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Thumbs down: U.S.'s pot policy muddled at best

Feb. 08, 2014 @ 12:00 AM

With Colorado's experiment on legal recreation marijuana sales underway and similar moves likely in Washington and Alaska, the federal government's position on pot seems to be a little "dazed and confused."

While President Barack Obama has given some signs of support to the legalization efforts, officials with the top federal agencies dealing with drugs are on a very different page.

Testifying before Congress this week, the deputy director of Office of National Drug Control Policy said his office continues to oppose attempts to legalize marijuana and other drugs. Meanwhile, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration's director of operations has called legalization "reckless and irresponsible."

The differing views with the administration and Congress, in many ways, reflect the changing views of the nation as a whole. The Gallup Poll this fall showed for the first time that a majority of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, at about 58 percent. But there are deep divides, with younger age groups supporting change while older age groups still oppose it, and much uncertainty about what more widespread marijuana use would mean to the health and well-being of the country. At best, marijuana is described as "no more dangerous than alcohol," but look at all the problems the nation has with drinking and smoking tobacco.

"I'm talking about the long-term impact of legalization in the United States. It scares us," James Capra of the DEA told a Senate panel. "The treatment people are afraid, the education people are afraid. Law enforcement is worried what is going to happen."

All the more reason Washington needs to take a cautious approach, maintain reasonable enforcement efforts and monitor what happens in states with more permissive laws.

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