Smoking pot is safer than drinking alcohol… Period.

Former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper discusses the highly acclaimed new book, “Marijuana Is Safer: So why are we driving people to drink?”, to which he contributed the foreword.

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An interview with the author:

(Source Denver Post 11.01.09) Medical marijuana dispensaries are popping up across Denver as an average of 400 people each day apply for permits to legally smoke pot. With state lawmakers talking about approving further regulations on the mushrooming industry, Denver Post Editorial Page Editor Dan Haley sat down last week with Mason Tvert, the state’s leading advocate for the legalization of marijuana.

Tvert is executive director of Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), a group that has passed two pro-pot measures in Denver since 2006. He also is a co-author, along with Steve Fox and Paul Armentano, of “Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Do We Drive People to Drink?“.

Dan Haley: How did the legalization of pot become your mission in life?

Mason Tvert: My senior year in high school, I went to a country music festival and drank to the point where I nearly died. I woke up and was handed a bill and told, “Hey, you crazy kid, get on out of here.” No police officer was there saying, “Who served you enough beer to kill you?” (Yet) as a freshman in college, I was scrutinized by a multi-jurisdictional drug task force for allegedly using marijuana — not even allegedly selling it. We’re making alcohol use more acceptable when it’s more harmful.

DH: Last week, the Obama administration said it won’t prosecute medical marijuana cases in states where the practice is legal, leaving it up to states and municipalities to regulate its use. How should Colorado handle it?

MT: Colorado already has a system of regulations in place. We have limited the amount (of marijuana) they can possess. We’ve forced them to get a license and update their licenses every year. Just like with alcohol, if localities have “community standards” on where they allow businesses to operate … they can say we’ll only have medical marijuana dispensaries on these streets. But are they restricting access for people who are guaranteed under the state constitution the use of this medicine? In Greeley, they’ve banned dispensaries outright. If you live in Greeley . . . where do you go?

DH: Why shouldn’t government regulate medical marijuana much like it regulates alcohol and pharmaceuticals?

MT: They should. All marijuana being grown for medical purposes, if they’re following state law, is being grown in Colorado by a licensed caregiver. Every person is registering with the state of Colorado — that’s regulation. Every patient is getting a license.

We don’t even require people who use Oxycontin on a daily basis to get a license with the state. These are people whose kids could get that Oxycontin and die.

Opponents will say so many young men are using medical marijuana. That’s not a negative consequence of medical marijuana. That’s an aspect of it. Do they care how many young men are being prescribed narcotics for pain issues? Colorado is one of a handful of states where prescription drugs outweigh traffic accidents as the No. 1 cause of accidental deaths. Why isn’t [Attorney General] John Suthers concerned about that?

DH: Do you really think everyone who has a medical marijuana permit actually has a chronic illness or debilitating disease?

MT: They do according to a licensed physician. When voters approved this, they said if a licensed physician believes that marijuana will improve your quality of life in dealing with one of these conditions, you are entitled to use it, and he’s entitled to recommend it to you. In every circumstance I’m aware of, a physician has recommended it.

DH: But isn’t there a chance that some doctors believe in legalizing marijuana and are just using this law as an end-run toward legalization?

MT: There are doctors who believe in marijuana being legal because they’re aware of the physical effects of it and the science surrounding it. Whether they perceive this as an end-around, I disagree. They don’t have a vested interest in legalizing it because in theory, if you have doctors specializing in medical marijuana recommendations, those only exist when it’s medical. There are these news stories that sensationalize that X percent [of permits] are written by these five doctors. If a doctor says “I don’t want to” [give you medical marijuana], where do you go? To a physician that you know agrees that this could be beneficial to you. So it’s not that strange.

DH: Why is public sentiment shifting toward legalization?

MT: People are becoming more aware that marijuana is far safer than alcohol and poses very little if any serious consequences for our society and those who use it.

DH: You mean it has nothing to do with pot-smoking baby boomers coming of age and having children and changing social norms?

