Monday, January 7, 2013
Marijuana use is too risky a choice By David Frum, CNN Contributor updated 1:54 PM EST, Mon January 7, 2013 Editor's note: David Frum, a CNN contributor, is a contributing editor at Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is the author of eight books, including a new novel, "Patriots," and his post-election e-book, "Why Romney Lost." Frum was a special assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2002. (CNN) -- Last week, I joined the board of a new organization to oppose marijuana legalization: Smart Approaches to Marijuana. The group is headed by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy and includes Kevin Sabet, a veteran of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Obama. The new group rejects the "war on drugs" model. It agrees that we don't want to lock people up for casual marijuana use -- or even stigmatize them with an arrest record. But what we do want to do is send a clear message: Marijuana use is a bad choice. There are many excellent reasons to avoid marijuana. Marijuana use damages brain development in young people. Heavy users become socially isolated and perform worse in school and at work. Marijuana smoke harms the lungs. A growing body of evidence suggests that marijuana can trigger psychotic symptoms that otherwise would have remained latent. It's possible to imagine a marijuana rule that tries to respond precisely to such risk factors as happen to be known by the current state of science. Such a rule might say: "You shouldn't use marijuana until you are over 25, or after your brain has ceased to develop, whichever comes first. You shouldn't use marijuana if you are predisposed to certain mental illnesses (most of which we can't yet diagnose in advance). Be aware that about one-sixth of users will become chronically dependent on marijuana, and as a result will suffer a serious degradation of life outcomes. As yet, we have no sure idea at what dosage marijuana will impair your ability to drive safely, or how long the impairment will last. Be as careful as you can, within the limits of our present knowledge!" Yet as a parent of three, two exiting adolescence and one entering, I've found that the argument that makes the biggest impression is: "Marijuana is illegal. Stay away." I think many other parents have found the same thing. When we write social rules, we always need to consider: Who are we writing rules for? Some people can cope with complexity. Others need clarity. Some people will snap back from an early mistake. Others will never recover. At a time when our youth need more help than ever to climb the ladder, marijuana legalization kicks them back down the ladder. The goal of public policy should not be to punish vulnerable kids for making life-wrecking mistakes. The goal of public policy should be to protect (to the extent we can) the vulnerable from making life-wrecking mistakes in the first place. There's a trade-off, yes, and it takes the form of denying less vulnerable people easy access to a pleasure they believe they can safely use. But they are likely deluding themselves about how well they are managing their drug use. And even if they are not deluded -- if they really are so capable and effective -- then surely they can see that society has already been massively re-engineered for their benefit already. Surely, enough is enough? Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.