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On November 6th, voters in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon will weigh in on whether marijuana should be legalized. 17 states currently allow marijuana for medical purposes, but initiatives in these three states make recreational use legal as well. The proposed laws directly contradict federal law which classifies marijuana as a controlled substance along with heroin and LSD. A recent Rasmussen poll suggests that more than 50% of Americans favor legalizing and regulating marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco. Please join us to discuss the debate debate over legalizing marijuana.
- Allen St. Pierre Executive director, NORML.
- Mark de Bernardo Executive director, Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace.
- Jonathan Martin Reporter, The Seattle Times.
- John Ingold Reporter, The Denver Post.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The effort to legalize marijuana may gain traction next month. Three states have initiatives on the November ballot asking voters whether they approve of making marijuana legal for recreational use. Joining me to talk about the ballot initiatives in Oregon, Washington and Colorado, and their national implications, Allen St. Pierre of NORML and Mark de Bernardo of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace.
MS. DIANE REHMI invite you to be part of the conversation. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to both of you. Thanks for being here.
MR. ALLEN ST. PIERREGood morning, Diane.
MR. MARK DE BERNARDOGood morning, Diane.
REHMGood to have you both here. Allen, start by explaining for us what's on the ballot in each of these states.
PIERREAll three seek to legalize marijuana, but there are differences. Oregon is the most idealistically written of the laws. It includes almost everything under the sun, including hemp and medical marijuana legalization. It doesn't have restrictions on the amount of cannabis people can possess or the amount of cannabis they could potentially grow. And it also came late to the dance and doesn't have sufficient funding, from my point of view.
PIERREHowever, Washington and Colorado are very well-funded. They have distinctions regarding how much so many can possess regarding the amount of dried marijuana. In both cases, it's an ounce to an ounce and a half of dried marijuana, which is approximately the equivalent of two packs of cigarettes' worth of tobacco. And in the state of Colorado, you can grow six marijuana plants. In Washington, there is no home cultivation.
REHMLet me understand the one ounce or two packs of cigarette equivalent. Does that mean at any one time? That means if an officer stops because -- stops you because your car is wiggling or doing something funny, that if you are found with more than one ounce at that one time, you're in trouble?
PIERREYes. You will be arrested and face a misdemeanor in the -- all states. So you have to have below a threshold.
REHMWhat if somebody -- for some reason, the police are called to your house and you are found to have seven plants?
PIERREYou will be in violation of the law.
REHMOK. Allen St. Pierre, who's executive director of NORML, tell us what NORML stands for.
PIERREWell, the IRS tells us it stands for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
REHMOK. Mark de Bernardo, what do you think of these initiatives? Why is it not a good idea for these initiatives to be on the ballots?
BERNARDOWell, these are radical steps that are unprecedented. What we've had in the United States before is efforts towards decriminalization or for permissible so-called medical marijuana, very much subject to abuse and exploitation and really a canard in many respects because way more than 90 percent of the people who are getting "medical marijuana" are not the types of people that were anticipated or promoted by the advocates of medical marijuana laws.
BERNARDOThere's less than 3 percent are either -- have AIDS or glaucoma or cancer. And more than 90 percent of the applications for medical marijuana say general pain. You know, I'm suffering from pain. I want it. In California, the average medical marijuana user is a 32-year-old white male with a history of substance abuse. So, in these cases, we're not talking about medical marijuana as -- put medical marijuana in quotation marks because I do think that's a canard.
BERNARDOAnd we're not talking about decriminalization, but we're talking about the commercialization of marijuana, you know, the selling, growing, dispensation, distribution and use and possession of marijuana. And these are draconian ideas that are really contrary to what we should have in this country in terms of policy. The bottom line on these initiatives in Oregon, Washington, Colorado is there would be more marijuana use. How can that possibly be a good thing?
REHMMark de Bernardo, he's executive director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace. I do invite you to be part of the program. Call us on 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. Allen St. Pierre, Mark talks about the commercialization of marijuana in a way that has never been done before. How do you react?
PIERREWell, he is correct that no state has ever legalized marijuana for non-medical use. However, we now have seven states that have regulated, taxed medical cannabis despite Mark's concerns about it, Colorado being the best example. State of Colorado taxes and has regulations for how to grow it, how to distribute it. They have RFID tags, radio frequency ID tags, that monitor it from the point it's grown to the point it's consumed, so, in some ways, it's controlled much more than alcohol, tobacco and current pharmaceutical drug are.
