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June 12, 2013

NEAL: Token fine for tokin’ doesn’t make sense

“For First Time, Majority in U.S. Supports Public Smoking Ban.” 

That was the headline in July 2011 as cigarette bans swept the country. In 2000, just one major U.S. city banned smoking at work sites, restaurants and bars. As of last year, 60 percent of the 50 largest cities did, including Indianapolis. Last July, Indiana became one of 38 states with smoke-free air laws.

“Majority Now Supports Legalizing Marijuana.” 

That headline appeared this spring amidst growing debate over liberalizing marijuana laws. Although marijuana use is still against federal law, 26 states have moved to legalize medical marijuana, decriminalize recreational marijuana or both. Indiana has been flirting with the idea.

Senate Bill 580 this past session would have made possession of less than two ounces of marijuana a Class C infraction punishable by nothing more than a fine — the same as a traffic ticket. The bill died without a hearing; its author, Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, promised to reintroduce it next year. A WISH-TV/Ball State University Hoosier Survey showed support for decriminalization at 53 percent.

What’s going on here? The Hoosier Survey and poll results from Gallup and Pew Research Center suggest a severe case of schizophrenia when it comes to smoking.

Health advocates have succeeded in their marketing campaign against Big Tobacco but have failed to gain the upper hand in the marijuana debate. This is partly due to misinformation and partly due to misrepresentation by activists.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) is the most vocal group seeking to repeal marijuana restrictions. The group says prominently on its website, “According to the prestigious European medical journal, The Lancet, ‘The smoking of cannabis, even long-term, is not harmful to health.’”

Since The Lancet said those words in 1996, however, it has published numerous studies refuting the conclusion. In 2009, it wrote, “Epidemiological, clinical and laboratory studies have established an association between cannabis use and adverse outcomes ... (including) dependence syndrome, increased risk of motor vehicle crashes, impaired respiratory function, cardiovascular disease, and adverse effects of regular use on adolescent psychosocial development and mental health.”

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