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Kevin A. Sabet, Ph.D.: Rand Paul Gets It Wrong, Sonia Sotomayor Gets It Right on Pot


During last week’s Republican presidential debate, several candidates commented on marijuana use and drug policy. And recently, Obama-appointed Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor also commented on legalization.

The GOP Candidates rightly expressed concern about the impact of arresting and imprisoning people solely for having or using small amounts of marijuana. Incarceration is not the solution for such cases, and often aggravates addictions. In fact, Senator Rand Paul’s praise of drug courts and alternative approaches to law enforcement should be welcomed. SAM will soon be releasing a report card detailing the candidates’ positions.

But the decision of Senator Paul to hold up Colorado’s model of marijuana legalization as a solution is cause for concern. Colorado certainly is a model-but of failure, not success.

But one major leader did get it right — Justice Sonia Sotomayor. In a discussion at Amherst College, she told students:

“I don’t care what kind of thing you become passionate about, just not legalizing marijuana.”

But Senator Paul doesn’t appear to be listening. Stopping the incarceration of marijuana users and eliminating racial and income-driven disparities in the treatment of drug offenders does not mean we must legalize another addictive and dangerous drug alongside alcohol and tobacco, as Colorado has done.

The Colorado “experiment” has already had an alarming impact on Coloradans’ public safety and health. A recent report outlines legalization’s impacts on that state since 2014, when retail marijuana businesses began operating, including:

Traffic deaths: A 32 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths in just one year

Marijuana use by children: Colorado youth usage (ages 12 to 17) ranks 56 percent higher than the national average

Hospitalizations: A 38 percent increase in the number of marijuana-related hospitalizations

More drug trafficking: The yearly average interdiction seizures of Colorado marijuana increased another 34 percent

As such, marijuana use-and drug use in general-does not, as Senator Paul suggested, only impact the user. Just ask any family that has struggled with a loved one facing addiction.

The creation of another addictive industry in America-another Big Tobacco-is not the solution to imprisonment and racial/economic disparities in our country. The alcohol and tobacco industries have long looked at minorities and low-income individuals as profit centers, and the marijuana industry will be no different.

Reforming our criminal laws is important. But that does not mean legalization.

Presidential candidates should be more careful about conflating the two-and should advocate responsible solutions to incarceration and racial injustice. Coloradans are already realizing this: last month, poll results showed that popularity for marijuana legalization amongst Coloradans is losing support amid concerns of use by children, traffic problems, and the proliferation of edible marijuana.


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