REHMWhat do you make of Mark's argument that many of the people using so-called medical marijuana are neither AIDS patients nor sick people or individuals who have need of a medical treatment through marijuana, that they tend to be young men?
PIERREI share his concern that some people have gamed the system, most notably in our largest state, California, which was the first state to do this in 1996. It has no disease types and doesn't indicate how the marijuana should be distributed. Every state and the District of Columbia since then -- 17 states -- have now passed medical marijuana law reforms. The laws are much more restrictive.
PIERREAnd here in the District of Columbia, they were literally past calling -- being called anti-California medical marijuana laws. So I do appreciate Mark's concerns, but I think those have been checked by the legislatures and the people over the last 15 years.
REHMWhat about that, Mark?
BERNARDOThey certainly have not been checked. You know, we have great abuses and exploitation. You know, they have these laws passed. It is 17 states, but it's not 17 states that are across-the-board medical marijuana broad use as in California and Arizona. In some cases, there are pilot projects. It's limited aid. It's very limited use. And it's really -- those who are advocating legalization of marijuana have done a great disservice to our country because what they have done is a sheep in wolf's -- a wolf in sheep's clothing.
BERNARDOThey've gone out there with something, saying that this is -- essentially implying that this is harmless. Marijuana is a dangerous drug. Dope is not dope. The marijuana of today, it's an agribusiness success story. It's much stronger. It's much more addictive. It's much more dangerous drug than the drug that many people might have known in the '60s and '70s. And so this drug is stronger, is subject to abuse, and it is being abused. We've seen it near the dispensaries in California. There was a study.
BERNARDOThe federal government has closed down 600 dispensaries, right, 600, and, you know, that's an important point, which, no matter what the states do -- there's still the Controlled Substances Act -- it's still illegal under federal law. So what we're going to have is, you know, you say, well, gee, I can do this, I can do this, I can do this. But you can't because the federal law is still going to be enforced and is enforced.
BERNARDOAnd this idea -- Allen mentions the tax revenue. Well, if you just look at one aspect of it, which is the cost to state and federal government for rehabilitation and treatment, it's nine times what the tax revenue would be under optimum circumstances.
REHMOK. You've raised a lot of issues. I want to go back to the polls and what the polls are telling us about how attitudes about legalization of marijuana have shifted in the past few years. Allen.
PIERREWell, they have. And that's what's really important here is the fact that when NORML was founded in 1970, 9 percent of the public supported legalization according to Gallup. Today, it's over 50 percent in the United States. In many states, it's well in the 55 to 60 percentile, including the states that are in play right now.
REHMAnd how do you account for that shift?
PIERREFive very basic reasons: the coming of the baby boomers in the society sort of running our country, if you will, having definitely different attitudes about marijuana than, say, my grandparents representing the World War II generation, the crushing recession we're living through, the fact that the Internet allows people to have this one-to-one communication and that parents today are not against marijuana legalization like they were in the 1970s.
PIERREParents today want marijuana legalized to stop all of the inconsistencies regarding alcohol and tobacco laws that just make raising children today even harder than it already is.
REHMGive me a response to one thing you said, which is that the devastating economic news has had an impact on people's attitude about marijuana.
PIERREWell, I worked at NORML for 22 years, and back in the 1990s, getting legislators to take seriously of the economic waste of trying to enforce the prohibition, the amount of taxes that could come in from licensing and regulation and excise taxing, it's now clear that through five years of recession, this is, as a legislator told me down in Alabama, a luxury we can no longer afford.
REHMWhat do you make of that, Mark?
BERNARDOYou know, the -- on the economic issue?
BERNARDOIt's a huge issue. You know, according to a report from the HHS, Department of Health and Human Services, the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace represents the employer community. So let me talk about that aspect. The number one issue in this election, the number one issue facing our country is the economy, right? And according to a report from the HHS, those who engage in illicit drug use are one-third less productive. So there's no question that legalization of marijuana would increase the use of marijuana.
REHMAt the same time, don't you have an awful lot of law enforcement focused on the use of marijuana and prisons filled with people who are using marijuana?
BERNARDOYou know, sure. A lot of people in prison use marijuana. But those people who are in prison because of marijuana is less than 2 percent. This idea that people are rotting away in jail cells because of marijuana use simply is not the case.
REHMMark de Bernardo, he is executive director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace. Allen St. Pierre is executive director of NORML.
