Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Kennedy’s Reefer Madness


Back in November 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first political jurisdictions anywhere in the world to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults. These bold statements by the voters of Colorado and Washington have incited unexpected push back, most notably from former Rhode Island Congressman, Patrick Kennedy.

Kennedy seems to fear that the legalization of marijuana will increase the chance that children such as his own, born into families with extensive histories of alcohol and drug addiction, will succumb to drug abuse. He recently formed a group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) to fight against ending marijuana prohibition.

Kennedy, who has struggled with drug misuse in the past, joins the vast majority of parents nationwide who want to protect their children from the potential harms of alcohol and other drugs. Still, his support for continued marijuana prohibition is not only impractical and expensive, but counterproductive to adolescent health and well-being.

Decades of government-commissioned and academic studies overwhelmingly affirm that a decrease in marijuana penalties does not lead to an increase in consumption or affect adolescent attitudes toward drug use (NORML). Moreover, a 2007 Columbia University study found that despite decades of severe drug policies, US teens report finding it easier to buy marijuana than beer. This is largely due to the law restricting alcohol sales to those 21 and over. Since Colorado and Washington have incorporated this same age requirement into their bills, legalization should essentially make it harder for young people to obtain marijuana.

Along with incorrectly fearing that legalization will lead to increased juvenile consumption, Kennedy’s anti-marijuana campaign actually harms children more than marijuana control and regulation. While at least 100 million Americans report having used marijuana, the primary victims of harsh marijuana laws continue to be young people.

By virtue of receiving a criminal record for marijuana possession, many juveniles are unnecessarily barred from benefiting from a host of opportunities and support programs. For instance, states can permanently ban individuals with felony drug convictions from receiving Food Stamps or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This law affects an estimated 135,000 children.

Moreover, those who supervise federally assisted housing have the authority to deny housing to an entire family when any household member uses controlled substances or is convicted of a drug-related crime.

People with drug convictions are also denied federal financial aid for higher education. Alongside these official sanctions are the unofficial consequences of prohibition such as the negative effect that a criminal record can have on an individual’s employment prospects. These collateral consequences are devastating and can permanently hinder a young person’s personal, educational, and professional success.

Prohibition also makes marijuana use more attractive to many juveniles who actively seek the thrill of rebelling against accepted mainstream conventions. In other words, some young people find marijuana use appealing simply because it is illegal.

Anti-marijuana policies consume a fair portion of law enforcement resources while drawing police officers away from investigating crimes that pose a far greater threat, such as assault, robbery, and murder. A substantial amount of tax-payer dollars are necessary to cover the cost of prosecuting and incarcerating marijuana offenders and funding foster care and social services for the children of those offenders.

Alternatively, marijuana legalization allows state governments to redirect some of these resources to promote proven drug prevention, education, and treatment programs that are significantly cheaper and more effective in reducing drug use. In the eyes of children in families with histories of substance abuse, such vociferous support for drug prohibition likely drips with hypocrisy. Such a “do as I say, not as I do” approach isolates the kids and closes the door to open, honest communication. Such candid discussions provide young people with a safe space to gain autonomy over their own life choices and, more importantly, to seek help if needed.

While I applaud Kennedy’s concerns for his children, keeping marijuana illegal is far more likely to endanger young people – especially those lacking the wealth and connections of a Kennedy.

Sia Henry is a legal intern with the Drug Policy Alliance 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
Christopher Brauchli
Wonder Woman at the UN
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
Lee Ballinger
Tupac: Holler If You Hear Him
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”