Aussie expert: Legalize marijuana to protect teens from binge drinking

By Stephen C. Webster
Wednesday, July 10, 2013 9:44 EDT
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Professor Robin Room, director of the Centre for Alcohol Policy Research. Photo: Screenshot via The Herald Sun.
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The director of Australia’s alcohol policy research body said Tuesday that he believes marijuana should be legalized and tightly controlled by the government in order to reduce binge drinking, which he said has a much stronger association with violence than any other drug of abuse, particularly among teens.

Robin Room told The Herald Sun on Tuesday that it “makes sense to legalize marijuana in a controlled market.”

Room is director of Australia’s Centre for Alcohol Policy Research, and earlier this week he presented a bunch of new ideas on how to curb binge drinking across the country.

Some of his proposals to attack alcoholism are stout enough to make drinkers blush, and range from raising the legal drinking age, limiting sales to certain hours, creating a government monopoly to control all sales, lowering blood-alcohol limits for drivers, limiting the number of liquor stores in a given area, and even crafting tax policies that make cheap wine all but impossible to find.

But when he was speaking to The Herald Sun this week, he also threw his support to legalizing marijuana, saying it would particularly affect teens who are most prone to injury from binge drinking. “We are in a situation where we need to look ahead,” he reportedly said. “I think we need to have the discussion and it makes a lot of sense in terms of, among others, cutting down government costs to have a fairly highly controlled legal (cannabis) market and, while we are at it, tighten up the legal market of alcohol in the same way we tightened up the market of tobacco.”

He went on to recommend that the government create a monopoly for marijuana sales as well, saying the drug should not be available in supermarkets and must not be advertised at all. “Cannabis is not without harm but it’s substantially less than alcohol and tobacco in terms of social harm,” Room reportedly added.

While his position may be alarming to some, there is significant evidence that suggests Room knows what he’s talking about. It’s well known that alcohol is the most harmful drug to society overall due to its widespread consumption, and the health journal Lancet in 2010 ranked the approximate harm of booze above even heroin and crack-cocaine. By comparison, Lancet ranked marijuana the 8th most harmful substance, below tobacco and clinical amphetamine.

Additionally, a study by researchers at Yale published last August in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that young people who eventually experiment with a wide range of dangerous substances typically begin with alcohol and tobacco rather than marijuana, but alcohol by far is the gateway drug of choice. Those findings were in line with another study published a month earlier in The Journal of School Health, which suggested that policy-makers could achieve the greatest measurable harm reduction effects by adjusting regulatory and educational efforts to focus on alcohol instead of marijuana.

Such a policy change would also have other positive effects for teens, namely reducing the potential for legal stigma due to an arrest for marijuana, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said last June is now more popular among youths than cigarettes.

This video is from The Herald Sun, published Wednesday, July 10, 2013.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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