REHMAnd we're talking in this hour about marijuana, the three ballot initiatives in this year's election in Washington, Colorado and Oregon. And on the line with us now is Jonathan Martin. He is a reporter with The Seattle Times. He joins us from Leavenworth, Wash. Good morning to you.
MR. JONATHAN MARTINGood morning, Diane.
REHMJonathan, you say the test case for how the federal government will respond could very well be Washington. Tell us how the initiative seems to be faring among likely voters there.
MARTINIt's faring amazingly well, actually. I wrote a story recently that I really couldn't find much organized opposition to this. And on the other side, the initiative campaign has now raised $5.5 million and has its third round of broadcast ads up. And most interesting with this campaign is that their strategy was to go out and get well-known blue chip endorsements from law enforcement, from cultural groups and from health care, and they've succeeded amazingly well. Their list of supporters is certainly more impressive and longer than the people that have opposed it.
REHMAnd this would be legalization for recreational purposes, and I gather that there are some advocates who do not support the initiative because of the standard it imposes on drivers. Tell us about that.
MARTINYeah, that's correct. The initiative writers decided to write as cautious -- as conservative of approach as possible to do something as radical as legalizing marijuana, so they added in a driving under the influence under -- for marijuana impairment provision into the proposal. That was based in part under the experience in California.
MARTINThey felt like the research after the fact in California showed that people would've been more comfortable if there had been a DUI provision. This sets a firm level, a per se level for impairment. The problem is that the science of impairment for marijuana THC is evolving, and it's very difficult to set the equivalent of a 0.08 blood alcohol level for marijuana impairment.
REHMAnd isn't it true that marijuana stays in the system longer?
MARTINIt -- portions of the -- different compounds of THC do stay in. I think anybody who's taken a drug test will remember that marijuana can stay in your system for 30 days or more. That is a different compound that is being measured under this DUI provision, that this only measures active THC content.
REHMHuh, I see. So in terms of estimates, how many people in the state would likely use marijuana if it became legal, and what kind of tax revenue could it potentially generate?
MARTINWell, Washington is certainly one of the left coast states and very -- historically very tolerant on drugs. And like in its drugs, the estimates by the state fiscal analysis team came up with an estimate of about 10 percent usage. And of that 10 percent, about 3 percent use it quite heavily. That means that we would consume about 187,000 pounds of pot in one year in Washington state and...
REHMThat's an awful lot of marijuana.
MARTINYes, it is.
REHMAnd is there an equivalence to the amount of liquor that individuals consume now?
MARTINWell, the liquor model has changed quite a bit. The -- in fact, the initiative kind of draws on a former state liquor monopoly model that was licensed by the state. You know, that is -- it is a ton of marijuana, and that's why the tax revenue figures have been really pretty eye-popping, too. This initiative imposes a 25 percent excise tax at three different links in the distribution chain -- grower to processor to retailer -- and that would estimate to raise $560 million a year.
REHMLet me get that straight, $560 million from a 25 percent excise tax on the sale of marijuana. And are there any limits to the amount that an individual can have at any one time either in the home, in a car, or on one's person?
MARTINYes. The limit is pretty small. It's about an ounce of dried marijuana and then some related amounts for food and cannabis into food and drink.
REHMSo you're going to have to have an awful lot of people with single ounces on their person, aren't you?
MARTINYes. The idea was -- the initiative writers' idea was that you have only small level of transactions if you set that -- if you set the sales limit at a pound or two pounds, then you could quickly have a situation under their thinking that people could come in from out of state and legally buy these pounds. This way, it's a very tightly controlled. As you said before, this is about the most conservative possible way to do something radical like this.
REHMOK. One last question for you, Jonathan. You mentioned that you've got some law enforcement people endorsing this initiative. Tell me the reasoning behind their endorsement.
MARTINYeah. The law enforcement -- there's been several federal law enforcement officials, including two former U.S. attorneys for Western Washington, FBI agent, most recently the King County sheriff. This is the sheriff of the county that surrounds Seattle. It's the largest county in state, by far. And they have slightly different reasonings, but, in general, their sentiment is the drug war has simply failed. It does not make fiscal sense. It does not make social policy sense. It's doing -- and it's doing much more harm than good, and it's time for a different approach.
REHMJonathan Martin, he's a reporter with The Seattle Times. Thanks for joining us, Jonathan.
MARTINThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd turning to you now, Mark de Bernardo, the drug war has failed is from the mouth and the minds of some law enforcement people. How do you feel about that?