MT: There’s been more public discussion of late than ever before. There’s more medical research into marijuana than any other substance in the world. We know the effect it has on the lungs and we know the effect it has on the brain. The only area where there’s still some uncertainty is the effect it has on a young person’s developing brain. There’s no conclusive evidence that it could be harmful. It could be, but we do know it doesn’t have long-term effects on the adult brain or lungs.

DH: It doesn’t seem like a good idea to inhale anything into your lungs, so why not put marijuana into a pill form or a brownie?

MT: Anytime you consume marijuana orally or as an edible, you don’t know when it’s going to take effect. If you smoke it, it’s immediately in your blood stream. You can tell how much you’ve had, whether you need more or if you’ve done too much. If you eat it, it takes hours to feel the effects and at that point it might be too much.

The future is vaporization. You basically heat marijuana to the point where it releases the chemicals and you inhale vapors. It never combusts so there’s no smoke. There’s never been a documented case of a marijuana- only smoker acquiring lung cancer as a result. Never. Not one.

DH: With the growing number of dispensaries, do you worry about people getting low-quality marijuana?

MT: We have PBR [Pabst Blue Ribbon] drinkers and scotch drinkers.

DH: Yeah, but people choose that.

MT: Just like with alcohol, there’s beer, there’s wine, there’s spirits, there’s different types of beer from low quality to high quality. With marijuana, there’s all sorts of different varieties.

DH: Do people in dispensaries know what they’re doing?

MT: They want to help out the people who are coming there. One way to do that is self regulation and quality control. These people are doing their own research. They ask patients, “How did this make you feel? Did this help your condition? Did this help with nausea?” They document this so when someone new comes in, they can give them something that has worked for someone else.

DH: Do you have a medical marijuana permit?

MT: I am not a medical marijuana patient. [But] I don’t think I should have to have a doctor’s recommendation to saddle up to a bar to get a beer. I don’t think as an adult I should have to have a recommendation to use marijuana.

If I can legally purchase a case of beer, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to use a less harmful substance to relax and recreate.

DH: What do your parents think of your job?

MT: They’re incredibly supportive. My mother, much like many parents, would rather I used marijuana as a college student than binge drink. My parents had my grade school DARE essay about the dangers of drug use framed for me after legalizing marijuana in Denver.

DH: Are Denver cops following that law, which makes marijuana use a low priority arrest?

MT: Yes and no. We did see a drop in marijuana citations in 2008, but the fact is one is too many. The people of this city have made it abundantly clear adults should not face penalties for using a substance that’s safer than alcohol.

DH: What would you tell your own kid about marijuana use?

MT: I will say you’re not allowed to have sex yet, you’re not allowed to drink yet or to sign contracts. You are my child and I’m being honest, this is not a substance you should be using. It could harm development of your brain. It could result in you doing worse in school should you start abusing it. But I will also say this substance is safer than alcohol and if you drink too much, it will kill you. You can’t go wrong with the facts, and that’s not what’s going on right now.

DH: Would legalization help the economy?

MT: Absolutely. Alcohol is a $131 billion industry and marijuana is projected at $113 billion, which I think is conservative. Just like with alcohol, we would need people to produce the raw product, we would need truck drivers to drive it from one place to another. There are so many jobs. I’m starting to get calls from all of these lobbyist sharks. They’re seeing it’s a business.

DH: Are you going to run for office?

MT: Who knows? We’ll see.

DH: Do you drink?

MT: Absolutely. I drink recreationally. For the most part, small amounts at a time. People think we’re against alcohol because we talk about the dangers of it.

DH: Do you smoke pot often?

MT: “Often”? You jumped to “often” instead of “do I smoke at all”? I think it’s ridiculous that I’m allowed to consume alcohol and unable to use a far safer substance. That’s all I’ll say about it.

DH: We’ll just assume you do it anyway … .

MT: A lot of people think I don’t. I never talk about it. I’m not one to stand in front of the Capitol smoking joints and think I’m doing something for the cause.

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