Smokey dare: Maybe it's time to regulate marijuana like cigarettes

Smoke 'em if you got 'em: Craig Johnson, executive director of, a Dallas-based nonprofit and lobbying group, doesn't smoke marijuana himself, he says. He doesn't think your kids should be smoking it either. No drug dealings in the neighborhood; none in the schoolyard either. But he and his group have a thought about how to protect children from the demon weed: legalize, regulate and tax the marijuana market, the way we do tobacco.

OK, so what? Lots of people think the same thing. But not many supporters of regulated marijuana have undertaken the work completed recently by Johnson's 3-year-old group, which has spent the past year or so compiling reams of government and law enforcement data to support a fairly straightforward, reasonable case: Since 1997, when the government started cracking down on cigarette retailers who sell to minors, the percentage of high school students who smoke cigarettes has dropped dramatically, while the percentage of kids who smoke grass has held pretty steady. In fact, in Dallas ISD, the percentage of kids who admitted "current" marijuana use in surveys by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outstripped tobacco smokers around 2000, and today the potheads lead the nicotine fiends by more than 5 percentage points.

The gist of the catchy-titled Tobacco and Marijuana Market Impact Index Volume I: Texas Trends, which is available online, is this: In 1996, 56 percent of Texas retailers who sold tobacco reported they sold to minors. Thanks to stricter enforcement since then, that number has fallen to 11.3 percent. In the meantime, despite thousands of arrests for marijuana possession among youths, the typical price of marijuana has fallen or held steady and kids are still toking away.

"We're more able to efficiently regulate the tobacco market than the marijuana market," Johnson tells Buzz, so why not adapt some of the same regulation to both weeds? Effective regulation beats our current system of ineffective criminalization any day.

Like we said, it's a straightforward, reasonable argument for a change that could have beneficial affects on government budgets, not to mention kids. So, of course, Buzz figures it's all just pissing in the wind (see: health care reform). Johnson, though, is a little more sanguine. Demographics are changing, old people are giving up seats of power and a younger, more reform-minded generation (you know, stoners) is taking the reins.

So there's hope. All we need is for some more old people to die off. Hmm, say, here's a thought. Suppose we create these government-funded death panels...

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Patrick Williams is editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer.
Contact: Patrick Williams