BERNARDOSome people -- but let me say the -- all of the major associations of law enforcement and, you know, for every law enforcement official that you can say is in favor of legalization or is sympathetic to legalization, there's 1,000 that are against it. And all of the major organizations representing sheriffs and representing law enforcement are against this.
BERNARDOSo DEA, they sent a letter -- all nine DEA administrators signed a letter to the president and to the attorney general urging the administration to come out against this. So to say that law enforcement in any way, shape or form is in favor of this, not the case.
REHMNow, tell me what would happen if you had states passing these initiatives, which are anti-federal laws. What would happen then?
BERNARDOWell, there'd be a conflict. The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution says that federal law takes priority over state law on issues of taxing and spending. And, obviously, there'd be interstate trafficking of this. There's no question there's a federal preemption issue here. The Controlled Substances Act says that marijuana is dangerous. You know, the federal government, time and time again, Food and Drug Administration says that there is no medicinal purpose for marijuana.
BERNARDOSmoked marijuana has no value. And there are alternatives, Marisol and others -- alternatives. So, you know, this whole idea that somehow we need marijuana and marijuana is appropriate -- and I'm going to say, Diane, this notion that we have lost or are losing the war on drugs, I reject that notion. Compared to where we were when Allen started first working on this issue, we're in terrible shape.
BERNARDOIn the late '60s, early '70s, the amount -- percentage usage and the people that were using drugs in America at end was so much worse. And so, particularly among young people, we've seen great decreases over decades, steady decreases in the number of people. Attitude's better. HHS funds a survey through the University of Michigan every year. For 30 years, the attitudes were getting better.
BERNARDOFor 30 years, drug use, marijuana use by youth's going down. And this started to change when they started to be successful, the advocates on medical marijuana, because they somehow branded this as a medical issue and a harmless drug.
REHMAllen, what about this war on drugs from NORML's perspective?
PIERREWell, it's pretty clear that it has failed. I mean, the fact that children today can access marijuana more readily, Mark, than they can controlled substances, like alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals, should alarm any parent today. I think we could ask the good people of Mexico, how is the drug war going?
PIERREAnd, lastly, we live in a free market society where people need to be responsible. In my lifetime in the U.S., tobacco use has been cut in half despite the fact that it is deadly and dangerous and addictive. And yet, through education and progressive taxation, we've reduced smoking by half in this country.
REHMBut now, on the federal level, couldn't the federal government impose some rule-making or withhold money for federal highways from the state of Washington or Oregon?
PIERREMm hmm. Yes, this is clearly a federal conflict. When the citizens of California, in 1996, started this whole mishegas, they started this whole problem with the federal government. We lost twice in the Supreme Court, 2002 and 2005, on the issue of medical marijuana. But I ask rhetorically, what did we lose? In 2005, there were 300 medical marijuana dispensaries in the United States.
PIERREToday, there are 5,500 of them, seven of them in states that are taxed and regulated. So it's a fait accompli. One of our states are going to vote for -- or there are -- legislators will pass legalization initiatives. And this is clearly a rocket ride to the Supreme Court.
REHMSo you believe it's going to end up at the Supreme Court.
PIERRESupreme Court is going to take another bite at this apple for sure.
BERNARDOYeah. Every time the Supreme Court's dealt with the issue of drug testing, they've ruled in favor of drug testing with one small elected official exception. And, in fact, when you have a balancing test between the societal needs of drug abuse prevention and the ills of drug abuse, including marijuana use and public safety, vis-à-vis, you know, the intrusion into the lives of people who, gee, I want to smoke dope, you know, what's so wrong about this?
BERNARDOYou know, Allen mentioned that tobacco, hey, we've cut it. The irony of this that young people get the message today that cigarette smoking is bad for you. Well, tar and nicotine, there's more in marijuana. And it's more carcinogenic, and it's more dangerous. Five marijuana joints are equal to a pack of cigarettes.
REHMWhat about that, Allen?
PIERRENo. There are 18,000 studies on marijuana. We've studied it more than the atom. Research indicates that it's an apples and orange comparison to marijuana and tobacco. Now, having said that, if you choose to be foolish enough to take smoke into your body, the real question is, Mark, is it a criminal offense? Is it a demonstration of moral turpitude, or is it a bad health decision?
REHMAllen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, Mark de Bernardo, executive director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We have many callers, but before we get to those, we're joined now by John Ingold. He is a reporter with The Denver Post. He joins us from Denver, Colo. Good morning, John.
MR. JOHN INGOLDGood morning, Diane. Thanks for having me on.
REHMAnd thanks for joining us. What are the initiatives prospects in Denver according to the most recent polls?
