Skip to main content

How to regulate pot when it's legal

By David Nathan, Special to CNN
August 27, 2013 -- Updated 1628 GMT (0028 HKT)
There appears to be a shift in the United States in favor of relaxing marijuana laws, a topic that has dipped in and out of the national conversation for decades. Public perceptions about pot have come a long way, from the dire warnings of "Reefer Madness" to growing acceptance of medical marijuana. There appears to be a shift in the United States in favor of relaxing marijuana laws, a topic that has dipped in and out of the national conversation for decades. Public perceptions about pot have come a long way, from the dire warnings of "Reefer Madness" to growing acceptance of medical marijuana.
HIDE CAPTION
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Nathan: Medical marijuana debate obscures the issue of legalizing recreational use
  • In legalizing pot, he says, concerns of both sides of the issue need to be considered
  • Nathan: Goals are to keep it out of the hands of minors, reduce harm to adults, get revenue
  • Nathan: Opponents and supporters of legalization must listen to each other's concerns

Editor's note: David L. Nathan, a clinical associate professor at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, was inducted as a Distinguished Fellow at the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco. He teaches and practices general adult psychiatry in Princeton, New Jersey.

(CNN) -- It's becoming a cliché: The tide is turning in the debate over cannabis. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent, publicly reversed his position and now supports medical cannabis. Republican Gov. Chris Christie just expanded New Jersey's medicinal marijuana laws. In the past month, New Hampshire and Illinois have become the 19th and 20th states to approve medical marijuana.

But the debate over medical marijuana obscures the more fundamental issue of our failed war on pot and the path to smart legalization.

I had an opportunity to explore the full range of perspectives in the marijuana debate at the recent 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. What I learned can be simply stated: Nationwide cannabis legalization is coming and smart regulation is the key to its success.

At the convention, held in San Francisco, I listened to and spoke with respected leaders of the opposition to cannabis legalization, who are mostly specialized in the treatment of substance use disorders.

David Nathan
David Nathan

The Bay Area is a proving ground for California's liberal medical marijuana laws. Amanda Reiman, policy manager for the California branch of the pro-legalization Drug Policy Alliance, took me on a tour of local cannabis dispensaries. And Oaksterdam University invited me to speak at their makeshift headquarters -- their previous location was closed after a DEA raid last year -- where classes are offered on all things cannabis.

The dispensaries are largely self-regulated, yet all facilities are immaculate, security is tight, and members of the staff are knowledgeable about the science of cannabis. Surely not all points of access are as well-run as these dispensaries, but they could be. And only with legalization and regulation can we expect that they would be.

Most legalization advocates and opponents share concerns about underage pot use, an opposition to incarcerating users, and a recognition that marijuana is less harmful to adults than alcohol.

Opinion: Americans agree, pot is no crime

Most agree public opinion has shifted in favor of cannabis legalization, although the two groups have strongly divergent feelings about the change. A minority of advocates call for America to "free the weed" with few restrictions, while opponents at the American Psychiatric Association fear that legalization would lead to "a nation of drunken stoners" after an anticipated rise in adolescent use of this and other drugs.

Gupta: I was wrong about marijuana
Gupta: Weed not a gateway drug
Gupta: I was wrong about marijuana
White House clarifies stance on pot

The substance abuse treatment community has legitimate concerns, and recreational cannabis should not be legalized -- for minors.

If national polls are correct, and wisdom prevails, then America is rapidly moving toward legal cannabis for adults. We must stop arguing about the right of consenting adults to consume a relatively safe recreational drug, and discuss how -- rather than whether -- cannabis should be properly regulated by the federal government.

First, consider the four essential goals of marijuana regulation: keeping cannabis out of the hands of minors; reducing harm to adult users; preventing collateral harm to the public and getting the maximum economic benefit from legalization.

Our approach to federal regulation should synthesize the perspectives of both advocates and opponents of legalization. We should look to research on laws controlling alcohol, tobacco and gambling. We can also learn from Colorado and Washington, which have developed regulations for recreational cannabis, and the 18 other states -- plus the District of Columbia -- that have legalized medical marijuana.

We can achieve the essential goals of regulation if we:

• Require proper labeling of cannabis products, including the quantities of key ingredients like THC and CBD.

• Test cannabis products for contaminants and label accuracy.

• Require government supervision of all facilities involved in the production, distribution and sale of cannabis.

• Limit advertising, sales and public consumption of cannabis products the way we do with alcohol and/or tobacco.

• Ban cannabis packaging and advertising that targets or attracts underage users.

• Require child-resistant packaging for edible cannabis products.

• Impose penalties on adults who enable minors to get marijuana.

• Allow adults to grow a small number of cannabis plants for personal use.

• Prosecute cannabis-impaired driving with field sobriety tests.

• Continue restrictions on cannabis use by professionals and laborers when scientific evidence indicates that such use risks public safety.

• Empower states and municipalities to restrict the cannabis trade within their borders.

• Fund education of adults about the use and abuse of cannabis.

• Fund preventive youth education about the dangers of underage cannabis use.

• Fund treatment of adults and minors with cannabis use disorders.

• Tax all aspects of the cannabis trade at the highest rate that the free market will bear, using a portion of the proceeds to fund regulation, education and treatment.

Just as responsible fishermen support the conservation of marine ecosystems, even marijuana enthusiasts can offer smart ideas for the successful legalization of cannabis, the fiercest critics of pot legalization have legitimate concerns, particularly about pot's effects on developing brains of young people. Advocates and opponents need to come together for an open-minded discussion about the regulation of marijuana in the United States.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of David Nathan.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
Ukraine's president says the downing of MH17 was a terrorist act, but Richard Barrett says it would be considered terrorism only if it was intentional
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 2015 GMT (0415 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says the loophole that lets firms avoid taxes should be closed
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1928 GMT (0328 HKT)
Aaron Miller says Kerry needs the cooperation of Hamas, Israel, Egypt and others if he is to succeed in his peacemaking efforts
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)
Jeronimo Saldana and Malik Burnett say Gov. Perry's plan to send National Guard to the border won't solve the escalating immigration problem.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Sally Kohn: The world's fish and waters are polluted and under threat. Be very careful what fish you eat
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
Les Abend says threat information that pilots respond to is only as good as the intelligence from air traffic controllers. And none of it is a match for a radar-guided missile
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1235 GMT (2035 HKT)
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1227 GMT (2027 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1157 GMT (1957 HKT)
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1417 GMT (2217 HKT)
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1642 GMT (0042 HKT)
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
July 19, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
July 20, 2014 -- Updated 1755 GMT (0155 HKT)
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1933 GMT (0333 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1206 GMT (2006 HKT)
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1214 GMT (2014 HKT)
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 2016 GMT (0416 HKT)
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
July 18, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1804 GMT (0204 HKT)
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 1518 GMT (2318 HKT)
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
July 17, 2014 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
July 16, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT