Sen. Ron Johnson's opposition to marijuana legalization came from a 7th grader's question.
WASHINGTON (Talk Media News) – Senate Homeland Security Chairman Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said Wednesday his opposition to marijuana legalization was partly influenced by a 7th grader’s question.
“About two years into my term (2013) I was in front of a group of [several] hundred 7th graders and one of the 7th graders stood up and said: ‘Senator Johnson do you support legalization of marijuana?’ Johnson recalled during a Homeland Security roundtable on America’s Insatiable Demand for Drugs: Examining Alternative Approaches.
Johnson, whose nephew died of a heroin overdose in early 2016, said he was caught off guard by the question as marijuana legalization was not addressed in his 2010 Senate campaign but also said he felt a moral responsibility to publicly oppose what many consider a gateway drug.
“I could have dodged the question,” Johnson said. “But I decided to make a decision at that point in time in front of that audience and said: ‘No; because of the terrible signal it would send to kids your age.’
Ethan Nadelmann, who is executive director of the New York-based nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates decriminalizing drug use, blamed the war on drugs for the rise in addiction and health issues.
“I fundamentally believe that the war on drugs in this country and around the world has been a monumental disaster,” Nadelmann said. “It has been a disaster in public health terms, a disaster in public safety terms, a disaster in fiscal terms and a disaster in human rights terms.”
Nadelmann compared modern drug prohibition to 1920’s alcohol prohibition and said both contributed towards an increase in organized crime and did little to discourage use and/or consumption of those substances.
“Drug prohibition has been a monumental disaster,” Nadelmann said. “When you mention what’s going on in Mexico and places like that and Afghanistan, what’s going on in Colombia, parts of Central America; they are like Al Capone and Chicago times fifty.” “It’s the result of a failed prohibitionist policy.”
Nadelmann said Johnson’s response to the seventh grader’s question about marijuana legalization did not address feasibility. Johnson said had he been present when Johnson’s responded to the student, he would have casted doubt over the efficacy of marijuana prohibition.
“I don’t see any evidence that marijuana laws have prevented young people from getting it or any evidence they are preventing older people from getting it,” Nadelmann said. “All I see is evidence that it’s putting a lot of people in jail and costing the government a lot of money. Do you still support a marijuana prohibition policy knowing it’s been totally ineffective?”
However, recent studies show that some states that have decriminalized marijuana saw an increase in fatal drugged driving incidents.
When marijuana became available in 2014 at retail stores in Colorado, 94 people died in crashes where a driver tested positive for marijuana, according to the third-annual marijuana legalization impact study released last year by the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a federal agency that monitors drug activity in Colorado, Montana, Utah and Wyoming. It’s an increase from 71 reported in 2013, 78 in 2012 and 66 in 2011, according to the federal agency.
In 2014 Washington State also decriminalized marijuana and automobile fatalities subsequently doubled between from the previous year, according to research conducted by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety using the most recent data available.
In Washington State, where at least one driver tested positive for active THC, police reported 40 fatalities in 2010, compared to 85 in 2014, according to AAA. But not all drivers were tested for THC or did not have available blood test results, which means the THC-related fatalities could be much higher, AAA noted.