INGOLDWell, they are -- I'd say they're about 50-50 at this point. We did a poll that came out just over the weekend, and we found it was 48 percent support. That puts it in the lead. The opposition had 43 percent support, but that's down a little bit from a previous poll that we had done that put the measure at 51 percent support. The University of Denver has also done a poll where they found it at about an even 50 percent.
INGOLDAnd it's right there kind of on the cusp.
REHMAnd how does that support divide between older and younger people, men and women?
INGOLDWell, so there's actually kind of an interesting demographic breakdown in this. We found pretty consistently that young people, as you would expect, support it. So voters under 35 are supportive of the amendment by about 20 percentage points. And then older voters, also by, you know, 20 to maybe even 30 percentage points, are opposed to it. In the middle is where it's a little bit different.
INGOLDVoters 50 to 65 have generally been in favor of it. They were in favor of it in this most recent poll. They were in favor of it in a previous poll. And it's those voters who are sort of, I guess, parent age, you know, parents with children at home, the 35- to 50-year-old voters who have kind of sort of wavered back and forth. In our most recent poll, we found that they are opposed.
REHMSo how organized are people on either side of this issue?
INGOLDIt's -- they're pretty robustly organized. There's been a lot of outside interest, as you would expect. There's a lot of national assistance in terms of funding and even organizational efforts, both on the pro side and on the opposition side. The pro campaign has raised and spent over $1 million so far. The opposition is lagging behind. They've spent about maybe $250,000. They've raised about $350,000.
INGOLDBut the opposition has rounded up a pretty impressive list of endorsements. The governor of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, is opposed. The mayor of Denver is opposed. Just yesterday, a whole slew of business leaders, the, you know, Chamber of Commerce types, announced their opposition, law enforcement groups, the local doctors' associations. It's a pretty hefty list who have lined up opposed.
REHMSo you've got a good number of people for, a good number of people against. What about the revenues that are predicted if marijuana is legalized for recreational use?
INGOLDWell, that's a bit of a wild card in this. The measure does a few things. It allows people to possess up to an ounce, and it allows people to grow up to six plants in their own home. So, obviously, that really wouldn't produce any revenue for the state. It also allows for legal marijuana storefronts, but it also allows for local communities to ban those businesses. So how many of those actually are able to open and how many communities decide to ban them will all play into the revenue picture.
INGOLDAnd then there's also -- obviously, these businesses would pay sales tax if they were open. But there's also a proposal that there would be an excise tax placed on marijuana. The problem with that is, in Colorado, we need to vote on our tax increases, and you can't kind of lump an excise tax issue in with this marijuana issue. They have to be two separate issues.
REHMAll right. And we'll have to leave it at that. John Ingold, a reporter with The Denver Post, on the line with us from Colorado. Thanks for joining us, John. And short break, right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Time to go to the phones, first, to Cleveland, Ohio. Vecky, (sp?) you're on the air.
VECKYHi, Diane. Thank you so much for taking my call this morning.
VECKYI feel honored just to speak with you.
REHMWell, it's good to have you with us, sir. Go right ahead.
VECKYI just hope that the -- from a federal level, they decide to decriminalize marijuana because it just seems to me that we have entered the area that is similar to Prohibition in a way. And marijuana is a lot easier to hide than a bottle of liquor, and you're not ever going to be able to stop human beings living in the United States of America from smoking marijuana.
REHMWhat do you think, Mark?
BERNARDOWell, we were. We had great success. You know, earlier there was a mention on the war on drugs. We were winning the war on drugs. And let me speak on behalf of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace. Certainly employers are winning on the war on drugs because drug use in the workplace was going way down. But attitudes in the United States and rates of usage in the United States on illicit drug use were going way down over decades, and we were winning this war.
BERNARDOAnd what reversed this war was the last three, four years, this canard that, you know, this is a medicine, and it's appropriate. FDA says it has no medical purposes.
REHMAll right. Let me give you the perspective of a former public defender in Baltimore. He says, "I've seen hundreds of marijuana cases up close. I know what affects marijuana laws have on real people, good people who we wouldn't ordinarily think of as criminals. Many of them are young. Recently, penalties for possessing small quantities in Maryland have been relaxed. That's a good thing. But the real problem is the collateral consequences associated with being arrested and convicted, no matter how small the penalty." Allen.
BERNARDOAlmost no one is in jail because of a first offense on marijuana. And, in fact, the fact that it's -- that is illegal today in America, as it should be...
