicity level and addiction potential would likely keep it from being legalized if it was introduced today.

    Talking to the Herald Sun, Room cited a study in which teens were given either a mixture of alcohol and marijuana or just alcohol. He said researchers found that those who were given just alcohol became more dangerous because the substance has a “closer association with aggression and violence, loss of coordination, and impacts on work and family life.”

    In a February 2013 interview with Mint Press News, Thomas Gallagher, a defense attorney and legalization advocate in Minneapolis, said the relationship between marijuana and violence or criminal acts has been misconstrued. If marijuana was legal, teenagers would be less likely to become violent or get in any sort of trouble after using marijuana than if they had consumed alcohol, he said.

    Gallagher said he has never had an assault case involving marijuana, but that alcohol is involved in 99 percent of domestic abuse cases.

    “It’s a derivative argument,” he said. “What makes drugs violent is the criminal laws that create the black market and underground economy. Gangs are created to protect money.”

    In addition to not promoting violence and being less toxic than alcohol, marijuana advocates say the drug results in fewer health-related costs, does not damage the brain, is not linked to cancer, does not increase the risk of injury, and is not as addictive.

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    • Nils Laersen

      Good news indeed.