Guy Farmer's editorial in the April 9th edition of the Nevada Appeal, "Return of the Potheads," is littered with scare tactics and falsehoods about the Nevada campaign to tax and regulate marijuana that just can't go unanswered. I'm writing to set the record straight.
First, Mr. Farmer falsely claims the initiative will make marijuana available to "children and grandchildren at local convenience stores." Either Mr. Farmer hasn't even bothered to read our initiative, or he's lying to you readers.
The initiative to tax and regulate marijuana in Nevada specifically forbids the sale of marijuana at convenience stores, as well as casinos, liquor stores, bars, and dance clubs. Persons under the age of 21 will be prohibited from even entering a licensed marijuana retailer, and stores may not be located within 500 feet of a school or house of worship. The initiative also doubles the maximum penalty for anyone who gives or sells marijuana to a minor and doubles the maximum penalty for killing someone while under the influence of alcohol, marijuana, or any other substance.
Second, Mr. Farmer calls me an "East Coast pothead." As Ronald Reagan used to say, we should be able to "disagree without being disagreeable." I live in Nevada. I'm a husband, a father, and I do not smoke marijuana. I'm simply proposing we change a failed policy of our current marijuana laws with one that is more practical.
How is our current war on marijuana a failed policy?
Last year, Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimated that the federal government spends about $2.4 billion annually enforcing anti-marijuana laws, which is on top of about $5.3 billion that local and state governments spend each year. And the government is arresting a record number of marijuana users, more than the populations of Las Vegas and Reno combined each year.
But according to the U.S. Justice Department's 2006 National Drug Threat Assessment report, "marijuana availability is high and stable or increasing slightly." In another recent federal government survey, 86 percent of high school seniors said that marijuana was "easy to get." According to the White House, 57.5 percent of Nevada high school seniors have tried marijuana at least once.
It's clear that our marijuana laws aren't working. Anyone who wants to use marijuana can buy marijuana on the streets. The initiative on the ballot in November will take the sale of marijuana out of the hands of violent gangs and criminals and place it into a system of strict control, regulation, and taxation.
Third, in attacking the initiative, Mr. Farmer quotes Congressman Mark Souder's statements regarding the so-called "gateway" theory, as well as a New Zealand study that Souder has been touting on Capitol Hill. What Mr. Farmer isn't telling you is that the study's researchers specifically note that their conclusions can be used to argue for the relaxing of marijuana laws just as easily as for toughening them. The study explains that the criminal market, rather than marijuana itself, may be the actual "gateway" that encourages hard drug use.
Mr. Farmer builds a number of his arguments around this so-called "gateway" theory, which alleges that marijuana somehow leads users toward addiction to hard drugs like cocaine or heroin. In reality, the "gateway" theory is a myth made up by prohibitionists to try and explain why something less dangerous than alcohol is illegal.
I can cite a litany of studies that debunk the "gateway" theory, including the White House-commissioned Institute of Medicine report from 1999. It stated, "There is no evidence that marijuana serves as a stepping stone on the basis of its particular physiological effect ... It does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse."
Further, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health for 2004, between 95 and 100 million Americans have used marijuana. In comparison, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that 5.3 million Americans have used cocaine, while only 2.78 million out of 298 million in all have used heroin. The federal government's own numbers prove that the "gateway" theory just doesn't hold water.
Fourth, Mr. Farmer raises concerns about the cost of regulating and taxing marijuana. What he doesn't tell you is that this initiative will generate millions of new dollars for the State of Nevada, half of which will go into alcohol and drug rehabilitation and the other half into the state's general fund to help address Nevada's most pressing needs.
Fifth, Mr. Farmer's most ridiculous assertion is that marijuana is as dangerous as methamphetamine. Judge the facts for yourself. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy reports 500 methamphetamine deaths per year. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 100,000 deaths each year can be directly attributed to alcohol, and the Center for Substance Abuse Research places tobacco deaths at approximately 450,000 per year. Throughout all of recorded medical history, however, not one person has died of a marijuana overdose.
As Nevadans, we have an important choice to make at the polls in November. Obviously, Mr. Farmer is going to vote to keep marijuana profits in the hands of violent gangs and criminals. I'm going to vote to place the sale of small amounts of marijuana into a tightly controlled market. Our marijuana laws don't work, and it's time to try something new. It's time to tax and regulate marijuana in Nevada.
• Neal Levine, campaign manager for the Committee to Regulate and Control Marijuana, lives in Las Vegas with his wife and son.