Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Activist says legalize all drugs, not just medical marijuana

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Peter Christ wants to legalize drugs. “Heroin, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, LSD” — all of them. They are so dangerous to people and to our society that “they must be regulated and controlled,” he says, conveniently leaving any specifics to others (doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, almost anyone but a retired police officer, which is what he is).

And Jonathan Leavitt, director of the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative, wants Christ’s message (Peter Christ’s message, that is — his last name rhymes with “wrist”) to sway Maine lawmakers into relaxing Maine’s medical-marijuana laws in this legislative session, by passing a bill (LD 1418) sponsored by state senator Ethan Strimling (D-Portland).

But Leavitt may have the wrong guy, and Christ may have the wrong message.

Christ is vice-president (pun unintended) of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of former cops, prosecutors, and judges who say drugs should be made legal, controlled, taxed, and regulated by the government, much like tobacco and alcohol. Then, Christ says, society needs to address the social problem of drug addiction seriously, the way it has with tobacco use — cutting consumption significantly by teaching people what’s actually wrong with a legal product.

Christ is, in fact, opposed to Leavitt’s immediate goal. “If they succeed at what they’re doing,” he says, “then we don’t succeed,” because if lawmakers — and citizens generally — agree that drugs should be banned except for small, narrowly defined reasons (such as medical needs), there’ll be no impetus for wider legalization.

Christ does admit that Leavitt’s effort gets him access to newspaper offices and Rotary clubs. And he says that if LEAP wins its crusade for legalization — and control — of all drugs, then Leavitt’s group will also get what it wants. Leavitt believes slow, incremental change has a better long-term success rate in the political realm.

Much of Christ’s bluster is about his real push: to reform media coverage of society in general (and drugs in particular), because he says that is a necessary precursor to legalization of drugs.

Christ wants newspapers to stop writing about “drug-related” violence — saying that suggests a drug-induced high caused the incident — and instead call it “drug-business-related” violence, reflecting that the participants are usually having a dispute over money, or selling territory, or quality of the product.

“Part of the problem is the press,” Christ says, also lamenting reporters’ “failure to question” authorities, calling police “for balance” when doing stories about him and his activism, but not calling him “for balance” when doing stories about the latest drug bust, and whether it’s an effective way to reduce the availability of drugs on the street.

Leavitt, meanwhile, has hired some lobbyists — Betsy Sweet and Bob Howe (who represent various healthcare-related organizations in the state, among other clients) — to push his bill, which would allow any medical professional who can write a prescription — any doctor, physician-assistant, nurse-practitioner, optometrist, dentist, or podiatrist — to permit someone to grow or buy small amounts of marijuana for personal medical use. (Leavitt says doctors are too conservative, and the prescribing power needs to be expanded to let people get access to marijuana for medicinal purposes. No state agency has any data on how many people take advantage of the law as it stands now.)

The bill would also create a state registry of people who are so authorized, permit the creation of nonprofit stores where marijuana could be purchased by authorized buyers for medical use, and allow such stores to be located anywhere retail businesses are permitted under local zoning laws. And it would bar state, county, or local police officers from assisting federal agents in investigations of medical-marijuana use. It is slated for a hearing before a legislative committee on April 23 at 2 pm in the Cross Building (part of the State House complex) in Augusta.