Exaggerated representations of the harms of cannabis for nearly a century continue to distort the public’s perceptions to this day. They led to a “war on drugs” with harsh penalties in the 1970’s. Those penalties led to high levels of incarceration, especially for people of color, and many other harms. Making cannabis illegal for so many decades has been entirely counterproductive. This has at last been recognized by our state with its recent legalization of this drug following approval by an overwhelming majority in the state referendum.
In order for legalization to be effective, it is necessary to provide sale of the drug under controlled conditions and to prevent its purchase by minors. However the objections to such sales which have been raised in our town are based on a poor rationale.
Cannabis is now legal. In the referendum, an even larger majority in Princeton voted for legalization than in the state as a whole. It is neither reasonable nor effective for the minority who opposed that to try to put up barriers to sales. Such barriers would not prevent use by minors—they would merely benefit the continuation of illegal sales.
The reality is that Princeton’s children can readily buy illegal cannabis at school at present. That cannabis is totally unregulated and may contain harmful additives. Prohibiting dispensaries in the town for adults will not facilitate students’ access to the drug. Instead, the presence of legal dispensaries will reduce the prevalence of illegal supplies in town and so actually decrease illegal use by minors.
Concern has been raised about the distance between cannabis dispensaries and our schools. Increasing the distance from school to dispensary is a distraction which will have no effect on sales to minors. The way to prevent sales to minors is to enforce the ID requirement at dispensaries, which has been done in other states and will be here too. No dispenser will risk his/her license for a few sales to minors. The procedure is well established for alcohol sales. There will of course be attempts by some minors to circumvent this regulation and these, like other attempts to break laws, will need to be deterred. But a draconian prohibition of dispensaries is not the way to proceed. That would instead have the highly undesirable and counterproductive effect of leading many users back to illegal and unregulated sources. It certainly won’t prevent kids from gaining access.
Adults who wish to use cannabis for medical and recreational use will benefit hugely from a controlled and regulated source and deserve this after all these decades of prohibition.
We learned in the 20th century the hard lesson that prohibition does not work.