BERNARDO...is a deterrent to many people. There are many people who don't engage in marijuana use...
PIERREMark, the difficulty is...
BERNARDO...because it's illegal.
PIERRE...it's not a deterrent. Eight hundred and fifty thousand people per year get arrested. Every 38 seconds, somebody gets arrested, 90 percent for possession only. So it is a huge drag on the criminal justice system up and down.
REHMLet me finish...
BERNARDOIt is a deterrent because it didn't...
REHMExcuse me. Excuse me. Let me finish reading this. "Having a conviction for possessing marijuana on your record can get you fired. It can prevent you from getting into college or borrowing money for college. And it can prevent you from getting a good job or a security clearance in the future." Do you disagree with that email?
BERNARDOCan? Yeah, it's possible, but, as a practical matter, that's not what occurs with one exception. Yeah, getting security clearances, I think that's entirely appropriate.
PIERRENo, you are denied. Mark, in the United States, millions of students are denied access to student loans because of a single drug conviction, including for a minor marijuana conviction.
REHMAll right. To Little Rock, Ark. Good morning, Aaron.
AARONYes. Hey, Diane, thanks for having me on the show.
AARONOK. I'm in Arkansas, and we have an initiative on the ballot this year that is, you know, seeking to legalize medical marijuana. So I've been, you know, trying to learn more about this along the way. I am what would be considered a traditional kind of evangelical voter. But the more I've learned about this stuff, the more I'm leaning towards voting for it to pass. So I've been listening to economists who say, you know, legalizing marijuana is a good idea financially.
AARONI've read police who say it's a waste of time to have it illegal. So I'm -- I've got kind of two questions. First, for your guest who is so passionately against medical marijuana, what is his best single argument against passing a law like this? And then, secondly -- I'm a person who works with teenagers -- so do we have any information about the change in marijuana use among teenagers in states where it has become legal to use it medically?
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Mark, the best single argument.
BERNARDOIt's a safety issue. You know, in New Zealand, there was a study of regular pot users 9.5 times more likely to be involved in a car accident. Montana, you had medical marijuana law, great spike in fatal accidents, 43 percent of them -- the people tested positive for THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. This is a safety issue, a compromise to safety in the workplace.
BERNARDOThose who engage in illicit drug use -- I'll just mention this quickly -- 3.6 times more likely to be involved in a workplace accident that injures themselves or another person. Safety issue.
REHMAll right. And, Allen, what about teen use?
PIERRETeen use has been studied both by the State of California and, as Mark mentioned, these surveys that are taken and funded by the federal government. And what they have found is there is not an increase in marijuana use by teenagers or that they develop lax attitudes about it just because the state has medical marijuana laws.
REHMAaron, I hope that answers it. Here's an email from a parent who says she is outraged at the statement that NORML made that parents support the legalization of marijuana. Addiction should never be promoted. "I support marijuana remaining illegal. Why are we having legislative reforms proposed to legalize something that causes the individuals using it nothing but trouble?" Talk about the addiction question.
PIERREWell, it's thankfully not addictive. There are about 30 to 40 million Americans who currently use marijuana. Over 25 million -- 100 million Americans have used marijuana since 1965. It is not a gateway drug to hard drugs like...
REHMBut you've heard Robert DuPont on this program...
REHM...talking about marijuana as a gateway drug.
PIERREYes. And yet his own research indicates for every 102 people who try marijuana, one goes on to try heroine or cocaine. So thankfully there is no stepping stone effect. And regarding its effect, well, just simply, it is not nearly, as Mark has portrayed, a dangerous drug. Again, the DEA's own chief administrative law judge in NORML vs. DEA said it has an LD50 rating, meaning you could never have a lethal overdose and that it is the safest therapeutic substance known to man. That doesn't sound like an indictment against the herb.
REHMAll right. To Livonia, Mich. Good morning, Peter.
PETERGood morning, Diane. I love your show.
PETERI have a statement for your guests for the...
REHMSure. Go right ahead.
PETER...that is adamantly against, you know, the legalization of marijuana.
PETERAnd I broke my neck in 1999.
PETERAnd he made a statement that, you know, the majority of people that are getting their medical marijuana certifications or their licenses are, you know, using it for pain and not for cancer and glaucoma. And, for me, I happened to be allergic to opiates, and marijuana, for me, allows me to sleep at night without pain. And if marijuana is the only thing that can relieve that pain and give me relief, why should I not be able to use it?
