Editorials in U-T San Diego can be really funny, and few have been funnier than one published on Feb. 19 about marijuana. It was a petulant little screed riffing off of President Obama's comment in a recent interview with The New Yorker about how marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol.
We believe Obama was making a loose comparison and pointing out the nonsensical differences in U.S. policies on alcohol and pot. To the U-T editorial board's mind, Obama was saying that marijuana is exactly like alcohol.
Some "80,000 Americans die every year from alcohol-related causes, making it the third leading preventable cause of death," the editorial lectured. "Alcohol costs the U.S. economy $224 billion each year, mostly from lost productivity and health care expenses. Alcohol abuse, afflicting 17 million Americans, can cause several types of cancer and do major damage to the brain, heart, liver and pancreas. And neighborhoods everywhere fret about crime when a liquor store opens nearby."
So, apparently, this is what the U-T thinks we can expect after the San Diego City Council approves its rules governing medicinal-marijuana dispensaries, scheduled to happen this past Tuesday as CityBeat was going to press. Or something precisely as bad—because everyone knows that marijuana is exactly as bad as alcohol. The president himself said it, and the U-T always takes what he says as gospel.
If you squint at that editorial just the right way, it really looks like the U-T is arguing for a return to Prohibition. That worked out super-duper well, right?
Oh, the U-T—it really is struggling mightily against the current of shifting public opinion. Another editorial, back on Feb. 6, ran itself in circles as it argued against a proposed initiative cosponsored by retiring San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne that would change drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor in order to free up money— that would otherwise pay for prison stays—for drug and mental-health treatment and crime-prevention programs in schools.
The editorial says that lowering penalties "would likely" mean more crime, because drug fiends would need more money to pay higher drug prices, which would increase because demand "might" increase, presumably because people will want to take ad vantage of vacation opportunities in county jails.
But then the editorial suggests that not very many people are being sent to prison for simple drug possession anyway, because the state is reducing the prison population amid a court order. So, wait—if not very many people are being sent to prison, why are all these drug fiends suddenly going to be committing all these new and bigger and more heinous crimes? Wasn't it because jail is way better than prison? We're confused!
The U-T won't—it just can't!—hop aboard the Sensible Drug Policy Express.
Lansdowne supports the proposed initiative because he understands that treatment-and-prevention is a far better course than incarceration; by and large, people come out of prison far worse than they go in—which leads to more (very costly) incarceration. The one intriguing argument against the initiative is that it might undermine Prop. 36, which diverts drug offenders into treatment. But there's evidence that the threat of prison isn't an effective way to compel someone into meaningful and lasting treatment; people do treatment when they're ready to do treatment.
The best way to reduce drug use is to stabilize families, invest in communities and fight poverty. Guess what the U-T's position is on raising the minimum wage.
As for legalizing a few medicinal-marijuana dispensaries, it's a small step in the right direction, and kudos to the folks in the medicinal-marijuana community who understood that a small step forward is better than the big step backward that was taken in San Diego a few years ago.
No, a few dispensaries located in industrial zones far outside of communities won't get the job done. But the idea is that once it's shown that they can work for their intended purpose, they'll gain more public acceptance and timid City Council members will loosen the reins.
Of course, probably by then, pot will be legal for recreational use in California, just as it is in Washington and Colorado. Those dispensaries who keep their noses clean might be positioned well for the new era.
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