BERNARDOBecause it has, according to the FDA, no medicinal purpose to smoke marijuana. THC in the Marisol in a tablet form, which is not addictive and which doesn't give the high, has the same impact that you could get from that, could be prescribed and regulated.
REHMPeter. Have you tried that, Peter?
PETERNo, I have not tried the Marinol. But what I've heard of the Marinol is it's a synthetic compound. And if I can grow that myself, why would I, you know, put the burden on my insurance company or put the burden on my pocketbook, you know, when I can provide myself of my own relief, of my own medication?
PIERREWell, indeed, he certainly can cut out all the middle men by just growing his own cannabis. And he's right, Marinol is 100 percent THC. It doesn't have the other cannabinol -- cannabinoids, known as cannabidiol, and other things. So I usually make the analogy between a vitamin C tablet and a grapefruit. We can all take a vitamin C tablet, but it's best that we take the fruit.
REHMAll right. To Matthew in South Bend, Ind. Good morning to you.
MATTHEWGood morning, Diane.
MATTHEWSpeaking on Marinol, I would like to bring into this discussion big lobbyists. Big tobacco, big alcohol, big pharmaceuticals, big oil, they are fighting on all fronts to keep cannabis illegal.
REHMDo you agree with that?
PIERREWell, there are five entities that really fight to keep marijuana illegal today. Mark's mentioned one of them, law enforcement to be sure. The bureaucracies that were born of the prohibition, like the drugs czar's office, the DEA, alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceutical companies and private prison, drug rehab centers, those make up the core group against marijuana today.
REHMWhat about parents?
REHMWhat about parents?
PIERREAs I mentioned earlier, back in the 1970s, there was a group called Parents' Resource for Information and Drug Education, and it kicked NORML's butt all over the place because NORML didn't respect the concerns of women and children. And, today, we do. The NORML has -- the largest component of NORML is the NORML Women's Alliance. And I can assure you, today, women do not want prohibition.
BERNARDOWell, the employer community is against it. The medical community is against it. The scientific community is against it. It's not just law enforcement and people who stand to gain by this. I think that what you have -- the irony of this is you have three billionaires who are funding -- there's earlier mentioned of these efforts being well-funded. There are three billionaires who are pouring money into this legalization.
BERNARDOGeorge Soros is the leader. And Allen should thank George. And every day, when he says his prayers, he should thank George Soros because he's the...
REHMWhy does George Soros get involved in this?
PIERREWell, George Soros is probably the most philanthropic person on Earth, gives most of his money outside the United States. And, frankly, we don't receive a dime on it in NORML. But he, Peter Lewis, and a gentleman named John Sperling, who is the CEO of the Phoenix University System, they have been the key funders since 1996. And they want it because, as baby boomers, they don't support the drug war, and they're putting their philanthropy into it. And they're not being matched at all by other philanthropists who are opposed to it.
BERNARDOYeah. But, you know, see, this is a misconception that this -- somehow, this is a grassroots effort. That's why it's so funded. It's not. It's three billionaires pouring money into it.
REHMWhere are you getting your money for NORML?
PIERRENORML gets most -- all of its money from its members who buy products and just become members and go to our conferences. We don't receive...
PIERRET-shirts, the little marijuana lapel pin, which we've had fun with here in the studio here today.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's go to Birmingham, Ala. Good morning, Joseph.
JOSEPHGood morning, Ms. Rehm.
JOSEPHI'm -- first, I want to tell you, thank you for taking my call, and I really enjoy your show.
JOSEPHI listen to it all the time. I've been around marijuana for 40 years. And the reason it's called -- considered a gateway drug is because it's called a drug. If it were considered a herb, you know, it will just become a gateway herb. People who are around marijuana will tell you -- peer pressure -- while you're doing marijuana, it's OK to do other drugs. But if they say you're doing an herb, then you would do other herbs. And I've been a vegetarian for 30 years.
PIERREWell, I think the larger point in this may well be that people don't begin using marijuana. They begin by using legal and taxed products like alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals. The first illegal drug people use, undoubtedly, is marijuana, but it's not the first drug they use in America.
REHMWhat is the first drug they use?
PIERREIt is usually tobacco, according to the surveys.
REHMMm hmm. All right. To Dave, who's here in Washington, D.C. Good morning. You're on the air.
DAVEHi. Thank you. The gentleman who's strongly anti was just citing a few minutes ago the study from New Zealand. I just want to point out that that's basically like citing that people who smoke cigarettes in the morning have a higher rate of lung cancer. It's simply correlation, not equalization. One is not direct of the other.
PIERREWell, it's exactly the point. And I mentioned earlier, there are 18,000 studies on marijuana. We have studied it to death. It is not harmless. It is not benign. But what it should not be anymore is illegal for another 75 years.
BERNARDOIt's only to say, I don't see -- there is a correlation, 3.6 times more likely. Those who engage in illicit drug use 3.6 times more likely to injure themselves or another person in the workplace, five times more likely to be injured off the worksite in a way that affects attendance or performance (unintelligible). You know, this is an economic issue as well, and the cost to the business community of illicit drug use is huge.
PIERREAnd because NORML, like you, doesn't want to have people harmed in the workplace, let's get away from testing people's urine, which is bizarre and obscene. And let's start having impairment testing, which actually determines whether that employee is impaired at the workplace, not what they did 20 or 30 days ago in the privacy of their home.
BERNARDOAnother misguided idea. Drug testing works. It works effectively. We have safer workplaces. We have -- I want pilots to be drug tested. I want people that are in safety sensitive jobs to be drug tested. I think people in petrochemical industry need to be drug tested. Employers should have their right. It has worked very effectively.
REHMSo, Mark, if any of these initiatives are passed, is the federal government likely to step in to block any further initiatives from appearing anywhere? What do think we're going to...
BERNARDOOh, absolutely. I think if they start -- if one of these passes or any of these passes, you're going to see a lot of litigation. And I certainly hope there would be litigation because I would hope that what -- a judge would keep this from being effective pending the outcome of the resolution of the litigation.
PIERREI expect exactly the same, that there's going to be litigation. When the pass is prolonged, reformers will win. We won in medical marijuana, and we'll probably win again on legalization. Because, again, in a democracy, when more than 50 percent of people want to change, Mark, that change is happening. It's coming. Nate Silver at The New York Times has a predictive model in place right now that 60 percent of Americans, whether they're liberal or conservative, want marijuana legalized by 2020. So it's a fait accompli. We've been debating this for some years now.
BERNARDOYou know, misleading. You know, the question is under limited circumstances. Typically, you're talking about medical marijuana. There's a lot of misconceptions about medical marijuana.
PIERREOh, I think that there are some misconceptions that some people have. But back to a point that we've raised earlier about why is marijuana now more politically viable than ever, one of the other aspects I would have thrown in was medical marijuana, the fact that you can walk down hundreds of streets, main streets in California and other cities and see next to the dry cleaner, the 7-Eleven, the bank, the medical marijuana dispensary, and it's no big deal.
PIERREIt's just part of what some would describe problematic adult commerce where local mores and values absolutely dictate how and where that commerce will be done.
BERNARDOIt is a big deal because it's people who are drug abusers dispensing drugs to drug abusers. There is no medical personnel there. There's no doctor prescribing drugs. There's no FDA approval. There's no FDA checking.
PIERREThen you're asking for regulation and control, not more prohibition, correct?
PIERRE'Cause in prohibition, we don't get the control.
BERNARDO...the FDA has already said that there's no medicinal purpose for smoked marijuana.
PIERRESo do you care more about the American people's attitude or FDA?
BERNARDOYou know, I don't buy what you say, that the American people's in favor of legalization...
PIERREGallup polling. Gallup polling indicates this.
BERNARDOYeah. We -- the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace has done 21 Gallup polls of employees. Employees are people, too. And at every single one, a minimum of 71 percent said that they favored drug testing, and they're opposed to legalization. And they're in favor of drug-free workplaces. That's one element of it. And I think it's very significant, Allen, when you look at this, legalization -- now, we're talking legalization's unprecedented.
BERNARDOIt would increase marijuana use very significantly in this country. That is not a good thing. The health risk, the safety risk, the use by children, you're not going to -- every time we had medical marijuana, one of the byproducts of that is greater access by youths. You can say, OK, we're only going to sell it to people who have cancer or people who are sick or only adults, but it doesn't happen. Youths have greater access.
REHMLast word, Allen.
PIERREIt's a fait accompli. One of our states are going to vote to legalize marijuana. And the real dysfunction is here in Washington, D.C., where there are seven bills depending -- everything from legalizing marijuana to medical marijuana, but we can't even get a subcommittee hearing. So the people are going to rule on the roost here.
REHMAllen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, Mark de Bernardo, executive director of the Institute for a Drug-Free Workplace, we shall see what happens Nov. 6 and thereafter.
PIERREThank you, Diane.
REHMThanks for being here.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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